- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 15, 2000

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. Florida's secretary of state, Katherine Harris, released official returns from all 67 counties last night showing George W. Bush's lead in Florida at exactly 300 votes.
The official returns show Mr. Bush with 2,910,492 votes and Vice President Al Gore with 2,910,192.
But Mrs. Harris said she will not certify the county returns until she weighs written requests from three Democratic counties to amend their numbers.
"Unless I determine, in the exercise of my discretion, that these facts and circumstances contained within these written statements justify an amendment to today's official returns, the state Elections Canvassing Commission … will certify statewide results reported to this office today," she said.
The official county returns the conclusion of two statewide counts and as many as four counts in some precincts were a major setback for Mr. Gore. The tallies followed a Democrat-appointed state judge's rejection of a Gore request to extend yesterday's 5 p.m. certification deadline indefinitely so that hand counts could be included.
The Bush campaign extolled the returns.
"The votes in Florida have now been counted, and Governor Bush won. They've been recounted and Governor Bush won. The counties have now certified their votes to the secretary of state and again Governor Bush won. Yet it appears we may have a deadline that may not be respected as a deadline at all," said Karen Hughes, a spokeswoman for Mr. Bush.
The Gore camp decried the developments.
"Every Floridian has the right to have his or her vote counted," said Gore campaign chairman William M. Daley, who criticized Mrs. Harris for what he called her "unfortunate and inexplicable" request that Democratic counties explain their tardiness by 2 p.m. today. "The Bush campaign and the secretary of state, in our opinion, are trying to cut off that right."
Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor working for Mr. Gore's cause by representing several Palm Beach County residents who say the county's "butterfly" ballots were too confusing, attacked Mrs. Harris' in language close to libel. "She's a crook. She's corrupt," he said on CNN.
In a signal that the wrenching and protracted fight for the presidency might finally be nearing an end, Mrs. Harris made clear she will not wait until the three counties complete their hand counts which could take a week or more before deciding the merits of such tallies.
If she rules against the counties, her only remaining task would be to certify absentee ballots from overseas at midnight Friday. She left no doubt that as far as she is concerned, the presidency could be decided right then and there.
"And the final results of the election for president of the United States of America in the state of Florida will be announced," she told reporters last night.
Two of the counties in question Miami-Dade and Broward have decided on their own not to finish hand counts after conducting sample tallies in just a handful of precincts. Democrats are weighing whether to sue for full county recounts.
The third county Palm Beach is believed to include the most votes for Mr. Gore. As TV cameras rolled, poll workers vacillated on rules about how much "chad" the tiny piece of cardboard that voters poke from ballots should be left hanging for the vote to count.
An informal Associated Press survey of 64 of Florida's 67 election supervisors found that they had mailed out more than 19,300 overseas ballots. Of those, more than 10,000 had been returned and the majority of them counted. It was not immediately known how many ballots were outstanding. Election supervisors plan to count the remaining ballots on Friday and send the results to the Florida secretary of state's office.
As of Monday, the postal service had delivered 446 military overseas ballots to Florida's counties since Nov. 8.
The vice president's aides seeking a leg up in public opinion on allowing hand counts yesterday cited Volusia, the one Democratic county that managed to complete its hand recount by yesterday's 5 p.m. deadline. Mr. Gore netted 98 votes in that tally, leading him to believe he could easily gain enough to take the lead over Mr. Bush if hand counts are allowed to proceed in the other three counties.
But Mrs. Harris, a Republican who was co-chairman of Mr. Bush's Florida campaign, is considered unlikely to award the presidency to Mr. Gore by accepting tardy votes that materialize in chaotic hand recounts. Those ballots will have been tallied by Democratic poll workers who have publicly vacillated on rules, standards and such Florida election vagaries as "pregnant chad."
In yesterday's court hearing about extending the certification deadline until 5 p.m., Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Harris emphasized it was up to Mrs. Harris to decide whether to belatedly adjust the statewide vote with fourth tallies of ballots in Palm Beach County and third tallies in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
"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," Judge Lewis ruled.
Publicly, Gore officials put a brave face on yesterday's developments, insisting they expect Mrs. Harris will "do the right thing" by accepting the tardy hand counts.
"The court holds that she must receive and be prepared to consider vote counts that are reported after that time," Gore representative Warren Christopher said of yesterday's 5 p.m. deadline. "That was our principal objective in bringing the case. And indeed the court's opinion on this point is tantamount to the injunction that we sought."
But privately, the Gore team expressed growing worry that the public will come to accept as "official" the numbers that Mrs. Harris seems poised to certify the state's election with alarming swiftness.
That's because if Mr. Bush survives the counting of ballots from overseas, he will ostensibly win Florida and claim the 25 electoral votes needed to clinch the presidency. That would leave Mr. Gore in the position of railing against "official" numbers and prolonging the fight with further lawsuits.
To complicate matters for Mr. Gore, the hand counts are coming under assault not just from Mrs. Harris, but from all directions. The Bush team late yesterday asked a federal appeals court to declare such counts unconstitutional, a request that was rejected Monday by a lower court judge.
At the same time, state authorities are heatedly debating the validity of the hand counts. Early yesterday, Palm Beach officials suspended their hand count and asked the Florida Supreme Court for guidance after receiving conflicting opinions from state officials on whether to continue.
Mrs. Harris had ruled that since there was nothing wrong with machines that counted the ballots the first three times, a fourth count by hand was unnecessary. But Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth, a Democrat, advised the county to go ahead and complete the hand tally.
In the end, the Palm Beach County Canvassing Board voted late yesterday to resume the hand count, starting at 7 this morning. The county already hand-counted one percent of its precincts over the weekend in a televised process that was fraught with confusion.
One week after 100 million Americans thought they had chosen a new president, confusion over the outcome reached new heights yesterday in a blizzard of frantic court filings, impassioned press conferences and recusals by judges who are loath to get sucked into the quagmire. The explosion of litigation suggested that both sides appeared increasingly committed to a scorched-earth policy of all-out legal and political war.
In Palm Beach County, no fewer than five state judges recused themselves from lawsuits filed by Democrats who called the presidential ballot overly confusing. A new lawsuit by Democrats argued that election workers should change their rules again by counting pregnant chad, a term that refers to tiny squares of paper that bulged but did not break out of paper ballots that voters marked with push pins.
In Broward County, Democrats went to court to reverse Monday night's decision by the county elections board not to proceed with a hand count of the entire county. That decision was reached after a sample hand count of one percent of the county's precincts resulted in a net gain of only four votes for Mr. Gore.

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