(16 Nov 2000) English/Nat

Al Gore made a surprise proposal for a statewide hand recount of Florida’s 6 million (m) ballots on Wednesday night and George W. Bush swiftly rejected it, calling the effort under way in several Democratic-leaning counties an “arbitrary and chaotic” way to settle the presidential race.

With their futures tied up in a knot of legal battles, the presidential rivals made duelling appearances on national television, calling for a quick end to the contested election but disagreeing on how to do it.

Their evening addresses capped a whirlwind day of legal activity that gave both weary camps a taste of victory and defeat – but no clear road to completion.

Texas Governor George W. Bush said on Wednesday night he believes the disputed Florida vote will be settled at midnight on Friday, when the remaining absentee votes from overseas are tallied.

Bush had hastily returned to Austin from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, after Gore appeared before the cameras more than three hours earlier.

He accepted Gore’s offer to meet together after Florida’s contentious election outcome is resolved – but did not mention the vice president’s suggestion that they meet sooner.

Bush said both candidates must respect the law and not challenge it if the outcome is unsatisfactory.

SOUNDBITE: (English)
“Once this election is over, I would be glad to meet with Vice President Gore, and I join him in pledging that regardless of who wins after this weekend’s final count, we will work together to unite our great country.”
SUPER CAPTION: Texas Governor George W. Bush

Gore had pledged that if Republicans allow manual recounts to continue in Florida’s Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties, he would accept without challenge whatever tally those recounts should yield – added to certified results from 64 other counties and overseas absentee ballots due by midnight Friday.

He also suggested a meeting with Bush before state officials certify the results.

SOUNDBITE: (English)
“I propose that Governor Bush and I meet personally, one on one, as soon as possible, before the vote count is finished, not to negotiate, but to improve the tone of our dialogue in America. We should both call on all of our supporters to respect the outcome of this election whatever it may be.”
SUPER CAPTION: Vice President Al Gore

The statements from the two presidential hopefuls came in the wake of the Florida Supreme Court’s rejection of a request from Republican Secretary of State Katherine Harris to block any manual recounts while the courts decide whether the process is legal.

The court ruled without holding a hearing on Harris’ request.

The high court’s ruling, though far from the final word, gave Democrats new vigour in their ballot-by-ballot bid to trim Bush’s 300-vote lead in the state.

The secretary of state also announced she would not accept the hand-counted ballots, calling the counties’ reasoning “insufficient.”

Harris vowed to certify the Florida election results Saturday without the hand recount totals.

SOUNDBITE: (English)
“Because it is my determination that no amendments to the official returns now on file at the department of state are warranted, the state elections canvassing commission, acting in its normal and usual manner, has certified the results of Tuesday’s election in Florida including the Presidential election.”
SUPER CAPTION: Katherine Harris, Florida Secretary of State

Gore’s lawyers said they will challenge her decision on Thursday.

And Gore campaign chairman William Daley criticised Harris’ decision as premature.

SOUNDBITE: (English)

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