- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 15, 2000

Yesterday's decision by a state judge authorizing the Florida secretary of state to enforce Tuesday's 5 p.m. deadline for certification of presidential votes represented a partial victory for George W. Bush and a partial setback for Al Gore. The operative word in the foregoing sentence is "partial." The ruling issued by Circuit Judge Terry Lewis denied an injunction sought by the Gore campaign to block the secretary of state from enforcing a Florida statute requiring all counties to file "by 5 p.m. on the seventh day following an election." But the ruling did not completely resolve the issue of the manual recounts, which, in four Florida counties as of yesterday, were either being conducted, considered or adjudicated.

Judge Lewis ruled that all Florida counties, including the four heavily Democratic counties in question, "must certify and file what election returns they have by the statutory deadline of 5 p.m. of Nov. 14, 2000." That was the decision the Bush camp wanted. But the judge went much further. He authorized counties to provide "due notification to the secretary of state of any pending manual recounts," and he authorized those counties to "thereafter file supplemental or corrective returns."

In issuing his two-pronged decision, Judge Lewis implicitly took issue with the statement released Monday by Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, which asserted, "If the certification is not in the possession of the Florida Department of State by [5 p.m. Tuesday], the law provides that the votes cast in that county will not be counted in the certification of the statewide results." Ms. Harris was dutifully relying on a section of Florida law stating that "all missing counties shall be ignored and the results shown by the returns on file shall be certified." In authorizing some counties to subsequently file "corrective returns," Judge Lewis was evidently relying on another section that stipulates that delinquent returns "may be ignored." In his decision, he declared, "The secretary of state may ignore such late-filed returns but may not do so arbitrarily, rather only by the proper exercise of discretion after consideration of all appropriate facts and circumstances."

Considering the politicized debacles that the manual recounts have become, how much discretion will be needed to reject the so-called "corrective returns"? Where manual recounts have been conducted, they have been subjected to standardless procedures, which, in the case of one county, have literally evolved throughout the process. In attempting to divine some voters' intentions by itself a highly questionable procedure Broward County used a "two-corner test," which required manual recounters to detect at least two corners of the rectangular "chad" separated from the punch card of a voter whose presidential vote was not counted by a machine. Palm Beach County used a "single-corner test" to manually count ballots. Well, that was the latest of several standards that were successively used in Palm Beach County.

Even this wasn't enough for the Democrats, who went to court attempting to force Palm Beach County officials to accept as votes so-called "pregnant chads" dimpled fragments not detached from the card. When Broward County election officials exercised their right to conclude that the results of their sample manual recount did not require them to conduct a county-wide manual recount, the Democratic Party sued that county in court.

When the "corrective returns" arrive, Ms. Harris need only consider the circus atmosphere that has enveloped the manual recounts, the complete lack of uniform standards and the utter unfairness of conducting recounts in only heavily Democratic counties.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide