A day after his opponent was certified as the winner of Florida's 25 electoral votes, Al Gore addressed the nation in prime time to once again urge patience in the ongoing legal battles for the White House.
"A vote is not just a piece of paper, a vote is a human voice .. and we must not let those voices be silenced," Gore said. "Whatever the outcome, let the people have their say and let us listen."
Gore attacked the line Republicans have repeated over the last three weeks that Florida ballots have been counted repeatedly. "It's not recount after recount as some have charged but a single full and accurate count," Gore said.
He alluded to the stopping of the recount in Miami-Dade county, saying it was halted after "organized intimidation." He also referenced the ballots in Miami-Dade which were not tabulated by the machines for one reason or another. "Many votes that were cast on Election Day were not yet counted at all -- not once ... Ignoring votes means ignoring democracy itself," Gore said.
With the General Services Administration refusing to recognize George W. Bush as president-elect so long as the results of the election are still tangled up in court battles, self-declared vice president-elect Dick Cheney said the Texas governor would move ahead in creating an administration using private funds.
In what basically amounted to an on-air fundraising plea, Cheney, who will become vice president if the certified results of the Florida vote are allowed to stand, said it would be "irresponsible" for Bush not to move forward in building an administration. In a press conference at 4 p.m. EST, Bush's running mate said he found the GSA's decision "regrettable," and "We believe it is time to get on with the business of organizing the new administration." Cheney also chided Gore and Sen. Joseph Lieberman for not conceding defeat, cautioning that there's a "penalty that may have to be paid at some future date if the next administration is not allowed to prepare to take the reins of government."
Cheney said the campaign will be accepting individual contributions of up to $5,000. Unlike the general elections, when the campaign made a mad grab for soft money, Cheney said the Bush team would not be accepting any dinero from corporations or political action committees.
According to Cheney, the transition effort will be led by Clay Johnson, Bush's chief of staff in Austin.
Only 24 hours after Florida certified the results of its election and Bush and Cheney declared victory, the legal challenge mounted by Gore and Lieberman was well underway.
As Democratic lawyers presented their challenge to the Florida election results in Leon County Circuit Court, Gore and Lieberman presented their case to the American people in a 20-minute televised conference call with Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and Rep. Richard Gephardt, D-Mo. Gore and Lieberman spoke from the vice president's residence in Washington, while the congressional leaders chimed in from Tallahassee.
During the staged chat, Daschle and Gephardt repeated the latest party line: that, despite Secretary of State Katherine Harris' vote certification announcement and Bush's semi-victory speech Sunday evening, Gore actually won the popular vote in Florida by fewer than 100 votes. Gore also tried to cast his court challenges to the Florida vote as reinforcing the integrity of the electoral process by demanding that every legally cast ballot be included in the final tally. "Joe and I believe very strongly that every vote has to be counted," he said. Lieberman backed up the principled stand argument, saying that a thorough recount would benefit the winner, no matter who he may be, allowing the next president to take office "without clouds of doubt or anger hanging over his head."
For the rest of the phone call, all four participants drowned one another in praise for their integrity and perseverance in the face of GOP pressure to quit. With the media abuzz with speculation that Democratic Party leaders are less supportive of Gore than Republicans are of Bush, Lieberman thanked Daschle and Gephardt more than once for being "steadfast" in their backing of the vice president.
In a later phone press conference without Gore and Lieberman, Daschle and Gephardt reiterated the vice president's message, and renewed accusations that Bush has acted in bad faith. "The Republicans have used lawsuits and mobs and every other tactic imaginable to run out the clock," Daschle said. Both leaders also attacked the GOP for asserting that all the votes had been counted and recounted, concentrating on the so-called undervotes, particularly the thousands of Miami-Dade ballots that registered no presidential choice in the machine recounts.
Gore himself is expected to address the nation at 8:55 p.m. EST Monday, defending his court crusade. In the meantime, his attorneys filed an official challenge in Leon County Circuit Court to Florida's certification of Bush as the winner of the presidential election in the state. A hearing is scheduled for 4 p.m. EST. Democratic lawyers are contending that the certified vote totals in three Florida counties -- Nassau, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade -- are improper.
Nassau County recertified its original Election Night totals, throwing out its own machine recount, which had given Gore an addition 51 votes. Palm Beach County's manual recount was rejected because it was not completed by the 5 p.m. Sunday deadline imposed by the Florida Supreme Court. Results from the portion of the recount that Palm Beach did complete on time were rejected as well, which resulted a loss of 180 votes for the vice president. Miami-Dade County abruptly ended its manual recount on Wednesday, asserting that it could not complete the process in time. The incomplete recount in that county gave Gore a net gain of 157 votes, but Miami-Dade election officials refused to submit those for certification.
Even if Gore were to stop his own court fight, it's not clear how that would affect court proceedings brought by some disgruntled Florida voters. A state circuit court has sent a suit brought by some Palm Beach County voters straight to the Florida Supreme Court. That action demands a new countywide election because of the confusion caused by the butterfly ballot.
A Seminole County court also passed the buck to the Florida Supreme Court on a local challenge to 15,000 absentee ballots. In that case, Democrats charge that county election officials allowed Republican volunteers to alter 4,700 ballot requests by adding a code number required for the ballots to be valid; county Democrats were not given the same chance. As a consequence, the suit demands that all the absentee ballots in the predominantly GOP county be tossed out.
The Bush campaign has pending court challenges of its own. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on Friday in a suit brought by the Bush campaign about the legality of the manual recounts, and the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta is still considering the same issue. The 11th Circuit will announce at 3 p.m. EST Monday whether it will hear Bush's case. Lawyers representing the Texas governor have also sued in Polk, Pasco, Hillsborough and Okaloosa counties because of rejected overseas military ballots.
The legal muddle hasn't kept Bush from preparing to move into the White House. He claimed victory in the presidential race Sunday, asking Gore to "reconsider" his plans to contest the results of the Florida vote certified by Harris on Sunday evening. "Now that the votes are counted, it's time for the votes to count," Bush said.
The Texas governor has named running mate Dick Cheney as head of his transition team and former Transportation Secretary Andy Card as his chief of staff. But Cheney and Card may not have much to work with. The General Services Administration, the federal agency that controls resources for presidential transitions, is withholding $5.3 million in transition funds, unconvinced that it has heard the last word on the race. According to GSA spokeswoman Beth Newburger, "As long as both sides are still going to court, and both sides say they are, we believe that the outcome remains unclear."
The Republicans charge that the GSA decision is a partisan maneuver orchestrated by the White House to help Gore.