Al Gore's campaign is buoyant, George W. Bush's furious, following a Florida Supreme Court ruling that allows manual recounts to continue for several more days and gives the vice president fresh hope of overtaking his rival for the White House. "We think we will have enough votes" to prevail before the court-mandated deadline of next Sunday or Monday for an end to the counting, said David Boies, one of the lawyers who had argued Gore's case before the court.
But in a statement of barely concealed rage late Tuesday, former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, speaking for Bush, said the court "has changed the rules and has invented a new system for counting the election results."
Baker kept open the possibility of an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but also suggested the Republican-controlled legislature might intervene.
Baker did not say so, but federal law permits the legislature to appoint electors - the men and women who actually cast the ballots that select the president.
Bush holds a 930 vote-margin in official, but uncertified returns in the state that will settle the nation's longest presidential campaign. But Gore has been whittling away at that as the recounts have unfolded at his urging in Democratic-leaning Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties.
And the unstated assumption of both sides is that if the recounts continue - particularly if Democrats implement the standard they envision for counting votes - Gore will emerge the victor.
Officials in all three counties said they would resume their manual recounts on Wednesday.
In addition, a senior Bush adviser, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Republicans were likely to sue - as early as Wednesday - to reinstate rejected absentee ballots from members of the armed forces overseas. They were rejected after Democrats protested last week about lack of postmarks, but the Gore camp has since expressed a willingness to reconsider.
When the canvassing ended for the night Tuesday, the situation looked like this:
- In Broward County, with 609 of 609 precincts recounted, plus more than 4,300 absentee ballots, Gore had gained 106 votes.
- In Palm Beach County, with 103 of 531 precincts recounted, Gore had gained three votes.
- In Miami-Dade County with 135 of 614 precincts recounted, Gore had gained 157 votes.
That made a net gain of 266 votes for Gore.
Those totals do not include several hundred ballots in Palm Beach and Broward County that local officials set aside pending guidance from the court on how they should be counted.
In its 43-page ruling, the court rejected Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris' insistence that a deadline fixed in state law prevented her from accepting amended returns after Nov. 14.
In unusually harsh language, the court said it could not allow Harris "to summarily disenfranchise innocent electors in an effort to punish dilatory (election) board members. ... The Constitution eschews punishment by proxy."
The justices added, "Twenty-five years ago, this court commented that the will of the people, not a hyper-technical reliance upon statutory provisions, should be our guiding principle in election cases."
"We consistently have adhered to the principle that the will of the people is the paramount consideration."
The court's decision said Harris must accept amended vote totals until Sunday at 5 p.m - if her office is open - or else Monday at 9 a.m.
While the ruling clarified one issue, it touched on other questions without resolving them.
These included the standards by which imperfectly marked ballots should be counted; the fate of more than 1,000 overseas ballots thrown out last week; and the question of how a challenge might proceed to Harris' eventual certification of a winner in the state that stands to pick the next president.
The court indicated it established its timetable to give either Gore or Bush time to protest the certification of the state's 25 electors, yet still leave time for that issue to be resolved so Florida's votes can be included when the Electoral College meets on Dec. 18.
On the thorny issue of manual recounts, the court said, "Although error cannot be completely eliminated in any tabulation of the ballots, our society has not yet gone so far as to place blind faith in machines. In almost all endeavors, including elections, humans routinely correct the errors of machines."
The high court did not specifically address the question of whether "dimpled" ballots may be counted - those are the punchcard ballots with indentations but not full perforations - but cited an Illinois Supreme Court ruling that the seven justices said was "particularly apt in this case."
"These voters should not be disfranchised where their intent may be ascertained with reasonable certainty," the Florida court wrote, quoting the Illinois ruling.
At the same time, the justices said, "We decline to rule more expansively, for to do so would result in this court substantially rewriting the code. We leave that matter to the sound discretion of the body best equipped to address it - the legislature."
And that, Baker suggested, is where the issue might return.
Florida's legislature, which is in adjournment, could hold a special session if the Senate president and House speaker - both Republicans - jointly call for one. Or Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the candidate's brother, could step in and issue a proclamation.
Republicans hold a 77-43 majority in the House, and a 25-15 edge in the Senate.