- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 23, 2000

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. Florida's most populous county where Al Gore was picking up an average of one vote in each of the 614 recounted precincts called off its hand count yesterday, the most frenetic so far in the 2-week-old battle for the presidency.
The day began with Richard B. Cheney, running mate of George W. Bush, suffering a mild heart attack and ended with the Texas governor asking the U.S. Supreme Court to block hand counts under way in two other counties, Broward and Palm Beach.
"The unequal, constantly changing, and standardless selective manual vote recount under way for the past two weeks in Florida is a patently unfair process that is having an impact far beyond Florida's borders, and that cries out for correction by this court," Mr. Bush's lawyers said in court papers.
Developments were swift throughout the day as both sides sifted through the previous day's Florida Supreme Court ruling that allowed hand recounts to continue until 5 p.m. Sunday.
Bush lawyers filed a lawsuit to demand that 13 Florida counties count absentee ballots from U.S. service members overseas.
Mr. Gore's campaign chairman, William M. Daley, refused to rule out further legal wrangling if the vice president trails Mr. Bush after manual recounts are tallied.
The Gore campaign filed an appeal in a Florida appeals court to restart the counting in Miami-Dade County, which late last night was turned away. Democrats planned an appeal to the Florida Supreme Court.
A Palm Beach County circuit judge ordered election officials to consider so-called dimpled ballots in their manual recount.
Florida House Speaker Tom Feeney said he had summoned a law professor to advise the legislature on its "constitutional prerogatives" to enter the controversy. He denounced Tuesday's state Supreme Court decision and said, "The judicial branch has clearly overstepped its powers."
Early in the day, Mr. Bush stepped before cameras to publicly denounce the chaotic hand counts in Palm Beach and Broward counties.
"Like many Americans, I am amazed at what I see on the TV set the changing of rules on a regular basis," the Texas governor told reporters. "If somebody doesn't like what's happening one day, they try to change the rules the next.
"But I'm confident that, when it's all said and done, the vote will stand in Florida," he added. "So I feel great."
In a sign of newfound aggressiveness, the Texas governor's legal team asked the U.S. Supreme Court to wade into the Florida standoff. Specifically, Mr. Bush argued that Tuesday's ruling by the Florida Supreme Court violated the separation-of-powers doctrine by usurping the legislative role and rewriting state election law.
The Bush team also argued that it is unconstitutional for election officials to glean previously undetected votes through hand counts in only a handful of selected Democratic counties. That dilutes the impact of voters in counties where ballots were counted only by machines, thereby creating unequal representation, they said.
Bush lawyers also cited a federal law that bars election rules from being changed in midstream.
By taking the fight to the nation's highest court, the Bush team is hedging its bet against the scenario in which Mr. Gore amasses enough votes in the hand counts to take the lead in time for Sunday's statewide certification.
Mr. Bush also ripped Democratic efforts to reject overseas ballots, even if the ballots arrived without military postmarks. Gore lawyers began a statewide campaign to disqualify military ballots last week, sparking widespread outrage. Of more than 3,500 overseas ballots, 1,527 were rejected.
"If Vice President Gore is seeking some common ground, I propose a good place to start," Mr. Bush said yesterday. "He should join me in calling upon all appropriate authorities in Florida to make sure that overseas military ballots that were signed and received on time count in this election.
"Our men and women in uniform overseas should not lose their right to vote," he added. "I hope the vice president will personally support me in this call."
Although Mr. Gore has remained silent on this issue, Mr. Daley weighed in after being prompted by a reporter.
"All of us agree that those legally cast ballots, whether they're military ballots or civilian ballots, should be counted," he said yesterday. "There's no question about that."
But on Tuesday, Sen. Robert Kerrey, a Nebraska Democrat who serves as a Gore surrogate in the post-election fight, insisted military ballots should not be counted if soldiers and sailors did not carefully follow the rules for casting votes. Service members do not have the authority to affix postmarks to their outgoing mail and the Defense Department acknowledges it sometimes fails to affix the postmarks.
The Bush team began yesterday on a gloomy note because of the Florida Supreme Court ruling. But the mood brightened considerably by afternoon, when the Miami-Dade County Canvassing Board voted to abandon its hand count.
