TALLAHASSEE, Fla. The Florida House of Representatives yesterday approved a slate of 25 electors pledged to the state-certified winner, George W. Bush, moving ahead to make sure its slate was not disqualified by court disputes.
Hours before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, the GOP-dominated House voted 79-41 with two Democrats breaking ranks to approve a measure that confirms the 25 electors certified last month by Gov. Jeb Bush. The move sets up a crucial Senate session today, where Republicans hold a 25-15 edge.
“The 2000 election is spiraling out of control, and we must stop it now,” Republican Rep. Paula Dockery said just before the vote.
Republicans said they were acting because the U.S. Constitution directs that “each state shall appoint, in such manner as the Legislature may direct, a number of electors.” They fear that if they do not designate electors, Florida could be excluded when the Electoral College meets Monday due to Mr. Gore’s challenges to the state certification.
“Each of us did our duty as we understood it,” House Speaker Tom Feeney said. “This may not be the best way to select a president, but it is the way the founding fathers envisioned.”
But Democrats insisted that the Legislature could not make a move until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Bush v. Gore, which came hours after the House acted.
“What kind of democracy do we live in if the will of the people is thwarted by partisan politics and a rush to judgment?” asked Rep. Eleanor Sobel, a Democrat.
Some Democrats accused Republican leaders of trading legislative perks for votes. “The only thing missing is a smoke-filled room. This is brass knuckles partisan politics at its very worst,” Rep. Ken Gottlieb said.
“It’s about who gets the best seat at the inauguration,” he said. “It’s about who gets the spoils and the committee positions.”
But Rep. Bruce Kyle, a Republican, said the paramount concern was the voters of Florida.
“We are not here today, as some have alleged, on behalf of the Bush campaign to ensure a victory for George Bush. We are here today to make sure that 6 million Floridians who voted in the election have their voices heard,” he said.
And Republican Rep. Carlos Lacasa asserted, “Partisan politics is democracy in action. Rather than hiding from my partisanship, I will use it like a beacon to guide me in this vote.”
“I would hope that the United States Supreme Court may render moot what we did today,” Mr. Feeney said, but he added, “I hope the Senate does not render moot what we did today.”
Speaking to the predictable, sometimes redundant discourse that marked the session, Mr. Feeney admired the resolve of both sides Democrats who said the action was illegal and unconstitutional; Republicans who contended it was their constitutional duty.
“This has been a great, although difficult, constitutional civics lesson,” he said.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturned the Florida Supreme Court and likely will put an end to the recounting of votes. That would allow Mr. Bush to keep his certified margin of 537 votes and thus the state’s 25 electoral votes which would give him the presidency by a 271-267 margin.
Although yesterday was thought by most to be the Electoral College deadline, there is much dispute on what that exactly means.
As most Americans heard during the audiotape replays of the two U.S. Supreme Court hearings, the federal law known as Title 3, Section 5 of the U.S. Code details how electors are to be picked.
“If any State shall have provided, by laws enacted prior to the day fixed for the appointment of the electors, for its final determination of any controversy or contest concerning the appointment of all or any of the electors of such State … such determination made pursuant to such law so existing on said day, and made at least six days prior to said time of meeting of the electors, shall be conclusive,” the law reads.
While some election experts question the finality associated with Dec. 12 when federal law says Electoral College representatives should be chosen without “any controversy or contest” state lawmakers said they were acting in accordance with that law.
The vastly outnumbered House Democrats had no hope of stopping the measure. They offered a long-shot amendment to replace the Republican resolution with language cautioning the state Legislature to “take no action to interfere with the lawful ongoing election process created prior to the election of Nov. 7, 2000.”
“We’re going to try to help you out today,” House Democratic Leader Lois Frankel said to her Republican colleagues in introducing the amendment. Her words were met with knowing GOP smiles, bespeaking a victory in which they only had to go through the motions.
In the Democrats’ arguments on the floor yesterday, the word “disenfranchise” flowed freely. Speakers told of vast alienation, of women and blacks who fought to earn the right to vote.
“Women of Florida will be denied their right to vote if we don’t recount the votes,” said Mrs. Sobel.
Another representative, Arthenia L. Joyner, prefaced her statement with an introduction: “I rise as a female patriot of color.”
Rep. Wilbert Holloway waxed poetic, exclaiming that the “polling booth harbors the seeds of equality.”
In concluding, Miss Frankel predicted that passage of the resolution would bring on more lawsuits.
“Why would we void our electors?” said Miss Frankel, an advocate of the manual recount.
Republican arguments focused on military absentee ballots, of which many were thrown out. A five-page memo from a Democratic Tallahassee lawyer was cited by Rep. Jerry Louis Maygarden as proof of the meddling with military ballots. The memo outlines procedures for getting the ballots which have shown in elections to be likely Republican votes thrown out.
“When I saw this, I wondered what they would think of political striking that would systematically strip them of their right to vote,” said Mr. Maygarden.
“So much for a full and fair count,” he added, a poke at a Democratic mantra in the 5-week-old battle for the White House.
Rep. Jeff Miller also hammered at the rejection of military ballots. He told of receiving an e-mail from a sailor on the USS Bunker Hill, urging him and his fellow lawmakers to ensure the state is represented in the Electoral College.
“Clearly, we should be here today,” he ended.