— Al Gore’s formal contest of George W. Bush’s victory in the Florida vote count is grinding on today, with closing arguments for all parties underway this evening.
David Boies, the lead lawyer making Gore’s case in Leon County Circuit Court before Judge N. Sanders Sauls, closed the plaintiff’s case by saying vote counts in Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, and Nassau counties should be altered.
Pertaining to Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties, Boies argued that more than 600 ballots counted by hand but not included in the certified tallies should be part of the final total.
“There cannot be any doubt about those 388 ballots,” said Boies, referring to the net gain for Gore in Miami-Dade County before canvassing officials voted to stop their manual recount on Nov. 22.
Boies added that “ there cannot be any doubt about the 215 ballots in Palm Beach,” citing the net gain Democrats say they would have made in that county if Secretary of State Katherine Harris had not certified the state’s vote total on the evening of Nov. 26., while the county’s canvassing board was nearly finishing its recount.
And the Democrats’ lead lawyer asked for 14,000 “undervote” ballots in the two counties to be tabulated by hand, saying, “They need to be counted. They need to be reviewed.”
“Undervotes” pertain to ballots with no presidential votes registered on them. The Gore side wants the results of new recounts to be added to the state’s total election tally, which currently has Bush ahead by 537 votes out of nearly 6 million cast.
Countered Bush lawyer Barry Richard, “There is no evidence in this case of any problem with the voting machines … I kept waiting for a witness to come in here to testify that there was a problem with the voting machines, and that there was a problem of sufficient magnitude to overturn the result. But there was none.”
Gore filed his contest case in hopes that Judge Sauls would allow a new round of manual ballot recounts in Florida’s presidential election dispute, aspects of which have been argued all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Earlier testimony today covered subjects ranging from the mechanics of voting machines to statistical analysis of voting patterns and the recount procedure in Miami-Dade County.
But both today and Saturday, witnesses testifying for both sides have struggled under cross-examination from lawyers of the opposing camps.
At the end of the morning session in the unprecedented contest, voting systems operator John Ahmann, a witness for the Bush campaign, gave an apparent boost to the Gore campaign by acknowledging there were circumstances in which the votomatic punch-card machines used in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties might fail to register every vote and necessitate hand recounts.
Asked if he had ever said that hand recounts were advisable, Ahmann, who helped design and redesign the punch-card system used by the voting machines, said, “In very close elections, yes sir.”
On a day devoted to witnesses called by lawyers for Bush, the Republican candidate, the afternoon session centered on the vote-count procedures in Miami-Dade County, where the canvassing board controversially voted not to continue a hand recount on Nov. 22.
In the most contentious exchanges of the day, Gore’s lawyers objected to the testimony given by Thomas Spargo, a Republican lawyer sent to oversee the Miami-Dade recount, who testified the Miami-Dade hand counts were disorganized and unreliable.
Spargo said the ballots there were “subjected to a lot of mishandling,” a comment Gore’s lawyers unsuccessfully tried to get stricken from the record.
Gore lawyer Kendall Coffey also displayed a photo of Spargo among the noisy crowd of Republican demonstrators outside the Miami-Dade counting room on Nov. 22, a protest Democrats claim intimidated the county canvassing board into stopping its tally.
Spargo dismissed the episode by saying “There was some, if you will, chanting.”
The last scheduled witness of the day, Nassau County elections supervisor Shirley King, testified about the county’s decision to revert to its orginal total instead of a machine recount — an action Gore’s campaign says increased Bush’s margin by 52 votes.
Through his contest, Gore is hoping to force a reversion to the recount total in Nassau County.
Saturday, GOP lawyers argued that if Judge Sauls orders a new hand count, all 1.1 million votes from Palm Beach and Miami-Dade should be re-tallied, as well as an additional 1.2 million votes from Broward, Pinellas and Volusia counties, where the Bush team claims Gore may have wrongly picked votes. The ballots are locked away in storage under armed guard in Tallahassee.
Cheney: ‘It’s Time’
Even as the unprecedented contest, which could yet change the outcome of the presidential election, continues in a Tallahassee courtroom, Bush’s running mate, Dick Cheney, says “it’s time” for Gore to drop his challenge to Florida’s presidential vote.
“I do think that it’s time for him to concede,” Cheney said on NBC’s Meet the Press this morning. “So far he’s chosen not to do that, to pursue other avenues, and clearly that’s his prerogative. But clearly, long-term, history would regard him in a better light if he were to bring this to a close in the near future.”
It is the first time Cheney has called for Gore to stop contesting Florida’s certified vote total, which holds the key the election as a whole.
In response, former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, a leading figure on Gore’s efforts to monitor the Florida vote count, said Cheney was “trying to hurry history along” by attempting to pressure Gore into quitting.
But Gore has shown no signs of wavering, as lawyers continue for a second day to pursue his formal contest.
U.S. Supreme Court Yet to Rule
No matter how Sauls rules in the contest, the losing side is virtually assured of appealing the decision to the Florida Supreme Court.
Additionally, the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling could have a large impact on the course of the post-election struggle.
On Friday, the nation’s highest court heard 90 minutes of arguments on the legality a Florida Supreme Court decision that allowed some of those hand counts. The justices’ comments did not suggest there was any consensus on the matter before them, and the court did not set a timetable for issuing a ruling.
The high court did not formally convene today, although the justices met behind closed doors Saturday in a rare weekend work session. The fastest the Supreme Court has ever ruled on a case is four days.
Another complicating factor is that the GOP-controlled Florida legislature , may decide this week to appoint a Republican slate of electors, which could render the legal battles immaterial.
Whichever candidate claims Florida’s 25 electoral votes will almost certainly become the next president. Including Florida, Bush has won states accounting for 271 electoral votes — one more than needed to win the White House.
Bush is spending the day at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. Gore attended church services in Washington and had no comment for reporters asking him about the disputed election.
ABCNEWS’ Eric Avram, John Berman and Dana Hill and The Associated Press contributed to this report.