The unanimous decision barred Mr. Gore from a potential treasure trove of 10,750 ballots that voters had not marked decisively enough to be detected by ballot-counting machines.
The ruling was an unexpected boost for the Bush team because just hours earlier the three-member canvassing board decided to tally the 10,750 "undervote" ballots. That decision was based on the realization that there was not enough time to count more than 650,000 ballots in the county by the deadline set by the Florida Supreme Court.
Before halting the count, the board had manually tallied 135 of the county's 614 precincts, resulting in a net vote of 157 votes for Mr. Gore. But those votes will not be counted because the board concluded late yesterday that it would not be fair to tally only a portion of the ballots.
So it called off the count altogether. Gore lawyers immediately asked the 3rd District Court of Appeals to force the board to resume the hand count.
"We were disappointed by the decision of the Miami-Dade board of canvassers, who had previously found that there was an error in the vote count that did require a manual recount," said Mr. Daley.
"Under Florida law, once the finding is made, the recount is mandatory," he said. "We will immediately be seeking an order directing the Dade County board of canvassers to resume the manual recount."
The court later rejected the request.
Ironically, the Florida Supreme Court ruling that was hailed by Mr. Gore late Tuesday is now working against the vice president by virtue of the strict deadlines it imposes. The vice president has only this holiday weekend in which to surmount the Texas governor's 930-vote lead.
To make sure the Gore team does not obtain extra time for the hand counts, Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris yesterday announced she will be in her office at 5 p.m. Sunday to certify the statewide vote. The Florida Supreme Court had stipulated Tuesday that if Mrs. Harris was not in her office, counties could submit their tallies at 9 a.m. Monday directly to the state canvassing board.
As the post-election standoff enters its 18th day, the vice president has never enjoyed even an unofficial lead over Mr. Bush in Florida. And the hand counts that the Gore team had hoped would be their salvation have failed to pan out.
As the court-ordered deadline for election certification nears, the category of votes known as "dimpled" ballots looms ever larger as the possible key to a come-from-behind victory for Mr. Gore. But Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge Jorges Labarga yesterday refused to order the county canvassing board to include these dimpled ballots in their final vote count, as the Gore team had argued.
Instead, the judge left it up to the board to decide whether those votes should be counted. Republicans are hoping the board sticks to its standard set 10 years ago by Democratic board member Theresa LePore to reject dimpled ballots.
For the sake of consistency, Broward County is expected to look toward Palm Beach for guidance in settling its own debate over whether to count dimpled ballots. Late yesterday, the Broward County Canvassing Board heard arguments from the Bush and Gore teams and planned to reconvene at 9 a.m. today to decide whether to include between 1,000 and 2,000 dimpled ballots.
Having already completed manual hand tallies of all 609 of its precincts which resulted in an unofficial net gain of 64 votes for Mr. Gore the board seems likely to adjudicate the 1,000 to 2,000 dimpled ballots by Sunday's deadline.
But Palm Beach County appears less certain to finish on time. Election workers have hand counted just 169 of 531 precincts, resulting in a net gain of two votes for Mr. Gore.
Even more time consuming are the 10,000 dimpled ballots, which must be individually examined by the three-member canvassing board. Even if the board works 12 hours on each of the four days this weekend, each member would have less than six seconds to examine each ballot.
If the board fails to complete the entire recount in time, it will face the same dilemma the Miami-Dade board confronted yesterday whether to submit only a partial recount for official certification. Given the precedent set by Miami-Dade, there would likely be public pressure on Palm Beach to likewise go "all or nothing."
Also yesterday, Mr. Feeney, the state's speaker of the House, signaled that the state legislature might attempt to appoint its own electors if Mr. Gore tries to claim victory in the state. That could result in the selection of two sets of 25 electors, each pledged to a different candidate.
Such a scenario would require resolution by both houses of the U.S. Congress. But even that could prove extraordinarily contentious. Although Republicans have a slender majority in the House, they might end up with only 50 of the 100 Senate seats, depending on the outcome of one race that remains too close to call.
That would leave Mr. Gore, as president of the Senate, as tie breaker in his own election.

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