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Gore won't concede the election just yet

by Linda Deutsch

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Vice President Al Gore's lawyers said Thursday he will contest election results from Florida's Miami-Dade County and won't concede defeat in the presidential election, even if George W. Bush remains ahead in votes that are certified Sunday night.

Meanwhile, Gore's lawyers argued in a brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court that the high court should stay out of the Florida election controversy, saying such interference would "diminish the legitimacy" of the presidential election.

The brief was in response to a request by the Bush campaign that the U.S. Supreme Court bar the consideration of hand-counted ballots from two predominantly Democratic Florida counties. In court papers, Gore's lawyers called the Bush request a "bald attempt to federalize" Florida's legal and election process.

Earlier on Thanksgiving Day, the Florida Supreme Court refused to order Miami-Dade County officials to resume a handcount of its election-day ballots.

Gore's lawyers said they will officially contest the Miami-Dade election results after the state certification of the presidential election expected late Sunday. The filing will be made no later than Monday in state court in Tallahassee.

The Florida Supreme Court, in setting its Sunday deadline for vote certification, anticipated such contests and wanted to ensure there was enough time to consider them before the state's presidential electors are to be selected on Dec. 12.

"Nobody should be surprised by this. We've been saying all along that we wanted a full and fair count and that's what we intend to see happen," said Ron Klain, a Gore campaign legal adviser. He said some results in other counties also may be similarly contested, but gave no details.

Asked if that meant that Gore would not concede even if he lags in votes on Monday, Gore campaign spokeswoman Jenny Backus said that was correct.

"We want a full, fair and accurate count and the only way left to do that is to file a contest for Miami-Dade," she said.

The Bush campaign had nothing to say about the legal developments Thursday. "It's Thanksgiving and we're not going to comment," said Bush spokesman Ari Fleisher.

The word from the Gore camp came as the ballot showdown with George W. Bush moved to the U.S. Supreme Court, where Gore's lawyers were readying their response to a Bush appeal there. The Republican presidential candidate asked the justices to overturn a decision by the Florida Supreme Court that has allowed the recounts.

In Tallahassee, Fla., Bush won a significant round when the state Supreme Court refused to order Miami-Dade County officials to resume a handcount of presidential election ballots, as Gore had requested.

"The writ is denied without prejudice. No motion for rehearing is allowed," the court said in an unanimous opinion read by spokesman Craig Waters.

With Florida holding the balance in the closest presidential election in modern times, Bush's lead was a slim 713 votes -- if the hand recounts are accepted. The state's secretary of state, Katherine Harris, has officially given Bush a lead of 930 votes.

Gore picked up 88 additional votes Thursday in the review in Broward County.

Earlier in the day, the state high court justices conferred by conference call on Gore's appeal for a resumption of counting in Miami-Dade, the largest county in the state. It had suspended a full manual recount after the Florida court set a Sunday deadline for counties to report adjusted vote totals.

Gore argued that ballot counting in Miami-Dade was "being frustrated by a deliberate campaign of delay and intimidation of local officials," and his lawyers suggested that the Sunday deadline set by the court be extended if the county couldn't finish its recount by then.

Bush campaign spokeswoman Mindy Tucker brushed off the Gore appeal. "It seems Al Gore wants the court to keep extending the deadline until he can count the votes enough times to change the result," she said.

Bush and Gore spent a quiet Thanksgiving with their families, Bush in Austin, Texas, and Gore at the vice presidential residence in Washington.

Bush jogged in the drizzle and fog and told reporters, "I want to wish everyone, all my family and friends, a happy Thanksgiving." Gore made no public appearances.

Adding to the election intrigue, GOP vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney was reported in good condition recovering in a Washington hospital from a "very slight" heart attack -- his fourth.

He underwent a procedure Wednesday to implant an artery-clearing device and his doctors hoped to release him as early as Friday.

In Broward, meanwhile, a brief disruption broke up what had been a relatively quiet day of counting. A Republican attorney, Bill Sherer, was cautioned about speaking out during the recount.

Earlier, Suzanne Gunzburger, a Democrat and member of the board, greeted observers in the courtroom with "Happy Thanksgiving. I hope you're enjoying the parade as much as I am."

With Gore making net gains in Broward, the county's GOP chairman, Ed Pozzuoli, said, "Someone is trying to steal my Thanksgiving turkey. The more we do this divine intervention, trying to find out the voter's intent, the more difficult and unsure, uncertain and unreliable the results are becoming."

Palm Beach County resumes its count Friday morning.

The election struggle reached the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, when Bush's legal team asked the justice's to block the Florida court's decision allowing the hand counts in the three Democratic-leaning counties.

Without a decision by Dec. 18, when each state's electors cast the final vote on who next will occupy the White House, "the consequences may well include the ascension of a president of questionable legitimacy, or a constitutional crisis," Bush's appeal said.

"All that people are looking for is to have a fair and accurate count completed," Backus, spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee, countered Thursday. "You have to wonder why they're bending over backwards to have the recounts stopped."

Bush also filed suit in a Florida court asking 13 counties with heavy military populations to count overseas ballots. Hundreds of ballots, many from military outposts, were rejected last week when Democratic lawyers urged county boards to scrutinize them. Both sides believe Bush lost more votes than Gore when the ballots were rejected.

In Palm Beach, a judge said officials must consider "dimpled chad" punchcard ballots -- those that show an indentation but no perforation.

But Judge Jorge Labarga said elections officials can reject the questionable ballots if the voters' intent can't be determined.

Nassau and Duval counties planned hearings Friday to resolve outstanding issues with their presidential vote tallies.

Nassau must decide whether to use the Nov. 7 vote totals instead of the results of a recount which inadvertently missed about 200 presidential ballots. State elections officials have said Nassau County can use the original election night results because of the error. Bush carried the county by a wide margin, but the recount left him with a net loss of 51 votes.

Duval will discuss overseas absentees ballots, but has said it won't change its tally of overseas military votes.

- - -

Associated Press writer John Heilprin in Washington contributed to this report.

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