The Associated Press
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Vice President Al Gore authorized a new appeal to the Florida Supreme Court yesterday, asking the justices who gave him one of his most important legal victories to force additional recounting of disputed votes.
With political and legal clocks ticking, Gore's lawyers took steps to bypass the state appeals court that would normally hear the case before the seven justices could intervene a second time.
"The issues in this appeal are of great public importance because they directly affect the outcome of the election of the president of the United States and determine the sanctity of the electoral process in Florida law," the Gore team wrote in a filing asking the appeals court to step aside.
The request to the Supreme Court came during a whirlwind day of legal action spanning the state.
Democrats sought to speed up the counting of votes essential to Gore's effort to contest Florida's decision last Sunday to declare George W. Bush the winner of the state's 25 electoral votes.
Republicans maneuvered on several fronts to slow the process, knowing that electors must be named to the Electoral College by Dec. 12.
Bush supporters claimed victory on one front when Circuit Judge N. Sanders Sauls in Tallahassee approved the transfer of 1 million ballots from Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties to Tallahassee for a Saturday hearing.
The judge gave the counties until 5 p.m. Friday to complete the transfer, rejecting Gore's request to have the disputed ballots that the vice president wants recounted shipped earlier to save time.
Behind closed doors in Washington, both sides' lawyers worked to prepare for arguments Friday before the U.S. Supreme Court.
After hours of debate by advisers Tuesday night and yesterday, Gore authorized an appeal to the Florida Supreme Court that would ask the justices to order the immediate recounting of disputed ballots in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties that weren't included in the state's official tally certified on Sunday.
Democratic officials said the appeal would ask the high court to either supervise and direct the counting of ballots itself or order Sauls to begin doing so immediately.
Sauls on Tuesday had refused to hear Gore's recounting request on an expedited basis. Instead, he ordered a hearing for Saturday and the transfer of the ballots.
Gore wants to force the immediate recounting of several thousand disputed ballots that showed no presidential vote, even before the courts decide whether to allow the new numbers to be added to the official tally.
The Democrats hope there will be enough additional Gore votes to overcome Bush's slim lead.
In appealing directly to the Florida high court, Gore returns to the venue that gave him one of his biggest victories in his uphill battle to win the presidency through the courts.
Earlier this month, the seven state justices, all selected by Democrats, overruled Florida's Republican secretary of state and allowed manual recounting in a few counties to continue for 12 days beyond the original deadline. That extra tallying brought Gore to within 537 votes of his Republican rival.
Democrats also maneuvered in two other Florida counties that lean Republican where election officials have acknowledged they had allowed absentee ballots to be amended.
In Martin County, election supervisor Peggy Robbins said she had given permission for a Republican Party official to remove from her office ''several hundred'' incomplete absentee ballot applications sent by GOP voters. The official returned them filled out with corrected voter identification numbers and other information, said Robbins, a Republican.
In a similar case in Seminole County, a Democratic supporter has sued over the GOP handling of absentee ballot applications.
Terry Young, the attorney for the Seminole County election supervisor, suggested he might want to question Gore as part of the litigation and asked why Democrats were trying to throw out some 15,000 ballots after arguing every ballot in the state needed to be counted.
"Isn't that contrary to what Al Gore said the other night about every vote should count? In this case, they're trying to silence democracy," Young said.