- The Washington Times - Friday, December 8, 2000

The Supreme Court, divided 5-4, intervened once again today in the deadlocked presidential race, granting George W. Bush's plea to halt the Florida vote count on which Al Gore had pinned his best hopes of winning the White House.
It was the latest and most dramatic split so far in a season of political division.
The high court ordered both sides to present oral arguments Monday on the underlying legal issues in the marathon recount case and one justice suggested that Mr. Bush might hold an upper hand in the court's eventual decision.
The court's decision froze the recount of thousands of ballots in dozens of Florida counties just hours after they had started. By midday, Mr. Gore had picked up two votes, reducing Mr. Bush's lead to a bare 191 according to an unofficial Associated Press count.
The decision was the latest abrupt turn in an unprecedented, 32-day marathon that has left the nation in uncertainty and suspense.
Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Sandra Day O'Connor voted to halt the counts. Justices John Paul Stevens, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter dissented.
The majority's order was contained in one brief paragraph. Justice Scalia wrote an unusual accompanying statement making plain that he believes Mr. Bush had the stronger argument.
“It suffices to say that the issuance of the stay suggests that a majority of the court, while not deciding the issues presented, believe that the petitioner has a substantial probability of success,'' Justice Scalia wrote.
Before the court's intervention, a still ebullient Mr. Gore held a conference call with supporters. “Years from now, we'll be telling our grandchildren about this,'' the vice president said. “You all will be able to take pride in the fact that, despite great pressure, you fought valiantly for our democratic values.''
Returning to the confusion of dimpled, swinging and hanging chads, election officials had been examining thousands of ballots where counting machines failed to register a vote for president. They operated under the watchful eye of Republican and Democratic observers and under a gag order imposed by the state judge who imposed a deadline of 2 p.m. tomorrow.
Bush attorneys implored the Supreme Court to stop the process, and argued in Florida that the month-old ballots had “degraded'' to the point of being untrustworthy. Gore lawyers said the “will of the voters'' must be heard.
Florida's 25 electoral votes would give Mr. Gore or Mr. Bush the majority they need to win the White House. The state's electoral votes were awarded to Mr. Bush two weeks ago when the secretary of state certified a state count that prompted Mr. Gore's successful challenge yesterday before the divided state Supreme Court.
In Tallahassee, the state court held its ground, refusing Mr. Bush's appeal to stop the count to give federal courts time to rule. The court split 4-3 in ordering a new look at about 45,000 so-called undervotes. Mr. Bush also took his case to a federal appeals court in Atlanta.
Thirty-two days after the election, there was plenty of uncertainty in a race that had seemed likely to end yesterday with a Bush victory. The court-ordered count resurrected Mr. Gore's hopes and threw the race into uncharted political and legal territory that could make Congress the final arbiter of who will be the nation's 43rd president.
Mr. Bush spent today at his Texas ranch; Mr. Gore was at the vice president's mansion. Bush running mate Dick Cheney took his wife Lynne to lunch and a movie and said he was still optimistic about winning.
Democrats and Republicans flooded into Florida to monitor the count and jockey for television time. Mr. Bush sent campaign chairman Don Evans and chief strategist Karl Rove to Tallahassee. President Clinton, at the White House, applauded the Florida Supreme Court's ruling.
“The more people feel there was an accurate count, the more legitimacy will be conferred on whoever the eventual winner is,'' he said.
New York Gov. George Pataki, a Republican, said that re-examining tens of thousands of votes “is certainly not just chaotic but completely wrong and it cries out for someone and it has to be the federal courts to say this is not right.''
Gore campaign manager Donna Brazile said Republicans were trying to “incite chaos. They're practicing the words even before they get back to the counting.''
Mr. Gore spoke to three-dozen Democratic contributors and supporters and, according to an aide, he said, “a vote is not just a piece of paper, a punched card or a chad. It is a human voice and we must not let those voices be silenced not for today, not for tomorrow, not for as long as this country stands for the principle that the people must be heard and heeded.''
Implementing the Florida Supreme Court's order, Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis set a 2 p.m. Sunday deadline for completing the recount. If met, that would give the court time to certify Florida's 25 electors by Tuesday, the deadline for states to name the electoral slates.
However, the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature also is prepared to vote by midweek on its own slate of electors, loyal to Mr. Bush. If Gore prevails in the state count, there could be two slates of electors, creating a constitutional clash where Congress deeply divided itself would be forced to pick.
At the start of the day, Mr. Bush led Mr. Gore by 193 votes statewide out of 6 million ballots cast.
There were 9,000 undervotes in Democratic-leaning Miami-Dade, offering Mr. Gore his best chance to leapfrog ahead. The Republicans said the only way to avoid double counting of votes in Miami-Dade would be to conduct a full manual recount of all 600,000 ballots there.
In Duval County, where nearly 5,000 ballots were to be counted, officials awaited a shipment of computer hardware and software to help them sort through roughly 265,000 votes and find the ones needed to be recounted.
“Without the software we can't start,'' said Rick Mullaney, a member of Duval's canvassing board. “The important thing is the accuracy and the integrity of counting the undervote.''
In Washington, Mr. Bush and Mr. Gore flooded the Supreme Court with motions. Mr. Bush's lawyers filed an appeal yesterday to stop the count, and Mr. Gore's attorneys responded this morning. Bush lawyers returned to the court to answer Mr. Gore's team.
“If this confusing, inconsistent and largely standardless process is not stayed pending this court's review, the integrity of this presidential election could be seriously undermined,'' Mr. Bush argued.
“Whatever tabulations result from his process will be incurable in the public consciousness and, once announced, cannot be retracted,'' no matter how flawed, Bush lawyers said.
In reply, Mr. Gore's lawyers said, “Their surprising assertion is that a candidate for public office can be irreparably harmed by the process of discerning and tabulating the will of the voters.''
While most of the Florida counties with questionable ballots supported Mr. Bush, analysts in both camps said Mr. Gore stands to gain from scattered recounts. That's because Democratic voters tend to live in areas using antiquated voting machines that misread the most ballots.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide