Florida court: Keep counting

State Supreme Court says counties can proceed with hand count -- regardless of what secretary of state says.

By Salon Staff

Published November 16, 2000 6:18PM (EST)

The seven judges on the Florida Supreme Court unanimously voted to allow Palm Beach County to continue with its hand recount of votes. The court had been petitioned for a ruling by Palm Beach officials after Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris -- a Republican with close ties to the Bush camp -- called for a halt to the hand counting, while State Attorney General Bob Butterworth -- a Democrat with close ties to the Gore campaign -- told them they could continue.

"We have considered the petition and it appears that that relief sought on the question of whether [Palm officials] may conduct a manual recount," the opinion read, "has been answered in the affirmative."

"There is no legal impediment to the recounts continuing," according to the opinion. Officials said the recount would start again Friday morning, and take a full six days to complete.

The ruling also blunted a legal challenge to Broward County's recount efforts. A few hours before the Florida Supreme Court made its decision, a Republican activist stormed into the Broward County recount site, roundly condemning officials there for going ahead with the recount over Harris' objections, and announcing a lawsuit. "You had no basis to start your hand recount in the first place," William Scherer declared. "We're going to have a trial. The nation is watching you. The state of Florida is watching you. And Broward County is watching you."

The county's officials were unruffled by the display. "We just got sued," County Commissioner Suzanne Gunzburger told a local attorney who arrived late to the scene. "You missed the whole thing." The recount continued unabated, and the current state of Scherer's suit is unclear.

The recount affirmation brought nothing but smiles from the Gore campaign, which wasted little time before gloating. "The Florida Supreme Court has ruled consistently," said Gore attorney David Boies. "That is, the people have voted and their votes should be counted."

Gore campaign manager Bill Daley even took the opportunity to take a whack at Gov. George W. Bush campaign's earlier announcement that it would not ask for a recount in Iowa. In a brief news conference in Austin, Texas, Bush advisor Don Evans said that the governor will not call for a recount in Iowa despite the less than 1 percent margin of victory there for the vice president. Evans says Bush will forgo the recount to "do his part to ensure the fairness, accuracy and finality of this election." As a result, Daley smugly announced that the Gore campaign won't be asking for a "recount in Texas."

In a later press conference, James Baker advised the Democrats to curb their enthusiasm over the Florida Supreme Court decision to "preserve the status quo" on the recount question. Republican attorney Michael Carvin sounded optimistic that the ruling changed nothing. "There's going to be a winner declared on Saturday," he said.

Recount ruling will wait until morning
While the Florida Supreme Court gave counties the green light to continue their hand counts, it will likely be another day before Broward and Palm Beach counties find out whether their manually recounted votes will actually be added to the final Florida tally. In a case brought by Gore's attorneys Harris' decision not to accept any more recounted votes, Judge Terry Lewis said he would sleep on it, and will likely announce a decision at 10 a.m. Friday. The one-hour hearing Thursday was essentially a repeat of the arguments both sides have been making all along, with Gore's attorneys accusing Harris of acting in bad faith, and Republican lawyers disputing that claim.

Dexter Douglass, an attorney representing the vice president, claimed that Harris arbitrarily dismissed the requests of Florida counties to continue their recounts. "We think her failure to take the direction of the court should be corrected by the court," he said. Harris' attorney, Joe Klock, asserted, "Rather than violating the order of this court, [Harris] paid particular attention to following the orders of this court."

In court actions elsewhere, the lawyers will get their say before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, where attorneys allied with Bush have filed a motion to have the manual recount stopped. That court, made up of five judges, will accept briefs until 7 a.m. Friday.

Gore vows to "fight all the way"
Though he struck a conciliatory tone in his statement Wednesday night, the vice president was primed for battle when he spoke on Tom Joyner's radio program Thursday morning. The Associated Press reports that the vice president has vowed to "fight all the way" in the Florida recount struggle, calling his proposal for a statewide hand recount the only just way to decide the election. "The choice is whether the voters are going to win this election by having every vote count," Gore said.

The interview followed a wild evening Wednesday, when the vice president recommended the statewide hand count and suggested a one-on-one meeting between him and Gov. George W. Bush aimed at improving the "tone" of what has become a rancorous post-campaign campaign. That proposal was followed a few hours later by Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris' announcement that she would not recognize any hand recounts submitted after her original Tuesday deadline. And that was followed by a terse announcement by Texas Gov. George W. Bush, who repeated his assertion that recounting by hand will result in more errors. He also said he would meet with Gore -- but only after a winner is decided.

For a complete recap of these events, read Wednesday's column.

Thursday morning, the vice president avoided the harsh rhetoric that his advisors continue to use to characterize Republican efforts in Florida. When asked by Tavis Smiley, the radio program's co-host, whether the GOP was trying to steal the election, Gore replied, "I would discourage the use of that word because, again, however it comes out we're going to come behind the winner, and please understand there are high emotions on the other side."

Lawyers lending Bush a hand?
From the beginning, Democrats have accused Katherine Harris of being on the other side, using her government post to help decide the election in Bush's favor. Her tendency to find the Republican position consistent with her interpretation of state law -- and her extensive work with the Bush campaign -- has made Harris a prime target for that criticism. And she keeps adding fuel to that fire. The Washington Post reports that Harris has hired a law firm with connections to Gov. Jeb Bush to advise her during the Florida recount. The firm of Steel, Hector and Davis got the nod as Harris' legal consultant last weekend, and has confirmed that it is working with Mac Stipanovich, a GOP operative who ran Jeb Bush's 1994 gubernatorial campaign. But representatives of the firm will neither confirm nor deny that Stipanovich has a hand in its work for Harris.

By the numbers

  • 2.4 million -- Number of dollars Bush has raised for recount fight (Associated Press)
  • 3 million -- Number of dollars Gore aims to raise for the battle (Associated Press)
  • 4.5 -- Number of days Broward County estimates it will take to manually recount the county's votes (CNN)

    Poll results
    According to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 68 percent of Floridians would be satisfied if their state was decided by a machine recount.

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