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In a blow to the Democrats, a circuit judge in Tallahassee, Fla., Tuesday refused to strike down a 5 p.m. deadline for completion of ballot recounts imposed by Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris. However, the judge said that Harris could accept amended tallies later. Leon County Circuit Judge Terry P. Lewis was ruling on a lawsuit filed by Volusia County and supported by the Al Gore campaign. Volusia County immediately vowed to appeal the nine-page rulingto the Florida Supreme Court. The deadline does not apply to an estimated 7,000 to 8,000 absentee ballots from Americans overseas; those are expected to be tallied Friday. The decision halted a manual recount, approved only Tuesday morning, in Miami-Dade County of 5,871 sample ballots, as well as the manual recount in Palm Beach County. Volusia County officials expressed uncertainty as to whether they’d be able to meet the deadline. Palm Beach County officials expected to begin a full manual count of some 431,000 presidential ballots this morning. But they said the hand count would take about six days to complete, so the county’s canvassing board asked the county attorney to seek a state court decision to resolve the deadline dispute. Lewis’ ruling did not directly address a debate between state officials over the legality of the hand tabulation of the ballots. It is unclear how Lewis’ ruling will affect six combined lawsuits filed by disgruntled voters in Palm Beach County, scheduled to be heard today. Four additional judges recused themselves from the case after the first judge recused himself Monday, saying he had made prejudicial comments about the election. The plaintiffs claim the layout of the Palm Beach ballot was confusing and that they voted for the wrong candidate.

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