The fight over the presidency continued to simmer in Florida Monday, with both candidates raising the ante from salvos to legal battles. The day started off with an unexpected bang when Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris met with representatives of Al Gore's campaign and informed them she would be holding the state's 67 counties to a strict Tuesday evening deadline to certify their ballots. Harris, a supporter of Texas Gov. George W. Bush, cautioned counties that if they failed to certify their votes in time, their ballots wouldn't count. Two counties -- Volusia and Palm Beach -- sued the state Monday for an extension.
The pressure-cooker atmosphere threatened to boil over later in the day as a Federal District Judge in Miami rejected a Bush campaign motion for a preliminary injunction halting the hand counts and the Gore campaign announced it would join the Volusia and Palm Beach County suits.
A sidewalk rhetorical rampage
Speaking defiantly at a press conference broadcast, odd as it may seem, on the sidewalk of a busy street, Texas Gov. George W. Bush inner-circle advisor and communications director Karen Hughes excoriated Vice President Al Gore Monday afternoon.
"The vice president basically said we should ignore the law so he can overturn the results of this election," Hughes quipped, her hair swept by the wind and passing traffic.
Gore had just signed on to a lawsuit filed by Volusia and Palm Beach counties seeking an extension of the 5:30 p.m. Tuesday deadline for ballot certification that Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, a Bush supporter, said she would strictly enforce.
"The hand count which is now underway in heavily Democratic, hand-selected counties," she said, "cannot produce that fair and accurate result. "
Because there are no uniform standards for ballot recounts in Florida, Hughes argued, the votes are being counted "selectively and subjectively." Hughes also admonished the Gore campaign to accept the results of the recount and the overseas ballots when they are certified this Saturday.
Gore: Our democracy's at stake
Hughes' rhetorical rampage came shortly after Gore appeared, with a Chesire grin, at a White House photo op. Gore offered reporters several deep thoughts, but little in the way of red meat in his first public remarks since Saturday. Though the veep said he would not comment on Monday's legal proceedings, he did offer a rose-colored view of the crisis in Florida. "What's at stake is our democracy," Gore mused, grinning and trying to look as relaxed as any man whose presidential campaign has been in purgatory for a week could possibly look.
"While time is important, it is even more important that every vote is counted and counted accurately," Gore cautioned. "There's something very special about our process that depends totally on the American people having the chance to express their will without any interference."
"I would not want to win the presidency by a few votes cast in error or misinterpreted or not counted. I don't think Gov. Bush wants that either," he said.
But Gore also found a silver lining in the ballot brawl: American school kids are "learning a lot about our democracy. And families are able to make the point, without fear of ever again being disputed, that it matters whether you vote."
Rapp's bad rap
State Circuit Judge Stephen Rapp recused himself from a handful of cases brought against Florida by voters in Palm Beach County. Rapp, a Republican, had been accused of saying on Election Day that he would "do my part" to see that Vice President Al Gore was defeated. He is also said to have made unsavory comments about New York Senator-elect Hillary Rodham Clinton and to have called voters who marked the wrong candidate on the county's butterfly ballot "stupid." After recusing himself, Rapp vociferously denied the allegations.
Gore joins lawsuit against Florida
The Gore campaign launched its first legal action against Florida Monday by joining a lawsuit brought against the state by Volusia County. The county is seeking an extension to the Tuesday afternoon deadline for ballot certification that threatens to derail hand-count efforts in four contested counties. Palm Beach County, the epicenter of the Florida election controversy, also joined the suit.
"The citizens of Florida deserve an accurate and speedy count," Gore communications director Mark Fabiani told Reuters. "The secretary of state, a crony of the Bush brothers, is trying to steal this election away and no one is going to stand for such a naked political act," Fabiani said, referring to Katherine Harris' mandate that counties adhere to Tuesday's 5:30 p.m. EST deadline to certify all election results or risk losing their votes.
