- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 22, 2000

Vice President Al Gore, who won another critical reprieve last night, is counting on contested "dimpled" ballots as his last resort in the disputed presidential election.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled unanimously last night that hand recounts in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties must be added to the state's total if completed this weekend.

"The Florida Supreme Court has now spoken and we will move forward now with a full, fair and accurate count of the ballots in question," Mr. Gore said last night at his official residence on the grounds of the Naval Observatory.

"I don't know what those ballots will show," Mr. Gore said confidently as his running mate, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, stood by his side.

"I don't know whether Governor Bush or I will prevail, but we do know that our democracy is the winner tonight," Mr. Gore said.

The court did not specifically answer a critical question whether indentations without perforations, the so-called "dimples," should count as votes.

Gore advisers' smiles may soon fade without the "dimples."

Mr. Gore, who trails Texas Gov. George W. Bush by 930 votes, has gained fewer than 300 votes so far in manual recounts in the three Florida counties.

Mr. Gore's lawyers took heart from a section of the 43-page opinion in which the Florida Supreme Court held that "an accurate vote count is one of the essential foundations of our democracy."

The Florida Supreme Court cited as "particularly apt" a 1990 ruling by the Illinois Supreme Court.

"The purpose of our election laws is to obtain a correct expression of the intent of the voters," the Illinois court held.

"Our courts have repeatedly held that, where the intention of the voter can be ascertained with reasonable certainty from his ballot, that intention will be given effect even though the ballot is not strictly in conformity with the law," the Illinois decision continued.

The Florida Supreme Court "has confirmed what we thought was the law of Florida which was that any indication of the intent of the voter whether it is pricked through, or whether it is completely dislodged or whether it is indented, that is what counts," said David Boies, a lawyer for Mr. Gore.

By relying on "the Illinois standard," the Florida Supreme Court confirmed that "it is the intent of the voter, not how the voter manifests his or her intent," that matters, Mr. Boies said.

Gore spokesman Chris Lehane put an optimistic face on the vice president's plight earlier yesterday. He said Mr. Gore will prevail if Gore indentations count as Gore votes.

"Obviously, if the voter-intent standard is used as is the law in Florida and in most states the hand recounts will show what we know to be true," Mr. Lehane said.

"More people went to the polls on Nov. 7 to vote for Al Gore than went to the polls to vote for George Bush."

Mr. Gore canceled his plans for a Tennessee Thanksgiving as he awaited word from Florida's Supreme Court.

Mr. Gore spoke with his top political and legal aides on a conference call immediately following the decision.

Gore aides believe the high court gave the vice president a victory in both the political and legal realms. They believe the unanimous ruling buttresses his call for patience.

But the patience may not last if Mr. Gore loses in the manual recounts.

Gore advisers acknowledge a growing consensus among Democratic leaders that the Florida Supreme Court should be Mr. Gore's last stand.

"He understands at some point that it's going to be over and he's not going to appeal this thing ad infinitum," Sen. Bob Kerrey, Nebraska Democrat, told reporters in Tallahassee, Fla., yesterday.

"He is going to stop and say, 'I still believe on the 7th of November I had a majority of the votes, but I know this thing's got to go on, I know the electors have got to be certified and I know that I may not end up being president.' "

Mr. Kerrey, who won the Medal of Honor for service in Vietnam, said canvassing boards in Florida should count dimpled ballots, even as they give military personnel the benefit of the doubt.

"Are they willing to do the same thing for an 85-year-old that simply didn't have the strength to punch through a punch card, that simply didn't have the capacity to get that done?" Mr. Kerrey asked.

But Mr. Kerrey also offered ominous news for Mr. Gore. He joined the chorus of Democratic elders such as Sen. John B. Breaux of Louisiana, Rep. Charles B. Rangel of New York and former Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia, who believe the vice president should not fight beyond Florida's Supreme Court.

"I don't disagree with that at all. The question is, are Republicans willing to say that?" Mr. Kerrey said on CBS' "Early Show."

Mr. Gore knows his Democratic support could ebb quickly if he loses after the manual recounts.

"I think there is a growing feeling among a number of individuals that this should be the final decision," Mr. Breaux told CNN yesterday.

"This is, after all, the Supreme Court of the state of Florida. 'Supreme' means the final decision," Mr. Breaux said.

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