Gore trails Bush by 300 votes in the official vote tally in Florida, pending the count of overseas absentee ballots tomorrow.

Unless the manually recounted ballots are included, Gore is unlikely to win, many politicians on both sides believe. By most estimates, the traditionally Republican overseas ballots could add several hundred votes to Bush's current margin.

Democrats are hopeful that a hand recount of some 1.6 million ballots in the largely Democratic counties of Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade would turn up enough additional votes for Gore to push him ahead of Bush. The Florida Supreme Court allowed the hand counts to go forward yesterday, but Harris, a co-chairwoman of the Bush campaign in the state, said last night that they would not be included in her final tally.

In addition, officials in Miami-Dade, after conducting a preliminary manual count, have decided not to recount the entire county. Democrats have challenged that decision, and Gore's offer may have been intended to put new pressure on county officials to change their minds.

National polls show that the public is willing to await a fair and complete count of the votes in Florida to determine the outcome of the presidential election.

Gore's offer "puts Bush in the box of defending what the American people think is indefensible, which is shutting off the count before the count is completed," said Paul Maslin, a Democratic pollster.

Both sides have indicated, by their words and actions over the past week, that they believe Gore might gain from a manual recount of the ballots, which many states, including Texas, require as a check on machine counts.

The Bush campaign has gone to court to try to block the hand counts. Unless the courts intervene, Harris could well certify Bush as the victor in Florida on Saturday, adding to a growing public perception that the Republican will be the next president, Maslin said.

Gore's offer to resolve the matter with a relatively swift count, with a promise not to drag out the matter in the courts, could be his best way of signaling to voters that he shares their desire for finality, the Democratic pollster added.

Gore said last night that his proposal would "settle this matter with finality and justice in a period of days, not weeks."

And, in his first public comments on the subject of manual vote counts, he maintained that "machines can sometimes misread or fail to detect the way ballots are cast." Gore added that "a careful hand count is accepted far and wide as the best way to know the true intentions of the voters."

Gore's offer to take the matter out of the legal arena is a sharp reversal of the position announced by his campaign last week, which was the first to threaten to back legal action.

Perhaps the main legal action that Gore would abandon, as a result of his proposal, is the challenges that have been filed to the "butterfly ballot" in Palm Beach County. Many legal analysts have suggested that those lawsuits are unlikely to result in any significant change in the count.

The Gore campaign sees the hand counts in Democratic counties as his best chance to take the lead in the Florida count. By offering to let his presidential ambitions rise or fall with the results of those hand counts in three counties, Gore is taking a calculated risk that he will gain enough votes to wipe out Bush's margin.

"I don't know what the final results will show," Gore said. "But I do know this is about much more than what happens to me or my opponent. It is about our democracy. My faith is in the people's will, in our Constitution and in our system of self-government."