In a midafternoon press conference, former Secretary of State Warren Christopher did little to hide his contempt for Harris' decision. "It's hard to understand why, under these circumstances, [Harris] would move to deny thousands and perhaps more votes that Floridians have asked to be considered," Christopher said. "Her plan, I'm afraid, has the look of an effort to produce a particular result in the election rather than to ensure that the voice of all the citizens in the state be heard. It also looks like a move toward partisan politics."
Gore's man in Tallahassee also claimed that under Florida law, the secretary of state has the discretion to postpone the certification deadline. He confirmed that the Gore camp was now a party in the Volusia suit and plead for "all counties who have begun hand counts to continue" them.
Federal judge rejects motion
Just before 1 p.m. EST, U.S. District Judge Don Middlebrooks rejected a motion by the Bush campaign for a preliminary injunction to halt the hand recounts underway in four Florida counties. "In a close statewide election, a federal court has a limited role," Middlebrooks said. "Only where there is a constitutional violation," he argued, should the federal courts intervene. "I do not believe that an intervention is called for."
The Miami judge said he shared the Bush camp's concern that the selective recount in Democratic-majority counties would have the effect of skewing the race toward Gore.
The Bush campaign is expected to appeal the ruling to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.
Speaking on the steps of the courthouse, Harvard professor and constitutional law expert Laurence Tribe, who helped the Gore campaign argue its case, said, "If there's an inequality, it's of their own making.
"The basic principle is that states should do their best to make sure that the actual will of their people is expressed in the vote for president," he said. "That is done in a different way in different states. But one way is to recount manually when it's terribly close and there's a reason to believe the machines screwed up."
Ted Olson, who is representing George W. Bush, confirmed the obvious: "Yes we're disappointed, but it's not a surprise." But he offered a different spin on Middlebrook's decision: "He felt that a preliminary injunction was not an appropriate remedy that he was ready to grant at this time. He knew that it would probably be considered in a higher court, and he wanted to make sure he did his job quickly and effectively so that that remedy could be pursued," Olson said.
Harvard's most famous professor also made an appearance at the U.S. District Court. "We won, and that means the count goes on," said Alan Dershowitz, who is leading a case brought by seven Palm Beach County voters. "It's in nobody's interest to stop the count." Dershowitz also took a stab at Bush for committing "hypocrisy squared" for signing a hand-count law in Texas and then suing to halt a hand count called for by the vice president in Florida.
Deadline jeopardizes hand recounts
Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who is also a Bush supporter, has ordered all of the Sunshine State's 67 counties to provide final certification of their election results by 5 p.m. Tuesday. The deadline may jeopardize the hand counts ordered in four counties. In one of those recounts, in Palm Beach County, Al Gore has been gaining ground.
In a two-page statement released to the media, Harris wrote, "If county returns are not received by 5 p.m. on the seventh day following the election ... all missing counties shall be ignored and the results on file (with the secretary of state's office) shall be certified." The secretary of state also stated that counties have until Saturday to count and certify all overseas absentee ballots. "I anticipate the presidential election in Florida will be certified by Saturday afternoon, barring judicial intervention," Harris wrote.
Angered by the decision, former U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, dispatched by Gore to oversee the Florida recount, railed, "We think her action is arbitrary and unreasonable." He also planned to appeal her decision.
Earlier, Leon St. John, an attorney for the Palm Beach County Elections Canvassing Board, the body overseeing the hand count there, told the Palm Beach Post that the recount could last three or four days, and that embattled elections supervisor Theresa LePore will ask for permission to hire at least 100 ballot counters.
New allegations of ballot tampering in Florida
Miami Democratic officials are investigating claims that as many as 17,000 ballots in largely black precincts had been pre-marked for "rival candidates" or otherwise tampered with, the Times of London reports.
