TALLAHASSEE, Fla.(Associated Press) – Florida’s secretary of state certified George W. Bush the winner over Al Gore Sunday night in the state’s near-deadlocked presidential vote – but court challenges left in doubt which man will be the ultimate victor and 43rd president of the United States.
If the certification stands, Bush would win 271 Electoral College votes – one more than necessary for victory – to 267 for Gore.
Moments after Republican Katherine Harris declared Bush the winner of Florida’s 25 electoral votes at a ceremony in Tallahassee, Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, said she had certified “an incomplete and inaccurate count” and that he and Gore had no choice but to contest the election.
“It is in our nation’s interest that the winner in Florida is truly the person who got the most votes,” Lieberman said. He said nobody knows who that would be – although Republicans insist it is Bush and Democrats say Gore.
Harris did not include hand-recounted ballots from Palm Beach County, where Gore had gained a net of 180 votes on Bush. She said Bush had 2,912,790 votes and Gore had 2,912,253. That gave Bush a 537-vote lead out of 6 million cast.
Her declaration set off cheers at the capitol in Austin, Texas:
“Accordingly, on behalf of the state elections canvassing commission and in accordance with the laws of the state of Florida, I hereby declare Governor George W. Bush the winner of Florida’s 25 electoral votes,” Harris said.
The votes were due to Harris by 5 p.m. EST, a deadline set by the state Supreme Court, which allowed the hand recounts to go on.
David Boies, lead lawyer for Democrat Gore’s campaign, said the certification would be challenged Monday on at least three grounds, probably more, all involving incomplete recounting or votes he said had been tallied for the vice president at some point and later discounted.
In Palm Beach, Gore gained 180 votes in the partial filing of disputed hand recounts.
Hand recounting of machine-cast ballots in heavily Democratic Broward County, the Fort Lauderdale area, also had narrowed the Bush edge.
Bush led by 930 votes before the recounting in those counties. Absentee ballots from U.S. military abroad added votes to his column.
Sen.-elect Bill Nelson said Americans do not want “an election that they feel like has been rigged or has not fully been counted.”
“We shouldn’t have a rush to judgment,” he said. “Rather, we should be on a path toward justice.”
Democratic congressional leaders said nothing would be settled Sunday or soon. “We’re now in a two-week-or-so period in which you have a contest on both sides of this election,” said Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, the House minority leader.
“What they’re trying to do is overturn every rock, looking for more Gore votes, extend this as long as possible,” said Gov. George Pataki of New York, one of the politicians both sides have summoned to Florida to watch the recounting and talk about it.
Pataki said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that he believes Bush won and that the Democrats are trying to recount him out of victory.
Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota, the Senate’s Democratic leader, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he “truly” believes Gore won Florida and that a full, fair recount would show it.
“I’ve talked with most of my colleagues over the last several days, and there isn’t any interest in conceding anything at this point,” Daschle said.
There are court challenges in Florida on both sides, with more to come when courthouses open today. The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday will hear Bush’s case against a state Supreme Court recount decision. Gore lawyers said they will challenge certification of a Bush lead by Harris.
Bush has the option of dropping his appeal to the Supreme Court should he be certified the winner. That seemed unlikely because it would concede to Gore the recounted votes that put the vice president closer to winning a post-certification challenge to the count.
“I think both sides have decided to take this election beyond the certification,” Daschle said. “Whether or not [Harris] makes any pronouncement [Sunday] is not really relevant.”