WASHINGTON—George W. Bush more than tripled his slim lead over Al Gore in Florida after a final count of overseas absentee ballots yesterday.
The Bush campaign insisted that there would have been many more Bush votes if Democratic counters had not succeeded in disqualifying hundreds of absentee ballots on technical grounds. Nearly two in five overseas ballots were rejected, according to an Associated Press survey, most of them in counties with Democratic-controlled canvassing boards.
"The vice president's lawyers have gone to war, in my judgment, against the men and women who serve in our armed forces," Racicot said at Bush headquarters in Austin, Texas. "The man who would be their commander in chief is fighting to take away the votes from the people he would command."
Racicot, a potential Cabinet member in a Bush administration, said the campaign hasn't made a final decision on whether to go to court to try to get those disqualified ballots counted.
Doug Hattaway, a Gore spokesman, said he was unaware of any attempt by the vice president's campaign to prevent overseas ballots from being counted.
"Both sides were looking very closely and challenging ballots," Hattaway said.
Among developments yesterday, as the uncertainty over who won the election heads into its 12th day:
Bush received 1,380 overseas ballots to 750 for Gore. That boosted the Republican's Florida advantage to 930 votes out of nearly 6 million cast.
Lawyers for the Gore campaign filed their initial brief with the state Supreme Court, which will hear oral arguments at 2 p.m. tomorrow. The court is considering the legality of manual recounts under way and whether the Florida secretary of state must consider them before she certifies the results of the Florida election.
The new speaker of the Florida House of Representatives said the Republican-dominated state legislature was prepared to intervene if the presidential election in the state is deadlocked.
Rep. Tom Feeney, a Republican, said lawyers were exploring the question of whether the legislature could pick the state's 25 electors, if that becomes necessary.
Scattered demonstrations were staged by both sides, from the gates of the vice president's mansion in Washington to the streets of the Texas state capital to sites around Florida.
Manual recounts continued in Palm Beach and Broward counties. An official in Miami-Dade, which will begin counting tomorrow, said it could take until Dec. 1. Gore has gained 45 votes in the Broward recount, from 200 out of 609 precincts.
A Florida judge delayed until Nov. 27 a hearing on a lawsuit by a Democratic activist who is seeking to have 4,700 absentee ballots rejected in Seminole County.
Republican workers there were reportedly allowed to complete unfinished absentee-ballot applications returned by voters who got them from the Republican Party, instead of having the voters do it all themselves.
The latest popular vote count nationwide shows Gore leading Bush by 262,000 votes. The vice president has won 255 electoral votes and leads in Oregon, with seven electoral votes.
Bush has won 246 electoral votes. If he is awarded Florida's 25 electoral votes, he would have 271, one more than the number needed to win the presidency. But until Florida's high court acts, neither candidate can be certified as the winner of the state's electoral votes.
Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, a Republican, had been prepared to declare Bush the winner yesterday, after the count of overseas absentee ballots. But the state Supreme Court intervened late Friday and blocked her from doing so until further notice.