Ballots arrive in Tallahassee

The Florida Legislature approves a special session that could give the state to Bush without the court fight.

Published November 30, 2000 11:55AM (EST)

After an arduous journey that received blanket coverage on cable news programs and drew many parallels to O.J.'s white Bronco chase, the yellow Ryder truck carrying Palm Beach County's ballots arrived in Tallahassee at about 3:30 EST. O.J. Simpson even found the time to tell the Associated Press that watching the coverage was "boring" and that "all I could think of was now I know what people went through when they were trying to watch the basketball game and my Bronco was going up the freeway."

The ballots were sent to Tallahassee on the order of Judge N. Sanders Sauls in case he decides on a manual recount. Miami-Dade County's ballots will make the same trip tomorrow.

In the meantime, a select committee of lawmakers has authorized a special session that could result in the Legislature chosing the state's 25 Electoral College delegates. The decision was not a surprise to most observers considering that the committee was made up of eight Republicans and six Democrats.

It's widely expected that, if given the opportunity, the Legislature will award the 25 delegates to Gov. George W. Bush. This is the solution that Republicans have advocated ever since the Florida Supreme Court allowed the manual recount of ballots early last week. Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has also expressed enthusiasm for this solution, and he may be the one to sign a law that could hand his brother the presidency.

Not surprisingly, Vice President Al Gore's attorneys blasted the idea in briefs filed to the U.S. Supreme Court, saying the Legislature may not have the authority to appoint its own slate of presidential electors.

"It is not self-evident that such direct legislative appointment is even available" under federal law, Gore's lawyers wrote in the latest round of filings.

But Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution says states may appoint electors "in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct."

Sen. Joe Lieberman said the Legislature, "encouraged by Florida Gov. Jeb Bush ... threatens to put us into a constitutional crisis."

Attorneys for the vice president will try to see to it that those ballots get counted immediately, and have petitioned the Florida Supreme Court to start the manual recount as soon as possible. The Democratic lawyers tried arguing their election challenge case in the court of public opinion in a Thursday morning press conference. In a performance that called to mind Ross Perot, Gore legal chief David Boies brought out a series of charts to demonstrate just why a manual recount of the ballots in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties could turn the election.

"These are real votes that just haven't been counted because of the limitations of the punch-card ballot system," Boies said.

The stats Boies cited supported Gore claims that punch-card ballots are more prone to error and that manual recounts are the best way to make sure that those errors don't decide the election. He also used the press conference to challenge the standards being used to evaluate dimpled-chad ballots in Palm Beach County, noting that Broward and Miami-Dade counties were able to detect votes in approximately 25 percent of their disputed ballots. Palm Beach County's resolution rate was less than 10 percent.

Boies expressed concern that the challenge would run out of time, but Gore himself doesn't seem as worried about the speed of the process. In an interview with ABC's Peter Jennings, Gore hesitated to give a specific date when he would end any challenge to the election results. "Well, you know, under the law, Dec. 18 is the date when the Electoral College meets," he said, "and I'm just not going to get into the details. I'm going to leave that to the experts."

Bush is consulting experts of his own, making moves to set up his new cabinet from his ranch in Crawford, Texas. Joining him there are General Colin Powell and running mate Dick Cheney. On Wednesday, Cheney announced that the Bush team has opened a transition office in Northern Virginia. Until the General Services Administration releases transition funds and other resources to the Republicans, the new office will be financed with private donations.

By Salon Staff

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