Florida's top elections officer said tonight she will not accept updated tallies from counties conducting manual recounts of ballots, the process that's central to Vice President Gore's hopes of turning up enough newfound votes to overtake Gov. George W. Bush's narrow lead.

An hour later, Bush praised the decision and rejected Gore's proposal that Florida recount all of its 6 million votes by hand and make it the final word on the election. Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris announced at 9:15 p.m. that no county had provided sufficient reasons for her to extend last night's deadline to certify election returns from last week's presidential contest. Gore's campaign manager called Harris's comments "rash and precipitous." Gore is virtually certain to challenge the decision, especially in light of a Florida Supreme Court ruling made a few hours before Harris's announcement. The state's highest court rejected Harris's request, filed early this morning, to keep manual recounts from taking place. But the court didn't address the issue of whether Harris must accept the revised vote totals that such recounts might render.

Democrats believe manual recounts may produce enough previously undetected votes for Gore to make him, not Bush, the next president. But such votes won't help Gore if Florida doesn't certify them.

A Florida judge ruled Tuesday that Harris may not "arbitrarily" reject the extra vote tallies that counties try to submit after yesterday's deadline. Harris said tonight, however, "the reasons given in the requests are insufficient" to extend the deadline.

Her announcement was the latest twist in yet another day of dramatic turns in the all-important Florida election. Earlier, Gore -- buoyed by the Supreme Court's denial of Harris's morning petition - offered Bush a deal. Gore promised not to appeal the statewide results if Florida would sanction manual recounts in the handful of counties where he has requested them, or in all 67 Florida counties.

Harris's announcement essentially rendered the offer moot before Bush made any public reaction to it.

At 10:15 p.m., Bush went on TV to reject Gore's offer. Manual recounts, he said, "introduce human error and politics into the voting process," and they are "neither fair nor accurate." Bush said the election should be considered final when absentee ballots are counted Friday night, with the winner announced Saturday. Earlier this week, Bush went to federal and state courts seeking to block manual recounts from taking place at all. Despite the state Supreme Court's order today, Bush and his allies still have a chance in federal court. The Atlanta-based appeals court, perhaps as soon as Thursday, plans to hear Bush's appeal of his petition that would bar Florida counties from recounting ballots by hand. A Miami-based federal judge earlier refused the petition.

By late afternoon today, at least one large county - Broward - was recounting ballots by hand. Officials said 100 teams of inspectors could go through the 588,000 ballots in four-and-a-half days. Palm Beach County, meanwhile, was awaiting legal direction on its manual recount plans, which the state Supreme Court may give Thursday.

In light of Harris's announcement tonight, it was unclear whether a court will force her to allow the results of such recounts to be added to Florida's official tally. That tally now shows Bush leading Gore by 300 votes, with an unknown number of overseas absentee ballots yet to be opened. Speaking to reporters at 6:35 p.m., Gore defended the accuracy of manual recounts, saying, "This is a time to respect every voter and every vote." If Bush and Florida officials would agree to manual recounts of all of Florida's votes, Gore said, "I'll abide by that result. . . . We believe it can be completed in seven days."

Gore also suggested that he and Bush meet privately and urge their followers to tone down the heated rhetoric surrounding the contentious election.

In his own statement four hours later, Bush said he was willing to meet with Gore after the election.

Manual recounts, especially in Democratic-leaning Broward and Palm Beach counties are crucial to Gore. He hopes they will turn up numerous Democratic votes that counting machines had missed. Even if the recounts don't quickly find 300 new votes for Gore, a gradual trend showing him gaining a few votes hour by hour, precinct by precinct, could be politically potent.

It would make it harder for GOP leaders to insist on ignoring such newly detected votes and declaring Bush the victor, Democrats contend. Machines detected no presidential vote on many thousands of ballots cast in Broward and Palm Beach counties. Democrats believe some percentage of those ballots actually will show votes cast for Gore.

Republicans accuse Gore's team of pushing for ever more recounts until it finds one it likes.

Florida's Supreme Court made no comment in turning aside Harris's request to suspend all manual recounts until judges decide whether any counties can add to the vote totals they reported Tuesday night, the state-imposed deadline. All seven Supreme Court members were appointed by Democratic governors; Harris is a Republican and Bush supporter.

Republicans believe Bush will win most of the overseas absentee ballots, which can be counted as late as midnight Friday. They hope Florida will declare him the state's winner - and therefore the president-elect - no later than Saturday.

Gore allies accused Harris and other Republicans of trying to stall the recount process long enough to claim victory for Bush by Friday or Saturday without scrutinizing ballots that possibly could shift the election to Gore. Gore lawyer David Boies, speaking of Harris's actions today, said: "The game may be 'Delay those recounts as long as possible, and then bring down the curtain.'"

Harris said in her petition to the state Supreme Court today: "If countywide manual recounts continue before this court decides whether such recounts are authorized and/or constitutional, the results will be broadcast to the nation, which will neither advance the process nor serve the interests of public policy."

At least three counties - Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach - told Harris today in writing why she should accept their amended recount totals even though Tuesday night's certification deadline has passed. She rejected them all. Miami-Dade's plans for a possible recount remained uncertain tonight.

In Atlanta today, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals said the full 12-judge federal court will hear Bush's appeal of earlier decisions by two federal judges who refused to block manual recounts. The court set no time for the hearing, but told elections officials in Volusia County, Fla., to submit information on their manual recount by 7 a.m. Thursday.

No county has gotten more scrutiny than Palm Beach. After officials there decided not to go forward with a manual recount today, Washington Post staff writer Sue Anne Pressley reported, county criminal judge Charles Burton, who heads the county's three-member canvassing board, said, "On the one hand, we're trying to move forward, but we seem to be playing musical courts."

Following the Supreme Court decision, Palm Beach County officials said they would have counting crews meet again at 7 a.m. Thursday - hoping the third day would prove to be the charm.

Also in Palm Beach, circuit court judge Jorge Labarga ruled on the preposterously named "pregnant chads" that Democrats want counted in this predominantly Democratic county and Republicans do not. Chads are the punchouts that are supposed to separate from the ballot when the voter pushes them with a stylus; pregnant chads do not fall away and appear as indentations. Voting machines generally do not count them.

After hearing intense arguments from both sides, Labarga ruled that local canvassing board may decide whether to count pregnant chads. The Palm Beach board indicated, however, it will stick with its decision, made partway through Saturday's limited hand tally of 1 percent of the votes, not to count such ballots. The board cited a 1990 guideline that said, "An indentation is not evidence of intent to cast a valid vote."

Labarga, who commented in court today that "motions are coming in faster than I can whistle," also will preside over a Friday morning hearing on six lawsuits brought by residents who want a revote in the county because of the confusing design of its "butterfly" ballots. Because of the ballots' layout, plaintiffs felt it was too easy to cast a mistaken ballot for Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan instead of for Gore. In other Florida counties: The Miami-Dade County canvassing board voted 2-1 against the full hand recount Democrats sought. Gore picked up six votes after officials completed a hand recount of 5,871 ballots in three overwhelmingly Democratic precincts. Volusia County met Tuesday night's deadline for filing returns, but county officials still filed a motion with a state appellate court that would force Harris to accept figures submitted later. In Gadsden County, west of Tallahassee in north Florida, the canvassing board agreed to let Republicans and Democrats inspect more than 2,000 ballots rejected by voting machines. Broward County wrote to Harris today seeking permission to amend its election totals after hand counts are done. The letter said the county elections board "has concluded that the limited manual recount to date indicates an error in the vote tabulation which could affect the outcome of the election, requiring a manual recount of all ballots." Among other problems, it said, "Extremely large voter turnout, and the resulting ballots cast, dramatically increased the time required for the initial tabulation." Also, it said, county actions "have been materially impacted by numerous lawsuits." Florida Circuit Judge Terry P. Lewis yesterday upheld Harris's right to insist that all 67 counties certify their vote results by Tuesday evening, a move the Gore team opposed. But Lewis's ruling left open the possibility that counties could modify their results later. He said Harris may not "arbitrarily" reject the changes. The St. Petersburg Times today reported that experts feel Bush will win more absentee votes from overseas than will Gore. The paper reported that more Republicans than Democrats requested overseas absentee ballots - 3,834 to 2,531 - according to a survey of the 25 counties that kept tallies on the party affiliation of overseas requests. Also, the domestic and overseas absentee ballots that were counted on Election Day were heavily in Bush's favor - 59 percent to 37 percent by the analysis of 57 counties that were able to break down the absentee vote. However, counties that could not provide information for the newspaper's survey include some that favored Gore, such as Palm Beach and Miami-Dade.

Washington Post reporters Peter Slevin and April Witt in Florida contributed to this report. (c) 2000 The Washington Post