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If courts can't decide, Fla. Legislature might

Under a federal statute, the Republican-controlled body has the power to decide who gets the state's electors.

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Republican lawmakers in Tallahassee, Fla., are preparing to swing into action to guarantee George W. Bush is the next president in the event that the Florida Supreme Court is unsuccessful in resolving the impasse over Florida's 2000 presidential election.

Under a little-known provision of federal law, if a state election is unable to determine which candidate should receive the state's crucial 25 Electoral College votes, the state legislature is granted the power to select the delegates.

That means that Florida's Republican-controlled House of Representatives and Senate would have the opportunity to handpick loyal Bush supporters as electors. The Florida delegation would push Mr. Bush's Electoral College total to 271, enough to win the presidency.

John Thrasher (R), Speaker of Florida's House of Representatives, says lawmakers are researching the legal provision.

"We are very much aware of the statute," Mr. Thrasher says. "But I don't know if anyone is ready to pull the trigger."

The statute, 3 USC Section 2, says: "Whenever any state has held an election for the purpose of choosing electors, and has failed to make a choice on the day prescribed by law, the electors may be appointed on a subsequent day in such a manner as the legislature of such state may direct."

The provision is evidence that an earlier generation of national lawmakers foresaw the kind of partisan, high-stakes tug of war that currently grips Florida and established a way to break the deadlock.

Analysts see it as an outcome of last resort that would outrage Democrats and prompt charges that a Bush presidency was the result of a legal loophole.

At the same time, Republicans are concerned that Florida's Supreme Court has the power, if it chooses to exercise it, to install Gore as the next president.

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