- The Washington Times - Monday, November 13, 2000

The fight for the White House tumbled into the courts today as a transfixed nation witnessed the historic entanglement of presidential politics and the judiciary. George W. Bush fought on two fronts to block recounts that threatened his 388-vote lead in Florida, tactics Al Gore's team called "arbitrary and unreasonable."
Amid a whirlwind of political and legal maneuvers, Mr. Bush's lawyers sought a federal court order barring manual recounts in Florida — a state whose 25 electoral votes will almost certainly determine the nation's 43rd president. A federal judge rejected the request, and Republicans said a decision on whether to appeal would be made swiftly.
Separately, the state's top elections official — a Republican who campaigned for Bush — said she would end the recounting at 5 p.m. tomorrow. "The process of counting and recounting the votes cast on Election Day must end," said Secretary of State Katherine Harris. Mr. Gore immediately appealed the ruling, making his first major legal push, and Mr. Bush joined the case on behalf of Ms. Harris.
As new vote totals dribbled in from scattered counties and recounts were under consideration in other close-voting states, Mr. Gore confidant Warren Christopher said Republicans were rushing to judgment when "the presidency of the United States is at stake."
The pressure weighed on Donald Middlebrooks, a federal judge appointed by President Clinton who predicted the struggle would continue outside his courtroom. "I am not under an illusion I am the last word on this," he said, "and I am rather grateful for that."
He heard arguments in much the same terms the two sides have used in public statements since the Florida dispute flared in the hours after the polls closed last week.
"The process, to sum it up, is selective, standardless, subjective, unreliable and inherently biased," said GOP lawyer Theodore Olson.
Mr. Olson said the recount-by-hand introduced elements of chance and partisan bias to what ought to be a simple and uniform process of checking Florida's extraordinarily close election result.
Democratic lawyer Bruce Rogow said the hand count was — for better or worse — democracy in action.
"Is it messy? Does it go on and on in some fashion? Yes, yes it does, but that is democracy," he told the judge.
Mr. Rogow and other Democratic lawyers disputed GOP claims that the hand counts could go on for weeks, saying they will almost certainly be complete by Friday. Overseas absentee ballots are due the same day, setting the stage for a potential climax to the political drama.
The judge called the Republican arguments serious but turned them aside, saying it was a matter for the state, not federal, courts to decide.
A breathtaking day of activity began with the meeting between Ms. Harris and two top Gore advisers — former Secretary of State Christopher and campaign chairman William Daley. Holding firm to the Tuesday deadline, Ms. Harris said state law gives her leeway for certifying ballots in natural disasters.
"A close election, regardless of the identity of the candidate, is not such a circumstance," she said.
It was a blow to Mr. Gore, who initiated recounts in four predominantly Democratic counties. Recounts are under way in at least two additional counties.
"We regard the action of the secretary of state to be arbitrary and unreasonable," Mr. Christopher said, promising an appeal by county officials or Mr. Gore himself. Running mate Joseph Lieberman called the action "outrageous."
Within the hour, one of the four counties sued in state court for the right to complete its manual recount. Mr. Gore's lawyers joined the suit, accusing Ms. Harris of doing the bidding of Mr. Bush and his brother Jeb, the Florida governor, and Mr. Bush's legal team joined in to defend Ms. Harris.
"She is a long standing supporter of Governor Bush, and I think her … statements have to be taken into that context," Mr. Christopher said.
Such politically charged rhetoric carried the day, with both sides struggling to control public opinion. Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush have been advised that there may come a time, shortly after the absentee ballots are counted this weekend, when the trailing candidate needs to concede or risk fallout from a public growing weary of the saga.
Ever-changing voting figures in Florida gave Mr. Bush a 388-vote margin out of some 6 million votes cast with recounts under way in scattered counties. The figure does not count absentee ballots from Floridians living overseas.
Mr. Gore leads in the nationwide popular vote by about 200,000 votes, but the Electoral College tally is so close that whoever takes Florida almost certainly will win the White House. Only three times in the nation's history has a candidate won the popular vote but lost the presidential race, the last time being in 1888.
Neither side would acknowledge actively considering a quick exit. Instead, the lines of battle were drawn deeper.
If Mr. Bush fails to secure an injunction on appeal, his next step would be fateful. Senior strategists say Mr. Bush could seek recounts in some GOP-dominated Florida counties if the Gore-backed recounts and overseas balloting put him in danger of losing the lead.
Mr. Gore could face a similarly tough decision if he does not pull into the lead this week, advisers said.
Mr. Bush's team has threatened to demand recounts in close-voting states won by Gore. But without Florida, he would have to win Oregon, Iowa, New Mexico and Wisconsin to claim the White House — a long shot given that Mr. Gore is leading by 5,000 or more votes in all these states but New Mexico.
Not counting Florida, Mr. Bush carried 29 states for 246 electoral votes. Gore counted 19 states plus the District of Columbia for 262 electoral votes, with 270 needed for victory. Bush led in New Mexico but the state remained too close to call. Its five electoral votes would not be decisive.
The action was fast and furious on every front today. Among the developments:
* New Polk County figures showed a 100-vote gain for Mr. Bush from recount totals originally announced by the county this weekend. Despite the change today, Mr. Gore still gained a net of 29 votes in Polk County during recounts from his original Election Night total.
* Volusia County, a Democratic-leaning jurisdiction, awarded Mr. Bush a net gain of 21 votes. The Deland, Fla., officials also sued in state court to extend tomorrow's 5 p.m. deadline, though they expected to be finished by then. Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush quickly joined the case as did Palm Beach County.
* Democratic-leaning Broward County, with Fort Lauderdale as its hub, planned to begin Gore-requested hand counts this afternoon.
* Officials in Palm Beach County, a Democratic bastion, announced that workers will begin hand counting ballots tomorrow and expect to finish Sunday. The county's canvassing board voted to ask Harris and the state's Democratic attorney general for an advisory opinion on whether tomorrow's 5 p.m. deadline can be extended.
* A hearing is scheduled tomorrow in Miami-Dade County, sight of what Mr. Gore hopes will be his fourth manual recount.
Democrats in New Mexico objected to Republican requests to have ballots impounded in each of the state's 33 counties. With Mr. Bush holding a 17-vote lead over Mr. Gore, state Democratic Party chairwoman Diane Denish said the GOP effort in her state "is part of the Bush national 'scorch the earth' campaign that is going on in Florida."

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