- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 15, 2000

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Excerpts from a ruling by Leon County Circuit Judge Terry P. Lewis on a request by Volusia and Palm Beach counties to extend a deadline to report election results in Florida's presidential vote recount:


I find that the county canvassing boards must certify and file what election returns they have by the statutory deadline of 5 p.m. of November 14, 2000 with due notification to the Secretary of State of any pending manual recounts. And thereafter file supplemental or corrective returns. 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.
The Secretary of State takes the position that the law requires the county canvassing boards to certify and report the results of elections in their counties no later than 5 p.m., November 14, 2000, and there are no exceptions to this mandate and that the Secretary is likewise required by law to ignore any untimely received returns unless the untimeliness is caused by hurricane or other act of God. I give great deference to the interpretation by the Secretary of the election laws, and I agree that the canvassing boards must file their returns by 5 p.m. today. I disagree however that the Secretary is required to ignore any late filed returns absent an act of God.
… To determine ahead of time that such [late] returns will be ignored … unless caused by some act of God, is not the exercise of discretion. It is the abdication of that discretion."
… If the returns are received from a county at 5:05 p.m. on November 14, 2000, should the results be ignored? What about 15 minutes? An hour? What if there was an electrical power outage? Some other malfunctioning of the transmitting equipment? More particularly related to this case, when was the request for recount made?
Just as the Secretary cannot decide ahead of time what late returns should or should not be ignored, it would not be proper for me to do so by injunction.
I can lawfully direct the Secretary to properly exercise her discretion in making a decision on the returns but I cannot enjoin the Secretary to make a particular decision nor can I rewrite the statute, which by its plain meaning mandates the filing of returns by the canvassing board by 5 p.m. on Nov. 14.
Accordingly it is ordered and adjudged that the Secretary of State is directed to withhold determination as to whether or not to ignore late filed returns until due consideration of all relevant facts and circumstances consistent with the sound exercise of discretion. In all other respects, the motion for the injunction is denied.

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