- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 21, 2000

As the seven Democratic-appointed justices of Florida's Supreme Court consider the arguments made before them yesterday by the Bush and Gore campaigns, it is instructive to note that their deliberations are not occurring in a vacuum. Indeed, the ultimate decisions of the Florida Supreme Court will be made amid an atmosphere of so much chaos and subjectivism that anyone with access to cable television can readily observe this state of affairs for himself. The idea that this process was the intent of any rational legislature is simply impossible to believe. Consider what has transpired during the two weeks since the election.

• George W. Bush emerged the victor after the first statewide tally. A mandatory statewide recount confirmed his advantage. That lead was further increased when the final overseas absentee ballots were counted. Nobody has alleged any fraud. Nor have there been any claims that any of the voting machines were operating improperly. Nevertheless, the Gore campaign has demanded that several of Florida's most Democratic counties undergo manual recounts. When a circuit court judge ruled Friday that Secretary of State Katherine Harris acted properly in declining to consider manual recount results after the Nov. 14 statutory deadline, the Florida Supreme Court, without even being petitioned by the Gore campaign, unilaterally issued an order Friday afternoon preventing Mrs. Harris from carrying out her duty.

• Miami-Dade County did not begin its countywide manual recount until the 13th day following the election. After a manual recount of three select precincts, where the vice president received more than 91 percent of the vote, yielded a mere six additional votes for Mr. Gore, Miami-Dade's Democratic-dominated canvassing board voted 2-1 not to conduct a countywide manual recount of its 684,000 presidential votes. That wasn't the decision the Gore campaign wanted. After sufficient political pressure was applied, the board relented. Miami-Dade County doesn't expect to complete its manual recount until Dec. 1, 17 days after the statutory deadline.

• In Broward County, the Gore campaign selected for manual recounting a sample of four precincts, where Mr. Gore won more than 96 percent of the vote. When he picked up only four votes, the Democratic-dominated canvassing board voted 2-1 not to conduct a countywide recount of its 588,000 ballots. Wrong answer. The Democratic Party went to court to force a manual recount. Meanwhile, one member of the canvassing board bowed to the intense pressure from the office of Florida's Democratic attorney general, who chaired Mr. Gore's campaign in the state, and changed his vote, permitting a countywide manual recount after all. Unfortunately for Mr. Gore, the recounting of 445 of Broward's 609 precincts yielded a net gain for him of only 108 votes. No problem. In the middle of the manual recount, Broward's canvassing board voted on Sunday to change the criteria for recognizing a legitimate vote. No longer would two corners of a chad need to be poked out. Now so-called "dimpled" chads with only an indentation would be divined to be intended votes.

• In Palm Beach County, double standards are the order of the day. Eight weeks ago the three Democrats on its canvassing board refused to conduct a manual recount after a candidate lost the Republican primary for the state legislature by 11 votes. Why? Because, they said, there was no evidence of voter fraud, and there was no machine malfunction. After receiving a request by the Gore campaign on Nov. 9 to conduct a manual recount, the three Democratic members eventually decided to begin conducting a manual recount. It did not matter at all that no fraud was alleged or that the machines functioned properly. Nor did it matter that Norm Ostrau, the former Democratic chairman of the Florida House Ethics and Elections Committee, confirmed the position adopted by Mrs. Harris. Apart from charges of fraud, Mr. Ostrau told the Orlando Sentinel that lawmakers intended only to allow manual recounts when vote-counting machines failed. The state legislature, Mr. Ostrau asserted, did not intend for recounts to be conducted in order to divine the intentions of voters who failed to completely punch the ballot. The hands-on account by Mr. Ostrau, however, could not compete with the pressure from former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who, ever so improperly, telephoned the attorney of Palm Beach County's elections supervisor to lobby for a manual recount. Mr. Christopher prevailed. During the canvassing board's manual recount of sample precincts, chaos dominated the procedure as the rules were repeatedly changed in midstream. Standards that prevailed since 1990 were jettisoned. Democrats later sued and obtained a ruling that instructed the board to accept as legitimate votes cards displaying "dimples."

• Above and beyond the questionable embracing of "dimpled" chads, the highly selective countywide manual recounts have proceeded amid other incredible circumstances and conditions. Hundreds of chads from carelessly or intentionally handled ballots have fallen to the floor. Repeatedly processing the ballots through voting machines has dislodged an unknown number of other chads. There are other instances in which chads are taped to the ballot. Some Bush ballots have mysteriously turned up in Mr. Gore's piles. Counters have been observed fanning themselves with ballots, shuffling them and dropping them on the floor, where others have been seen walking on them. In Broward county, Democratic operatives serve at one moment as counters. At another moment, those same operatives serve as observers, whose job it is to challenge the counter's decision. Meanwhile, although one would be hard-pressed to know from the coverage by the television networks, the fact is that the disposition of any challenged ballots will be determined by the canvassing boards, which, in these three heavily Democratic counties, are dominated by Democrats.

Florida's Supreme Court justices would do well to consider the circus atmosphere in which the highly selective, completely politicized manual recounting has been occurring. The unmitigated fiasco has already been permitted to go on far too long. Indeed, it should be clear to all, the debacle is intended to go on as long as it takes for Mr. Gore finally to obtain a vote result he can accept. If its past is any guide, the Florida Supreme Court may decide to exacerbate the problem. At that point, it would not be too early for the U.S. Congress to consider the options available to it regarding the acceptability of such a tainted slate of Florida electors.

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