Three weeks after Americans cast their votes in the US presidential election, the result now depends on court action by an army of lawyers representing Al Gore and George W. Bush, and a handful of judges.
In the ongoing public relations battle, Democrat Gore made a fresh proposal on holding a statewide vote recount in Florida, which Republican Bush flatly rejected as he busily put together a transition team he believes he will take to the White House.
On Wednesday, Gore's legal team is expected to file an appeal to speed up a court hearing on its challenge to the Florida vote count, while the Florida Supreme Court will hear arguments for a revote from residents of Palm Beach County, who claim the November 7 ballot forms were confusing.
The Republican-controlled Florida legislature, meanwhile, will likely take steps to appoint a reserve batch of electors in case Gore overturns Bush's slim lead in Florida and gets the state's 25 electoral votes required to win the presidency.
In the first good news for Vice President Gore since Bush was certified the winner in Florida on Sunday, a circuit judge on Tuesday ordered ballots from Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties, as well as a voting machine, to arrive under police escort at his court by 5:00 pm (2200 GMT) on Friday.
Leon County Circuit Court Judge Sanders Sauls scheduled a hearing for 9:00 am Saturday, to hear Gore's core argument that he was robbed of nearly 2,000 votes that would have guaranteed him victory over Bush in Florida.
Shrugging off polls suggesting the public may be tiring of the fight, Gore offered on Tuesday a way out of the legal morass.
"Seven days, starting tomorrow, for a full and accurate count of all the votes," Gore said.
Bush turned Gore down flat. In Austin, Texas, his spokeswoman Karen Hughes charged that Gore "wants to go back and change the rules after the counting is over."
Bush's running mate, Richard Cheney, later told CNN's "Larry King Live" program that he would concede the election if he were in Gore's shoes.
"If I were in his position, that's what I'd do," Cheney said.
Florida declared Bush the winner of its election by 537 votes -- out of six million -- on Sunday, with two hand recounts incomplete, giving the Texas governor its 25 electoral votes and the keys to the White House.
Bush's lawyers blasted Gore's challenge to the disputed Florida vote.
"We believe that the election contest is without legal substance," senior Bush lawyer Barry Richard told Judge Sauls in Tallahassee.
On hearing the challenge to results in three counties, Sauls gave Gore a partial victory by ordering ballots to be brought to his court, but turned down his request that the ballots -- about 10,000 from Miami-Dade and 3,300 from Palm Beach -- be counted.
The Bush side is opposed to counting the ballots, all of which are of the infamous "dimpled chad" nature, arguing they have already been counted twice by machines that rejected them.
Gore's top lawyer David Boies maintained that the ballots had to be counted as quickly as possible and told Sauls he would likely appeal his ruling to ask for a hearing on Thursday, not Saturday, to decide whether the ballots should be tallied.
He also said he would be asking the Florida Supreme Court to issue clear instructions on how to count the disputed ballots.
"The court is moving faster than the defendants would like it but slower than we would like it," Boies said, noting the importance of concluding the case by a December 12 deadline for Florida's Electoral College members to be picked.
Separately, both sides filed final papers Tuesday with the US Supreme Court, which on Friday will hear Bush lawyers argue that the Florida Supreme Court overstepped its authority in extending a deadline for hand recounts in the state.
And in other court action in Tallahassee, Circuit Court Judge Nikki Clark set a one-day trial date for December 6 to determine whether 15,000 absentee ballots in Seminole County should be invalidated, as requested by the Democrats.
Democratic lawyer Harry Jacobs contends that Republican party officials tampered with applications for some of these ballots, and therefore all of them should be discarded. Some 10,000 of those ballots went to Bush and 5,209 to Gore.
In Austin, meanwhile, Bush moved ahead with his presidential transition, as his chief of staff-designate Andrew Card discussed cooperation with the Clinton White House.
Though Bush will not be allowed access to federal funds or office space until legal wrangling over the election is over, White House Chief of Staff John Podesta promised limited cooperation.
Meanwhile, Cheney, who has been placed in charge of Bush's presidential transition team, said he was in the process of assembling a transition team using private funds – WASHINGTON (AFP)
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