"Until now in Florida, we have been arguing foul-ups, human error and stupidity," said an unidentified senior Democratic official. "But this is deliberate corruption to spoil votes for Gore and that must be a matter for the FBI." The article also stated that Jewish community leaders in Democratic areas claimed they had seen evidence of ballot tampering. Republicans dismissed the allegations as "dirty trick claims."
A surprise from the Starr files
If Palm Beach County broke the law with its confusing butterfly ballot, then there ought to be a revote. At least that's what former independent counsel Ken Starr, better known to Salon readers for his freewheeling, $50 million investigation of President Clinton, wrote in a 1974 article published in the New York University Law Review. The editors of the law review dusted off the essay and sent it to the Washington Monthly.
In his legal essay, Starr argued that when illegal acts have been committed that might "skew the election results sufficiently so as to influence the outcome," and the election is close enough that the alleged violations could change the outcome, then a revote would be "particularly appropriate." Though he wasn't writing about the 2000 presidential election, the essay will surely escalate the status of a man better known for a lurid tome about cigar probes and thong-snapping than sound legal arguments -- at least in some circles.
Bush takes battle to court
Bush is adding another chapter in his epic battle with Al Gore on Monday, and it will be written in legalese. The Associated Press reports that Bush's representatives will argue a motion in federal court on Monday to block the manual recount of votes in two Florida counties. A hand count, according to former Secretary of State James Baker, one of Bush's representatives, introduces new opportunities for errors. "It's all subjective, and therefore it presents terrible problems of human error and potential for mischief," Baker said. He also suggested that if Gore's team goes forward with additional recount requests, Bush might demand recounts in Iowa, Wisconsin and Oregon, all states awarded to Gore. Lawyers for the vice president's campaign will be in court Monday to oppose Bush's injunction request.
Despite the pending legal action, Volusia and Palm Beach counties are continuing with their hand recounts. Gore has requested additional hand recounts in Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Broward plans to begin a recount on Monday, while a hearing on the possible Miami-Dade recount is to be held Tuesday.
My lawyers can beat up your lawyers
As both sides dig in for the long haul, they've set up new recount war rooms in Florida and elsewhere, according to the Washington Post. Those battling for Bush include a core staff in Austin, Texas -- Karen Hughes, Karl Rove and Don Evans -- and a slew of other campaign workers operating across the Sunshine State. The Bush camp sought to keep the location of its Tallahassee, Fla., headquarters a secret, refusing to give out the address over the phone and then stopping any snooping reporters at the door.
Gore's post-campaign campaign has pulled up stakes in Tennessee, and is currently working out of Washington and Florida. The vice president's troops, more than 100 staffers, are trying to defang allegations that they are politicizing the conflict by trying to collect campaign signs from election protesters and easing up on their press release and e-mail operations.
Who is chad and why is he pregnant?
Forces on both sides of the Florida recount controversy are having to learn the new language of hand-counted ballots. CNN has offered a primer on what it calls "a lowly scrap of paper that may decide who will be the next leader of the free world." A "chad" is the part of a paper ballot that is supposed to be punched out to indicate one's vote. Depending on the strength of the voter's punch, chads sometimes cling to the ballot, messing up the machine-processing of ballots. In a move that is likely to draw the ire of Bush supporters, Palm Beach County election officials are making up the rules for chads as they go along. At times, the county elections board has said that a chad detached at any corner counts as a vote, while at other times the "sunlight test" has been used, in which any ballot for which a volunteer can see light shining through the chad when holding it up counts as a valid vote.
Finally, county spokesman Bob Nichols determined a consistent standard: A "hanging door" chad (one corner hanging off), a "swinging door" chad (two corners hanging off) and a "tri-chad" (three corners hanging off) all count as votes. Ballots with a "pregnant" chad (a bulge in the ballot punch spot) or a dimpled chad (an indentation) don't count.
By the numbers
Popular vote in Florida, with recounts:
Bush 2,910,203 to Gore 2,909,872
According to Newsweek, 72 percent of Americans prefer to wait for an accurate count, while 25 percent put the priority on speed.
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