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Bush holds 300-vote lead

Only 300 Florida votes out of about 5.8 million cast now separate presidential candidates Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R) and Vice President Al Gore (D).

With all 67 counties reporting, Bush leads Gore 2,910,492 to 2,910,192 in what Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris said was a "consistent, accurate, independent process" of recounting the votes.

Harris announced the latest tally at a press conference just hours after the 5 p.m. deadline for the 67 counties to report their final vote counts.

In Florida yesterday afternoon, Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis ruled that state officials may uphold yesterday's deadline for each county to report its election results to Harris.

But the counties may later submit amended counts that Harris cannot reject arbitrarily.

The verdict was a setback for Gore, who appealed shortly after the judge handed down his decision, requesting an extended deadline to allow lengthy manual recounts of four districts.

Volusia and Palm Beach counties joined Gore's lawsuit in appealing the decision.

The recounts could determine the recipient of Florida's pivotal 25 electoral votes, which now are up in the air.

Gore leads in the nationwide popular vote by just about 200,000 of 100 million cast. There have been only three cases in the nation's history where the president was elected without garnering a majority of the popular vote.

Excluding Florida, Bush gathered 246 electoral votes, while Gore has 255. New Mexico is not called. Both are short of the 270 needed for victory.

Democrats are pushing for manual recounts from three Democratic-leaning counties, Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade.

Harris said these counties have until 2 p.m. this afternoon to explain the "facts and circumstances" surrounding why a manual recount is necessary.

The ruling was not a total victory for Bush, who sought a decision that would disallow any votes to be tallied after the 5 p.m. deadline.

The deadline for overseas ballots to be received is midnight Friday. A final tally is expected by Friday night.

According to The Washington Post, elections experts said manual recounts "typically turn up at least a few votes that counting machines miss."

University Law Prof. Michael Klarman said voter opinion also may play a factor in the importance of votes received after the deadline.

"As a political matter, once you have a recount ... it's going to be really hard politically to reject the recount votes" that come in after the deadline, Klarman said. "There are swing voters out there who don't have any problem with a manual recount and I don't think the Florida Supreme Court will have any problems with it because it's entirely composed of Democrats"