Florida's secretary of state certified George W. Bush the winner over Al Gore Sunday night in the state's near-deadlocked presidential vote but court challenges left in doubt which man will be the ultimate victor and 43rd president of the United States.
If the certification stands, Bush would win 271 electoral college votes one more than necessary for victory to 267 for Gore.
Moments after Republican Katherine Harris declared Bush the winner of Florida's 25 electoral votes at a ceremony in Tallahassee, Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, said she had certified "an incomplete and inaccurate count" and that he and Gore had no choice but to contest the election.
"It is in our nation's interest that the winner in Florida is truly the person who got the most votes," Lieberman said. He said nobody knows who that would be although Republicans insist it is Bush and Democrats say Gore.
Harris did not include hand recounted ballots from Palm Beach County, where Gore had gained a net of 180 votes on Bush. She said Bush had 2,912,790 votes and Gore had 2,912,253. That gave Bush a 537-vote lead out of 6 million cast.
Her declaration, which set off cheers at the capitol in Austin, Texas:
"Accordingly, on behalf of the state elections canvassing commission and in accordance with the laws of the state of Florida, I hereby declare Governor George W. Bush the winner of Florida's 25 electoral votes," Harris said.
The votes were due in Harris by 5 p.m. EST, a deadline set by the state supreme court, which allowed the hand recounts to go on.
Palm Beach County, one of four in which Gore sought hand recounting of the machine-cast ballots, halted its marathon count to file partial results with the state in time for the deadline, though elections officials kept counting and planned to file amended results later.
"We have no choice but to shut down," said Charles Burton, the canvassing board chairman there, after Secretary of State Katherine Harris rejected a request for more time. Burton said there were 800 to 1,000 ballots and about two hours work left when the counting ended at 4:19 p.m.
David Boies, lead lawyer for Democrat Gore's campaign, said the certification would be challenged Monday on at least three grounds, probably more, all involving incomplete recounting or votes he said had been tallied for the vice president at some point and later discounted.
In Palm Beach, Gore gained 180 votes in the partial filing of disputed hand recounts.
Hand recounting of machine-cast ballots in heavily Democratic Broward County, the Fort Lauderdale area, also had narrowed the Bush edge.
Bush led by 930 votes before the recounting in those counties. Absentee ballots from servicemen abroad added votes to his column.
Anticipating the certification, Gore was said to be preparing a speech to be delivered on Monday, explaining his case for the continuing challenge.
Florida's Democratic senators, one just elected, previewed it at a news conference in Tallahassee.
"If either candidate were to be declared the victor and electoral votes awarded based on the status today, neither candidate would be legitimate," Sen. Bob Graham said. "What is putting the presidency in jeopardy is the prospect of illegitimacy."
Sen.-elect Bill Nelson said American's don't want "an election that they feel like has been rigged or has not fully been counted.
"We shouldn't have a rush to judgment," he said. "Rather, we should be on a path toward justice."
Democratic congressional leaders said nothing would be settled Sunday or soon. "We're now in a two-week-or-so period in which you have a contest on both sides of this election," said Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, the House minority leader.
"What they're trying to do is overturn every rock, looking for more Gore votes, extend this as long as possible," said Gov. George Pataki of New York, one of the politicians both sides have summoned to Florida to watch the recounting and talk about it.
Pataki said on CBS' "Face the Nation" that he believes Bush won and that the Democrats are trying to recount him out of victory.
Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota, the Senate's Democratic leader, said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that he "truly" believes Gore won Florida, and that a full, fair recount would show it.
"I've talked with most of my colleagues over the last several days and there isn't any interest in conceding anything at this point," Daschle said.
There are court challenges in Florida on both sides, with more to come when courthouses open Monday. The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday will hear Bush's case against a state Supreme Court recount decision. Gore lawyers said they will challenge certification of a Bush lead by Harris, a Republican who campaigned for the Texas governor.
Bush has the option of dropping his appeal to the Supreme Court should he be certified the winner. That seemed unlikely because it would concede to Gore the recounted votes that put the vice president closer to winning a post-certification challenge to the count.
"I think both sides have decided to take this election beyond the certification," Daschle said. "Whether or not she makes any pronouncement tonight is not really relevant."
The Sunday deadline was set by the Florida Supreme Court in the unanimous decision Bush appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Florida justices ruled that ballots cast by machine and ordered recounted by hand should be included in the Bush and Gore totals, and that the numbers should be reported to the secretary of state by 5 p.m. EST Sunday.
Harris had planned to certify the outcome as of Nov. 17, the deadline under state law. Bush's attorneys said the state Supreme Court improperly overrode that law when it set a later deadline.
The three Palm Beach canvassing board members who unsuccessfully sought more time all are Democrats and the Gore campaign is going to court against them on Monday to challenge their recounting method, complaining they used too stringent a standard in determining what was a valid vote.
That was one of the issues on which Gore was basing his challenge to certification.
In Broward County, where Gore made more substantial recount gains, the canvassers were less restrictive in judging a voter's intent on punchcard ballots that did not register in voting machines because they were not properly punched, only dented.
Boies told a Tallahassee news conference Gore also will contest certification because of the decision by Miami-Dade County canvassers to drop their recount, and because questioned ballots that had been judged to be for the vice president there and in Nassau County were subsequently taken away from his total.
With the certification challenges, Boies said, "the counting now becomes a matter of judicial interpretation." He said judges or appointed special masters in Leon County, site of the state capitol, would look at ballots from Miami and other contested precincts and decide which candidate should get them.