Florida high court to decide on hand count

by George Fairbanks

Depending on the vantage point, the 2000 presidential election has likely been one of three things: an exercise of democracy in action, aggravating or simply comical.
While the country may be getting close to finally figuring out who will replace President Clinton, the Democrats and Republicans are bickering and posturing as if they’re still in the midst of a campaign.
The numbers bear one truth: Almost exactly half of the people who cast a ballot this year will have voted for the loser.
It is a truth that stands to shape what will likely be a bitter two years of government until the 2002 election, when both Democrats and Republicans will seek to gain a workable majority in Congress.
The world, along with America, is scrutinizing this election with a keen eye and will soon know who the 43rd president will be.
The entire election has essentially been placed directly into the hands of the Florida Supreme Court. After hearing arguments throughout Monday afternoon from attorneys representing Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the court entered into deliberations behind closed doors to decide the candidates’ fates.
During the hearing, Democrats questioned the authority of Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris. Democrats argued Harris overstepped her authority when she denied counties involved in manual hand recounts the ability to report new vote totals.
Paul Hancock, a Democratic attorney, said Harris overstepped her “very narrow authority” when she refused to accept the new results.
Republican attorneys countered, saying Harris was well within her discretion under Florida law.
Harris had intended to certify the statewide vote tally Saturday, but the state Supreme Court — which is made up completely of Democratic appointees — issued an order stopping Harris from making the announcement.
Republican lawyers further argued Monday that Harris was bound by Florida law to deny any recounts not finished on or before a Nov. 14 deadline.
“The problem we have here is not really a legal problem, it’s a political problem. The secretary is governed by the Florida statute. She is mandated to certify the results seven days after the election,” said Harris attorney Joseph Klock.
Republican representatives also asked the court to allow Florida to certify its election results, and then permit Gore supporters to contest the results later. Gore’s staff, however, sought the help of the court to move the deadline to Dec.12 — the same day the state must officially pick the 25 presidential electors the election hinges on.
As it stands now, Bush holds a 930-vote lead on Gore in Florida. Many feel that margin will prove to be insurmountable for Gore, even if hand recounts are eventually allowed into the pool. The counties recounting by hand gave no evidence that Gore was picking up enough new ballots to catch his Republican opponent.
The winner of Florida’s electoral votes will go over the 270 total needed to become the president-elect and be sworn into office Jan. 20.
In a related development, hundreds of military ballots originally thrown out because they lacked a postal mark showing the date they were mailed might still be counted, something that will likely increase Bush’s lead.
The ballots were thrown out because, without a postmark, election judges cannot be sure the votes were made prior to the Nov. 7 general election.
Florida’s Democratic attorney general Bob Butterworth sent a letter to Florida counties instructing them to count the ballots.
Democrats had come under intense fire from Republicans and many in the media for attempting to make sure the ballots would not be counted because of what opponents said were mere technicalities.

George Fairbanks covers government and welcomes comments at [email protected]