- The Washington Times - Friday, November 24, 2000

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. The Florida Supreme Court yesterday rejected an emergency petition from Vice President Al Gore to force Miami-Dade County to resume a hand count of votes that might have boosted the vice president into the lead in Florida over Texas Gov. George W. Bush.
But the Gore camp vowed to fight the ruling by formally contesting statewide results after the election is certified Sunday.
That contest procedure, expected to begin Monday with a new lawsuit in Leon County Circuit Court in Tallahassee, could prolong the presidential standoff for several more weeks.
"Today is Thanksgiving, and that's probably the last thing the American people want to hear on a day like today," said Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer.
Mr. Gore, who previously had promised the post-election squabbling would take "days, not weeks," is likely to test the patience of congressional Democrats like Louisiana Sen. John B. Breaux, who has called for closure after Sunday's certification.
The vice president also risks further alienating Americans in general.
But Mr. Gore concluded he had little choice after yesterday's devastating setback in Florida Supreme Court. The seven justices unanimously rejected the vice president's request, filed hours earlier, to force Miami-Dade to resume a hand recount of ballots.
"The writ is denied without prejudice," announced court spokesman Craig Waters. "No motion for rehearing will be allowed."
"Without prejudice" means Mr. Gore can contest the issue before the court on other grounds on another day.
The terse, one-page ruling was particularly dispiriting to the Gore camp because the state's high court had ruled in the vice president's favor Tuesday by allowing the hand counts to proceed. Yesterday, the court opted not to force the issue.
"We will certainly contest," said Gore adviser Ron Klain. "We've got thousands and thousands of ballots of people who went to the polls and voted and have a right to have their votes counted."
Miami-Dade County had been the most tantalizing source of potential votes for Mr. Gore. Particularly promising was a batch of 10,750 ballots on which the presidential preference of voters went undetected by vote-counting machines.
However, the county canvassing board concluded Wednesday there was insufficient time to finish the count before 5 p.m. Sunday, the deadline set by the Florida Supreme Court.
Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris plans to certify the election then, an action that Mr. Gore will promptly contest.
"I don't think any certification by Florida's secretary of state is going to convince a whole lot of people that it's anything beyond a partisan act," Gore attorney Kendall Coffey said yesterday.
The Gore strategy is to pre-emptively discredit the certification by painting Mrs. Harris as a partisan because she was co-chairman of the Bush campaign in Florida.
The vice president personally decided to spread word yesterday of his plans to contest the election in order to disabuse the U.S. public of any expectation for closure this weekend.
For the moment, there are only two counties Palm Beach and Broward that might provide Mr. Gore with enough votes to surmount the Texas governor's lead of 930 votes by Sunday. But hand counts under way in the two counties so far have turned up an unofficial net gain of only 211 votes for the vice president.
Mr. Gore opted not to appeal yesterday's decision by the Florida Supreme Court by taking it to the U.S. Supreme Court. That's because such an appeal might have contradicted arguments made last night by Gore attorneys in another case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Responding to a Bush lawsuit before that court to stop all hand recounts, the Gore team argued that elections should be settled by states, not the federal government.
Attorneys for the vice president also emphasized that every voter has the constitutional right to have his vote counted.
The Bush team, which filed its lawsuit Wednesday, 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 Florida Supreme Court blocked Mrs. Harris from certifying the election results last weekend, despite a Florida law that requires her to do so.
The Bush team also argued that it is unconstitutional for election officials to troll for previously undetected votes via hand counts in only a handful of selected Democratic counties. That dilutes the impact of voters in counties where ballots were tallied only by machines, thereby creating unequal representation, they said.
Bush attorneys also cited a federal law that bars election rules from being changed in midstream.
The Texas governor's lawsuit before the U.S. Supreme Court was originally filed to hedge Republican bets in the event that Mr. Gore pulled into the lead in time for Sunday's certification. But it takes on added importance now that the vice president has vowed to contest the certification in the event that he is still trailing.
For now, the vice president's worst enemy is the ticking clock. The Palm Beach County Canvassing Board took yesterday off to celebrate Thanksgiving, which leaves them only today, tomorrow and part of Sunday to make individual decisions on some 10,000 disputed ballots.
The three-member board, all Democrats, must personally scrutinize the ballots to determine which candidate, if any, the voters intended to choose. In most cases, the voters failed to fully dislodge the chads, or tiny pieces of cardboard that denote one candidate or another.
While the canvassing board is plowing through the disputed ballots, other election workers will be reviewing 300,000 undisputed ballots that have been counted, but not finalized. The county's remaining 162,000 ballots have been finalized, giving Mr. Bush an unofficial net gain of 14 votes.
There is much less work remaining in Broward County, where the canvassing board opted not to take Thanksgiving off. Election workers have already completed their recount of some 638,000 votes, including nearly 50,000 absentee ballots.
But they still need to adjudicate about 1,700 disputed ballots, on which the chads were merely "dimpled" or only detached by one corner. After 327 of these ballots were scrutinized yesterday, Mr. Gore had a net gain of 88 votes.
That brings his unofficial countywide gain in Broward to 225 votes. Factored against the Texas governor's pickup of 14 votes in Palm Beach, this would tentatively reduce Mr. Bush's statewide lead to 719, with further reductions expected as the weekend unfolds.
But those shifts in votes are becoming the subject of increasingly acrimonious debate. Yesterday, Broward County Canvassing Board Chairman Robert Lee responded angrily toward Republican observer William Scherer for objecting to the process.
"I need a deputy on standby to remove somebody who's out of order," Mr. Lee announced as the Republican lawyer argued his case. "I'm not going to put up with this."
A few moments later, he added: "Deputy, will you please escort Mr. Scherer?" Mr. Scherer ultimately was allowed to remain in the vote-counting room.
But the strain of the recount was beginning to show on the faces of election workers as they slogged through ballots yesterday. Red-eyed, yawning and, in some cases, exhausted, the workers are clearly eager to end the process.
So was Mr. Bush's running mate, Richard B. Cheney, who spent Thanksgiving in a hospital after suffering a mild heart attack Wednesday.
Doctors said the former defense secretary was recovering so quickly that he might be discharged today from George Washington University Hospital in Washington.
Mr. Cheney telephoned Mr. Gore's running mate, Connecticut Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, to wish him a happy Thanksgiving. Their two bosses, whose relationship is decidedly frostier, exchanged no such greeting.
Mr. Cheney made another telephone call late Wednesday to Larry King of CNN, joking on the air about doctors who installed a device to remove an obstruction in a heart artery.
"I'm happy to report that when they got in there, they didn't find any pregnant chads at all," he said.
Mr. Bush joined his family for a Thanksgiving dinner at the Governor's Mansion in Austin before heading to his ranch near Waco.
The Texas governor jogged in the drizzle and fog early in the day and told reporters, "I want to wish everyone, all my family and friends, a happy Thanksgiving."
Mr. Gore and his family celebrated the holiday at the vice president's residence on the ground of the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington. He made no public appearance.

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