Gore\'s Presidential Election Contest Set for Florida Trial
A Florida judge on Saturday was set to hear Al Gore's contest of the state's election results, which gave George W. Bush a slight lead that would take the Republican to the White House.
The trial, which opens one day after a historic US Supreme Court hearing of a case brought by Bush, was set to begin at 9 a.m. (1400 GMT)
The crucial issue is whether Judge Sanders Sauls will order the counting of thousands of disputed ballots.
Over a million ballots from Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties, including 13,300 disputed by the Gore camp, were earlier delivered to the Tallahassee court on orders from Sauls.
Gore claims a proper counting of the ballots would show that he won Florida, and that Bush's 537-vote lead in the state was invalid.
But the vice president suffered a slight setback on Friday when Florida's Supreme Court rejected his appeal to have the disputed ballots recounted immediately.
Also on Friday, Sauls told Gore lawyers for the third time that he would not order a recount until he hears the arguments on both sides.
The Bush camp vehemently opposes any recount, maintaining that the ballots have already been tallied and rejected twice as non-votes by machines.
But, at the same time, they have asked for and received from the judge an order that some 1.2 million ballots from three other counties be kept locked up and prepared for delivery to Tallahassee.
The Democrats accuse the Bush camp of using delaying tactics that could prevent a possible recount from being completed before a December 12 deadline for Florida's Electoral College slate to be named.
This could play into the hands of the Bush campaign, as Republican legislators have said they could take the unprecedented step of naming the electors if the deadline is not met.
But the Gore camp is quietly pinning its hopes on another two lawsuits in which Democratic activists have asked that 25,000 ballots be thrown out because Republicans allegedly tampered with absentee ballot applications in Seminole and Martin counties.
In both cases, the plaintiffs want all the absentee votes cast out, as it is impossible to link the contested forms with specific ballots.
Both trials, which do not involve Gore lawyers, are to be held in the Florida capital on Wednesday, almost a month after the November 7 presidential election.
Should the plaintiffs win either case, Vice President Al Gore would clearly win Florida and the White House race, as a vast majority of the absentee ballots in the two counties had gone to Bush.
Lawyers for the Republican candidate have asked for the cases to be dismissed, and have said they would appeal Judge Nikki Clark's refusal to disqualify herself from the case.
They say they are concerned she may be biased against the Republican candidate, whose brother, Florida Governor Jeb Bush, turned down her application for an Appeals Court job in September.
Another lawsuit that could have helped Gore to the presidency was dismissed by the Florida Supreme Court on Friday. The case was filed by Palm Beach voters who claimed ballots were confusing, and asked for a revote.
In Washington, the US Supreme court was yet to rule in a case brought by Bush, who claims the Florida justices had overstepped their mandate in ordering that the original Florida results should be amended to reflect hand recounts completed by November 21.
On Friday, lawyers for the two sides battled it out at a landmark hearing before the highest US court -- TALLAHASSEE, Florida (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)