Fla. Court Swats Butterfly Challenge

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., holds up a new one dollar coin during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2007. The new version of the dollar coin goes into general circulation Thursday. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
AP Photo/Susan Walsh
Al Gore's lawyers made their case in a circuit court Saturday to persuade a Florida judge to count thousands of disputed ballots, a day after two rulings by the Florida Supreme Court came as a blow to the vice president's hopes of successfully challenging the election results in Florida.

The state high court Friday declared the controversial "butterfly" ballot constitutional, just minutes after the justices dismissed Gore's request for an immediate recount of thousands of presidential votes in two counties.

"Courts have generally declined to void an election" unless defects in the ballot "clearly operate to prevent a free, fair and open choice," the court ruled in an opinion that court spokesman Craig Waters read from the courthouse steps.

Gore's request for an immediate recount had moved to the high court after a circuit court judge rejected the vice president's appeal for an immediate new tally of an estimated 14,000 ballots from Miami-Dade and Palm Beach County.

"The petition is dismissed without prejudice," Waters read to reporters.

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  • The decisions were among several legal developments Friday in the contested election between Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

    Lawyers for Gore and Bush argued before the the U.S. Supreme Court in a historic hearing. The justices peppered the lawyers with questions relating to a petition by Bush to overturn the Florida Supreme Court decision that ordered the inclusion of the hand recounts in the state's official presidential vote tally.

    In another development on Friday, more than a half a million ballots from Miami-Dade County arrived in Florida's state capital of Tallahassee, in advance of Saturday's arguments in front of Circuit Judge N. Sanders Sauls on Gore's legal challenge to Bush's certification as Florida's presidential winner.

    At an emergency hearing in Tallahassee, Sauls refused for the third time in less than a week to order a manual recount of disputed ballots, at least until he hears arguments beginning this weekend.

    It was one of Sauls' earlier rulings denying an immediate recount that the Florida Supreme Court Friday decided not to overturn.

    Two white rental vans — one carrying some 654,000 ballots packed into 82 boxes, the other empty and driving behind in case of an emergency — were brought to the Leon County Courthouse in Tallahassee. The trucks were at the center of a convoy of police cars holding observers from the Republican and Democratic parties and reporters.

    Judge Sauls ordered that the ballots from these two heavily Democratic counties in South Florida — more than one million ballots in all — be shipped to his courtroom. A convoy carrying more than 450,000 ballots from Palm Beach County arrived in Tallahassee on Thursday.

    The Gore team is asking the judge to set a time limit on evidence to be presented at the hearing. Democrats complain that Republicans have put more than 90 people on their witness list. So far, the Gore camp has listed only two proposed witnesses.

    The vice president's lawyers are also addressing a dispute over votes in Nassau County, wherGore wants Sauls to accept the official recount results, instead of Election Night tallies.

    In the Republicans' first formal response to the Democrats' lawsuit in Tallahassee, Bush attorneys claimed Gore's challenge was baseless because the real election wasn't between the Texas governor and the vice president, but between the separate groups of 25 Florida electors.

    Their motion also says Gore's lawyers filed their challenge after the 10-day deadline required by state law and that manually counting only part of the ballots is illegal.

    And still more ballots besides those from Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties may be fetched: Bush attorneys also asked Judge Sauls to order an additional 1.2 million ballots brought in from Volusia, Broward and Pinellas counties. The judge has not yet considered the request.

    "We believe there were a number of illegal votes for Gore in those counties," Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said.

    In other legal developments on Friday, a lawsuit accuses GOP operatives of tampering with hundreds of absentee ballot request forms in Martin County.

    The suit, filed on behalf of unnamed voters, accuses the county election supervisor of allowing the forms to be taken out of county offices and altered. It asks that all of the county's absentee ballots be thrown out - a move that could cost Bush more than 2,800 votes. The suit is similar to one already pending from Seminole County, where a Democratic activist also says absentee ballot request forms were handled illegally.

    The Martin County case has been assigned to Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis in Tallahassee. In the Seminole case, Republicans say no laws were broken.

    Yet another lawsuit targeting Bush's vote total filed on Friday demands that 1,500 overseas absentee ballots received after 7 p.m. Election Day be thrown out. This suit names 10 Republican-leaning counties: Bay, Brevard, Citrus, Clay, Duval, Escambia, Manatee, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Seminole.

    This suit, filed on behalf of Miami-Dade and Palm Beach county voters, claims that overseas ballots received after polls closed cannot be counted no matter when they were postmarked. State law allows overseas ballots received within 10 days of an election to be counted as long as they were postmarked by Election Day.

    On Thursday, a committee of Florida's GOP-controlled legislature in Tallahassee called on state lawmakers to meet in special session "as soon as practicable" to consider appointment of a slate of electors.

    In Friday's historic Supreme Court hearing in Washington, lawyers for Gore and Bush tangled over whether the Florida Legislature has authority to pick its own slate of presidential electors.

    The legislature's GOP leaders see a special session to name a slate of electors as a means of delivering the Sunshine State's 25 key electoral votes — and the presidency — to Bush, whatever happens i court.

    Florida's Gov. Jeb Bush, brother of the presidential hopeful, said on Wednesday that he would sign such legislation if "appropriate."