- The Washington Times - Monday, July 2, 2001

Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris said she had been willing to give Palm Beach County the extra time it requested to complete a hand recount, but she was warned by her Democratic attorneys that the request was "a setup."
Mrs. Harris said one of the persistent myths of the Florida standoff is that she "cut off" the Palm Beach recount just hours before county officials were to complete the task they had begun weeks earlier. The myth grew out of her insistence on certifying the election at 5 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 26, the deadline set by the Florida Supreme Court. Democrats have long complained that Mrs. Harris could have waited until 9 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 27, the backup deadline specified by the court in the event that the secretary of state's office was closed on Sunday.
But Mrs. Harris said she chose the earlier date because she did not want to be accused of trying to shorten the "contest" phase of the postelection struggle by needlessly prolonging the "protest" phase. So she announced her intention to certify on Nov. 26 days in advance, when Palm Beach officials were confidently predicting they would complete their recount on time.
"Nobody thought that there wasn't going to be enough time," Mrs. Harris said in an interview with The Washington Times. "How was I supposed to know that Palm Beach was going to take Thanksgiving off?"
When Charles Burton, chairman of the Palm Beach County Canvassing Board, belatedly realized he would fail to meet the deadline, he asked Mrs. Harris for an extension at 12:35 p.m. on Nov. 26. He begged for two extra hours and said he would prefer the backup deadline of 9 a.m. Nov. 27.
"I said to my staff: 'Well, couldn't we wait?'" Mrs. Harris recalled. "I said to my attorneys: 'Well, I'd like to be gracious. What is the big deal? Besides, I don't want to disenfranchise these thousands of voters.'
"And they said: 'You know what? Absolutely not. This is a setup. If you don't obey the Supreme Court ruling that says you have to certify if you're open on Sunday then you are defying the law. And you could put into question every single other thing that you have done.'"
So Mrs. Harris turned down the request. Palm Beach County handed in partial results that showed Al Gore posting a net gain of 180 votes. Mrs. Harris ignored these incomplete results and certified George W. Bush as the winner.
Mr. Burton and the other two members of the all-Democratic canvassing board frantically continued to recount ballots, vowing to turn in their completed tally as soon as they finished. But at 7:06 p.m., when the count was concluded, they decided against turning in the results, which they said would have given Mr. Gore a net gain of 215 votes.
Palm Beach officials held off because they could not reconcile their various lists of confusing numbers. They spent the next three days conducting two audits of the tally. When they finally turned in the results, Mr. Gore's ostensible gain in Palm Beach had fallen to 174.
These post-certification developments were largely ignored by Democrats and the press, who continued to assail Mrs. Harris for cutting off the count. Yet she said last week that Palm Beach officials were so tardy that she could not have accommodated them without flouting the Supreme Court ruling.
"They weren't ready in two hours; they weren't ready in two days," she said. "When they finally sent the information in, it was so confounding that they didn't sign it because it wasn't accurate."
She added: "I swear, the whole time I was trying to be fair. Every decision I made, I tried to measure it as: If Gore were leading, would I be doing this?"
Mrs. Harris said the press portrayed her as a spotlight-hogging partisan, even though she had always been low key and bipartisan during her years in the Florida state Senate and the secretary of state's office.
"One of the things that meant the most to me was the day I walked into the House and the Senate and people on both sides of the aisle stood. The media can say whatever they want; they can spin whatever yarns," she said. "But these people had served with me and they knew the truth. And that meant a lot."

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