- The Washington Times - Friday, November 17, 2000

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. The Florida Supreme Court yesterday opted not to block Palm Beach County from resuming its hand count of ballots, although Florida's secretary of state plans to disregard this and other tardy counts after declaring a winner tomorrow.
"There is no legal impediment to the recounts continuing," the court said in its one-paragraph ruling.
Both sides claimed victory in the ruling, which allows Palm Beach County to count its ballots for a fourth time. The team of Texas Gov. George W. Bush pointed out that the ruling does not force Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris to accept the results, while Vice President Al Gore's team insisted the court wouldn't have allowed the tally to proceed if it didn't want the results to count.
Arguments for and against these hand counts were also heard yesterday in the courtroom of Circuit County Judge Terry Lewis, who is expected to issue a ruling at 10 a.m. today. Although he could echo yesterday's Supreme Court decision, anything short of an explicit order for Mrs. Harris to accept the results of hand counts seems unlikely to reverse the Bush team's momentum toward closure tomorrow.
As Mrs. Harris prepared to bring closure to the Florida election, she was sharply attacked by Vice President Al Gore's running mate, Connecticut Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman.
Less than 24 hours after being publicly cautioned by Mr. Gore not to say anything inflammatory that might harm the next president's ability to unite the nation, Mr. Lieberman said a Bush presidency would be divisive and illegitimate.
"This country will go into the new century divided, with a president who does not have legitimacy of support," he said.
The Democratic ticket was clearly alarmed by Mrs. Harris' plan to end the contest after adding absentee ballots from overseas, which are due at midnight tonight, to the certified total that already gives Mr. Bush a 300-vote statewide edge.
Meanwhile, Mr. Bush opted not to seek a recount in Iowa, where Mr. Gore leads by 3,000 votes out of more than a million cast. The gesture was designed to contrast the Texas governor's willingness to accept a close call in one state with the vice president's unwillingness in another.
As Democrats tried to build a national consensus that the vice president is being deprived of votes by ballot confusion and inexact vote-counting machines, Republicans countered that Mr. Bush was deprived of votes when TV networks depressed turnout by prematurely calling Florida for Mr. Gore.
Rep. W.J. "Billy" Tauzin, Louisiana Republican, said the networks showed unmistakable bias by hastening to award close states to Mr. Gore, while hesitating to give Mr. Bush states he was winning by a landslide.
Mr. Bush is banking on winning the absentee ballots in Florida and claiming the 25 electoral votes necessary for national victory tomorrow. Once that number locks in as the legal, certified election result, Mr. Gore would be the only one trying to extend the process through litigation. At that point, the Texas governor believes public pressure would build dramatically for the vice president to concede a view supported by several new polls.
However, that still leaves the Gore-Lieberman ticket until tomorrow to derail the Bush victory train.
In his comments on morning televsions talk shows, Mr. Lieberman said Mrs. Harris will leave a cloud over this election because she ruled Wednesday not to accept tardy hand recounts under way in predominantly Democratic counties.
"I never would use the word steal, but honestly, the secretary of state in Florida has acted in a way that seems to me to be so unilateral," he said. "She just went out and said: 'OK, on my own, I'm going to stop the hand counting of ballots,' which effectively would mean, if unchallenged, that the Florida secretary of state will determine who the next president of the United States will be. And that's not fair."
Mr. Bush's brother, Jeb, who is governor of Florida, defended Mrs. Harris, who co-chaired the Bush presidential campaign in Florida.
"I think she is on very solid ground," he said. "The beauty of our country and our state is that we will abide by the rule of law. And my hope is that the courts will validate her decision, and we'll have some clarity on this."
Jeb Bush has recused himself from his position on the statewide canvassing board that will certify the vote total. Although he has kept a relatively low profile since election night, yesterday he shared some thoughts about the political maelstrom that has riven his state.
"It breaks my heart to see the passions overflow and to see this intense coverage of our state," he told reporters. "Also, internally there is going to be a lot of wounds that need to be healed. And I would hope that people in public life, including myself, would work on that. And we will."
The Gore team made no secret of its plan to intensify the storm of litigation that raged through Florida yesterday. From one end of the state to the other, lawsuits and countersuits flew fast and furious as the deadline for final vote certification neared.
In predominantly Democratic Broward County, the election canvassing board ignored a ruling from Mrs. Harris to stop its hand count of 588,000 ballots, which have already been counted twice by machine. Workers also ignored a Republican lawyer who showed up and ordered them to stop because of a lawsuit he filed that will result in a hearing this afternoon in Broward County Circuit Court.
"You are acting in defiance of a directive from the secretary of state," said Republican lawyer William Scherer. "You have no basis to start a hand count in the first place."
But after hand counting 61 of some 600 precincts, workers announced they had found a net gain of 17 votes for Mr. Gore. They also found pieces of chad, the tiny squares of cardboard that are punched from ballots, littering the floor. The chad were swept up and placed in a sealed envelope in case they are needed in future investigations.
While Broward County hopes to complete its hand count by Monday, a similar tally in Palm Beach County continued to suffer fits and starts yesterday. Having received conflicting opinions on whether to proceed from Mrs. Harris, a Republican, and Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth, a Democrat, the board held off until late in the day, when it received the green light from the Florida Supreme Court.
While the board waited, hundreds of pro-Bush demonstrators gathered outside the vote-counting site to chant their support of the Texas governor. Public opinion polls show that Floridians and Americans in general overwhelmingly consider Mr. Bush the true winner of the election.
In Atlanta yesterday, a federal appeals court asked the Bush and Gore camps to respond to each other's arguments by 7 a.m. today. Although the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals normally uses three-judge panels to hear cases, all 12 justices have agreed to consider arguments on the constitutionality of the hand recounts in Florida.
The appeals court agreed to tackle the issue after it was thrown out of lower federal courts in Miami and Orlando earlier this week.
As of last night, no federal, state or county court had stripped Mrs. Harris of the discretion that Florida law grants her to decide whether to accept late hand counts. But Mrs. Harris was urged to take that step yesterday by Gore lawyers who pointed out that an earlier ruling by the judge had admonished Mrs. Harris not to disregard the late counts arbitrarily.
"The secretary has not complied with the court's order," said Gore campaign lawyer Dexter Douglass. "The secretary was ordered that she should wait before determining which counts would be accepted until all returns were received from the lawful manual recount now under way."
He argued that Mrs. Harris was supposed to consider all the facts and circumstances, including the degree of lateness, any mechanical or unavoidable difficulties, and the reason given by the boards for their inability to present the returns before the 5 p.m. Tuesday deadline.
Mrs. Harris instructed several Democratic counties to notify her in writing by 2 p.m. Wednesday why they should get more time to complete their recounts. She rejected those arguments seven hours later.
"Her ruling on the request came only seven hours after the deadline for submission, before counties had completed their counts," Mr. Douglass said. "She did not consider any facts and circumstances."
Bush lawyer Michael Carvin disagreed.
"She looked at the electoral code to see if there was any fraud or serious corruption or serious malfeasance or violations or technical problems," he said. "There was nothing like that. Palm Beach certified that the machines worked just fine."
Mr. Carvin lambasted the county for failing to even begin a recount of 99 percent of its precincts until after the certification deadline.
"Here we have a case of gross noncompliance," he said. "Palm Beach, at the earliest, is going to be submitting this sometime next week. If it's next Tuesday, which I assume would be the earliest, that would be seven days past the statutory deadline.
"So what they're asking you do at a minimum is double the deadline that the statute firmly enforces, from seven days to 14 days," he added. "So there was simply no reason for her to excuse their noncompliance."

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide