Latest Florida count shows Bush up by 300

Secretary of state gives manual-recount counties until 2 p.m. Wednesday to explain "facts and circumstances" that would justify amending their vote counts.

Published November 14, 2000 12:58PM (EST)

Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris said certified election results from the state's 67 counties show Gov. George W. Bush leading Vice President Al Gore by exactly 300 votes. Harris gave the Florida counties conducting manual recounts until 2 p.m. Wednesday to explain "facts and circumstances" that would justify amending their vote counts with the hand count results.

Shortly after Harris released the new results, the Miami-Dade County Canvassing Board reversed its earlier decision to conduct a manual recount of votes in that county. The 2-1 decision came as a blow to the Gore campaign, which had hoped to pick up votes in Miami-Dade. The board determined that it was unnecessary to recount 10,750 ballots whose presidential selections had gone undetected in vote-tabulating machines after a manual recount of 1 percent of the county's votes yielded only 6 more votes for the vice president.

Meanwhile, Bush's campaign filed a notice of appeal with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta late Tuesday afternoon, after Palm Beach County decided to proceed with its countywide manual recount.

And the Democratic Party filed a state suit demanding a hand recount of Broward County's 588,000 ballots.

The latest legal twists followed an ambiguous ruling by Leon County, Fla., Circuit Judge Terry Lewis earlier Tuesday, which upheld Harris' Tuesday deadline for election certification. But Lewis left the door open for counties to amend their ballot counts following hand recounts. Harris could then discard amended ballot counts that come in after the deadline, but she could not do so "arbitrarily," Lewis ruled. In other words, if the counties could find sufficient evidence that their original results were flawed, Harris would be obligated to, at the very least, consider them.

By the end of the day, only Palm Beach County was still on track to resume its controversial hand count.

Volusia County, which began a hand recount Sunday, announced that it yielded an additional 98 votes for Gore. Broward, the fourth county that decided to investigate a manual recount, decided on Monday not to proceed with it countywide because a 1 percent sample only yielded 4 new votes for Gore. Democrats in Broward are seeking to overturn that decision.

The latest moves by Palm Beach and Miami-Dade led the Bush team back into federal court. On Monday, U.S. District Judge Don Middlebrooks rejected their motion for a preliminary injunction to halt the hand recounts underway in four Florida counties. He left the matter in the state's hands.

The continued confusion means the matter is likely headed to the Florida Supreme Court, and possibly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

So far the Gore team has not challenged Lewis's anxiously anticipated ruling, and in fact tried to spin it as a victory. Although Lewis denied an injunction to extend the 5 p.m. election certification deadline set by Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, his ruling was filled with conflicting language. This much was clear: Though the election certification deadline is not cemented in Florida law, Secretary Harris has wide discretion to impose one.

"I give great deference to the interpretation by the secretary of the election laws," Lewis wrote in his nine-page decision. "And I agree that the canvassing boards must file their returns by 5 p.m. today. I disagree, however, that the secretary is required to ignore any late-filed returns absent an act of God."

Former Clinton administration Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who is serving as the Gore campaign's observer in the Florida elections, seized on that crack and tried to pry it wide open. "Under this decision we now have a vehicle for the full, fair and accurate tabulation of the votes of the citizens of Florida," Christopher said. "The court has held that the secretary of state cannot arbitrarily declare that she will not permit votes counted after 5 o'clock today. She must consider votes that are counted after that time. The court's opinion on this is tantamount to the injunction that we sought." Christopher called on the four Florida counties to continue their hand counts.

David Boies, a trial attorney who represented the federal government in its case against Microsoft and is now defending Napster, has joined the Gore legal team. At the press conference he said, "All we're seeking is to have the votes counted properly as Florida law specifies."

Responding to the ruling, Donna Blanton, an attorney for the Florida secretary of state's office, said that Secretary Harris' decisions have been "motivated out of respect for these laws," and Judge Lewis, in his decision, affirmed the deadline set by Harris. She also said that if "any county canvassing board desires to amend their returns," the secretary of state "will evaluate that request on applicable facts and circumstances." But she reiterated that the secretary expects all results to be certified by the rapidly approaching deadline.

Palm Beach County to resume recount
Palm Beach County moved Tuesday afternoon to certify the results of its electronic recount. But following a judge's decision to lift an injunction in Palm Beach, the county's canvassing board also ordered that the hand counting process, which had been suspended earlier Tuesday, be resumed Wednesday at 7 a.m. EST. The decision culminated a colorful meeting of the county's canvassing commission in which exuberant board member Carol Roberts quipped that she was "willing to go to jail" for the hand count. Beleaguered county elections supervisor Theresa LePore was also there, but she said little and seemed to be hiding behind enormous dark sunglasses.

Bush offers a compromise
News reports emerged Tuesday morning that both the Gore and the Bush camps were considering a deal for a statewide Florida hand recount. But when former Secretary of State James Baker, who is representing the Bush campaign in its Florida election battle, made his first comments of the day, he instead asked the Gore campaign to accept a "compromise" that fell far short of earlier prognostications.

If the Gore campaign accepts the votes as of the 5 p.m. Tuesday deadline mandated by Harris and the results of the overseas absentee ballots when they are certified at midnight Friday, and drops its litigation against the state, Baker said, the Bush camp would then call off its dogs -- and its lawsuit.

Baker also evoked uncertainty on Wall Street and in foreign markets and cautioned that "observers, whether at home or abroad, are troubled by the prospect of seemingly endless counts and recounts until a candidate achieves the result he seeks."

"Ladies and gentlemen, it is time to bring this to a close," Baker admonished.

Less than an hour after Baker tendered his offer, Gore campaign chairman Bill Daley rejected Bush's proposal in a strongly worded rebuke: "It truly was not a proposal. It was strictly, in my opinion, an inaccurate description of the laws of Florida."

"He just reiterated the proposal of the secretary of state, her opinion," Daley said. He added, "I think we've got to not try to usurp the courts of Florida."

Will Gore and Bush call a truce?
While the battle for the White House rages on in Florida courts, representatives of George W. Bush and Al Gore are playing "Let's make a deal." According to the Los Angeles Times, both sides are considering an agreement to call for a statewide manual recount for the entire state of Florida, and then to abide by the results without any further legal action. The Bush campaign would end its threats to request recounts in other close states like Oregon and Wisconsin, and the Gore team would cease support for lawsuits attacking the "butterfly ballot" in Palm Beach County. "In the end, it may be the only way that everyone can decide on to get a conclusion," said one senior Gore advisor. "It's clearly something that, from a political point of view, it would be hard for us to say, 'No, no, we don't want that.'"

But the issue is a little more complicated for Bush. His camp is reportedly split over the agreement, because consenting to abide by the results of a hand count would contradict its earlier position that the machine count is more reliable. Another wild card is that Gore doesn't necessarily control the lawsuits currently challenging aspects of the Florida vote, and his decision to withdraw from those actions might not resolve them.

The way out
Outside of courts and complicated compromises, there are other ways to resolve the election, USA Today suggests. The first option would be for Gore or Bush to gracefully bow out of the process on Saturday, after all the overseas ballots are in, giving up further chances at lawsuits. The gentleman candidate would concede for the good of the nation. Option No. 2 would be for the Electoral College to ignore the squabbling in Florida and proceed with picking the president -- without the 25 representatives from the Sunshine State. At this point, that would likely result in a win by Gore, because of his 255-to-246 electoral vote lead. But it could also just move the recount battle west into Wisconsin, Oregon and New Mexico. Option No. 3 would rely on renegade electors to vote their consciences, perhaps setting aside the popular vote totals in their states. Option No. 4 would have Congress vote on the president in January, and option No. 5 would let Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert step into the office, in line with constitutional rules about presidential succession.

By the numbers

  • 388 -- Number of votes that put Bush ahead in Florida (CNN)
  • 500 -- Number of Gore votes added in New Mexico after the discovery of a mathematical error, enough to swing the state to the vice president (Reuters)
  • 53,125 -- Number of votes that would need to be hand counted each hour of the workday for Palm Beach County to meet the 5 p.m. Tuesday deadline (based on Associated Press data)

    Poll results
    According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll, 67 percent of Americans want the election battle stopped after a full Florida recount, with no further lawsuits or recounts in other states.

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