"I think it's over," says Florida Agriculture Commissioner Bob Crawford, sitting in the Cabinet Room at the state Capitol in Tallahassee Sunday evening. "It should be over." Then he botches the famous Yogi Berra quote -- "It's not over till it's over" (Yogi said "ain't") -- but makes a cogent point. "Both sides have enough legal talent to keep this tied up through Christmas. But the one thing the lawyers can't do for us is to bring this country together."
Gore supporters roll their eyes as Crawford, one of the three-person Elections Board unanimous in its support for Bush, turns the floor over to Elections Division chief Clay Roberts, who then turns it over to Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris. These are all Bushies, the Gore team thinks. So it's no surprise to them when Harris "hereby" declares that "our American democracy has triumphed once again," and also gives the certified vote results for Florida: Bush beats Gore by 537 votes -- 2,912,790 to 2,912,253.
At 9:30 p.m. EST, bookended by American flags, a somewhat presidential-looking Bush appears before the cameras and waxes bipartisan. So much of the Bush strategy, dating back to before the primary season, has been about inevitability, about declaring himself the winner. And tonight -- despite reports that he's been sulking about his 300,000-person popular vote loss -- Bush is on top of his game.
He wants to work with Democrats and Republicans alike, he says, on education, tax reduction, Medicare reform, a prescription drug benefit for seniors. "I will work to unite our great land," he says. "Now that the votes are counted, it's time for the votes to count." He says that his running mate, former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, will set up the transition team in Washington, and former Transportation Secretary Andy Card will be his chief of staff.
Bush says that he's heard Gore's lawyers are talking about contesting the election. "I respectfully ask him to reconsider," Bush says. "Now that we are certified, we enter a different phase." Protesting votes before the certification is one thing, Bush argues, but "filing a contest to the outcome of the election -- that is not the best course for America."
After all this, the last thing you might expect to hear from Gore's camp is the proclamation that Gore, in fact, is the winner. But that's exactly what Gorebies say. "We won!" one declares.
And all night long, the Gore team is doing the math for all who will listen, explaining how if you count the votes their way, their man is really, really the winner. As expected, they are planning to contest the election Monday morning at Leon County Circuit Court in Tallahassee, to try to bring their math to bear on the task of closing the 537-vote gulf.
Of course, the strength of the Gore team's conviction that its man won is equaled by the Bush team's faith -- as is its tenacity, as is its legal brainpower.
"It's impossible to overstate the importance of having the certificate," a Bush attorney says Sunday night. "Governor Bush and Secretary Cheney have been declared the winners of this contest," and now the burden is on the Gore team to overturn that -- not an easy task.
But as of Sunday night, the Gore team plans to try. So here are the pools of votes the Gorebies will be charging for, with the Bushies blocking, one by one:
1) The late Palm Beach numbers
First off are the 192 votes that Palm Beach County handed in about two hours past the Florida Supreme Court-mandated deadline, though it did get them in before Harris' announcement. Why not count them? the Gore team asks. Shouldn't Harris have used her discretion to count votes?
A Bush attorney responds that the Palm Beach canvassing board didn't get its results in at the deadline set by the Florida Supreme Court itself. The Bush team didn't want the deadline extended, but the canvassing board and the Gore team got it, and then the Palm Beach canvassing board followed through with typical Democrat incompetence. So tough shnoogies.
2) The dissed Miami 157
Then, the Gore folks say, there are the net 157 Gore votes from the partial hand recount of Miami-Dade County that was never completed. Those are 157 votes that the world already knows belong to Gore.
C'mon, says the Bush attorney. "The law makes it clear that partial recount results can't be included in election certification, for any number of reasons. If you were going to accept partial returns, you could just recount the most Democratic precincts in a county, then call off the recount and say, 'OK, we win.' It's just not done," the lawyer says.
3) Nassau numerology
The final tally should also include 51 Gore votes from Nassau County, the Gore team says. There the Democratic elections supervisor deferred to her original numbers rather than the machine recount number. "The law says we have to have it," one Gore lawyer says of the recount number.
In Nassau County, the Republican counters, "the election night votes were counted and reconciled. In the recount, the votes for both candidates were lower. So rather than disenfranchise voters, the board decided to go back to their election night statistics."
With those three figures -- 192 + 157 + 51 -- that's 400 votes right there, the Gore attorney goes on. That means just 137 more to win.
4) Unappreciated dimples
According to Democratic observers of the Palm Beach hand recount process -- the one that didn't count -- there's a net gain of 846 dimpled-chadded ballots that belong to Gore.
"The Palm Beach County board interpreted the dimpled standards differently than the Broward board," which is their prerogative, the Bush attorney says. Circuit Judge Jose LaBarga ruled that the board had to "consider" dimpled ballots, not that it had to count them. It's up to the discretion of the board.
If the 846 dimpled Gore votes counted, Gore would lead Bush by 709 votes.
5) Welcome back to Miami
Then there's the rest of the Miami-Dade hand count that the Gore team thinks should have proceeded. After all, the net gain of 157 Gore votes came after only 20 percent of the 400,000 or so ballots were recounted. Since Gore won Miami-Dade 53 percent to 47 percent, that 6 percent edge could provide enough votes for Gore to eke out a win. And there are the 10,750 "undercounted" ballots, on which a machine count could discern no presidential vote but a hand count might be able to make out votes for Bush or Gore -- but more for Gore, the vice president's backers hope.
Not surprisingly, the Bush team sees it a tad differently. "The 10,000 ballots that they claim were the subject of an undercount, they were counted," the attorney says. "First on Election Night, then in a machine recount, so those ballots have been counted at least twice already." It was up to the discretion of the Miami-Dade canvassing board to decide whether to go ahead with its hand recount, and the board made its decision.
As of Sunday evening, the Gore legal team was leaning against suing Seminole County, where the county's Republican elections supervisor allowed GOP operatives to camp out in her office for 10 days, filling in the voter I.D. numbers on around 4,000 absentee ballot applications printed by the Republican Party. Nevertheless, on Wednesday, a judge will hear a private citizen's lawsuit to throw out the absentee ballots.
"Our legal papers will be about just trying to get the votes counted," the Gore lawyer says. "We don't want to deal with mischief -- although clearly this was mischief -- but we want to keep the argument clean: Just count the votes."
Another member of the Gore team said that it remained a possibility that Gore attorneys would challenge some of the more dubious military absentee ballots that were allowed by counties that were, at the time, being sued by the Bush campaign.
The Bush attorney says, "We hope that the court will recognize that Governor Bush won." The U.S. Supreme Court case the campaign has brought to challenge the hand recounts will go forward, he says, with arguments scheduled for Friday. The Bushies are hoping that Gore will feel tremendous pressure between Sunday night and Monday morning not to contest the election results, but they're not holding their breath. "We'll reevaluate [the U.S. Supreme Court case] if Gore chooses not to contest," he says, making it pretty clear that they've already cleared Friday in their day planners.
As the country sinks deeper into the quicksand of torts, one man, at least, emerges outside the Palm Beach Emergency Operation Center to offer a solution. To reporters and real people alike, an entrepreneur hands out T-shirts. They say: "Just Keep Bill."