Gore camp challenges final count in court

George Fairbanks

Vice President Al Gore, firmly in the role of underdog, filed papers in a Tallahassee, Fla., court Monday contesting the results of Sunday’s vote certification in that state.
Gore and his team of lawyers are framing their argument around the results in three counties. The vote certified by Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris gave Texas Gov. George W. Bush a 537-vote victory.
Gore’s legal challenge states in part that “the vote totals reported in the election canvassing commission’s certification of Nov. 26, are wrong. They include illegal votes and do not include legal votes that were improperly rejected. The number of such votes is more than sufficient to place in doubt, indeed to change, the result of the election.”
Gore’s first challenge will be contesting the decision of the Palm Beach County canvassing board electing not to use broader and more subjective guidelines in counting so-called questionable ballots.
In addition, Gore’s lawyers are leveling allegations that officials in Miami-Dade County acted improperly when they chose to end their hand recount with more than half the ballots still to be counted.
The Democrat’s representatives also question certified results in Nassau County. Gore backers claim the canvassing board had an ineligible Republican member and should not have thrown out the results of the mandated statewide recount. That decision ultimately restored 51 votes to Bush.
Palm Beach County has also chosen to continue with its hand recount in hopes that Harris will accept and certify the numbers when they are completed.
Appearing on ABC’s Good Morning America, Palm Beach County canvassing board chairman Judge Charles Burton stated that if “every ding and nick” were counted, Gore would have picked up more than 1,000 votes.
Burton further explained that if the board had counted the ballots in the fashion the Gore campaign demanded the vice president would have gained a minimum of 400 votes. As of late Sunday night the county had found another 215 votes for Gore.
The first step for the Gore camp is to convince the Florida circuit court to consider its complaint. It is plausible that appeals could be heard in the district Court of Appeals and the Florida Supreme Court.
For his part, Bush is calling for Gore to halt his court proceedings and concede the election. Bush has 271 electoral votes, one more than the 270 needed to gain the presidency in the Electoral College. As it currently stands however, Gore holds a 337,183 nationwide popular vote lead, a margin larger than many predicted it would be two weeks ago.
That relatively large lead, in relation to what’s going on in Florida, has been cited by the Gore campaign as evidence that they are justified in moving forward with their court proceedings.
Bush, however, is actively taking up the role of president-elect. He selected running mate Dick Cheney to head up his transition team. He also named Andy Card as his White House chief of staff.
President Clinton, who has been a shadow character in the 2000 race, got back into the news Monday when he made clear his opinion that the presidential election is still unresolved.
White House Chief of Staff John Podesta has been selected to direct the current administration’s role in the transition.
Beth Newberger, a spokeswoman for the General Services Administration — the group that provides funds and office space for the president-elect — announced that her organization was not ready to act.
“As long as both sides continue with their plans to go to court, we believe that the outcome remains unclear. Therefore, we are not planning to authorize the transition at this time,” she said.
It is expected the president’s passive role in the process may eventually hinder the transition and sour relations with the incoming administration.
Gore held a mid-morning conference call with Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo. The two high-level Democrats were in Florida to rally support for the next bout of legal challenges and countermoves.
In the widely televised call, Gore said, “What we’re talking about involves many thousands of votes that have never been counted at all. If we ignore the votes that have been cast, then where does that lead? The integrity of our democracy depends upon the consent of the governed, freely expressed in an election where every vote is counted.”
Gore also gave an evening address to the nation in which he reiterated his desire to see that every vote is counted and sought to rally his supporters.
Bush lawyers are preparing for Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court hearing in an effort to stop further hand recounts in Florida. Even though Bush has been certified the winner, he is expected to move forward with the case as protection against a major Gore court victory.
It appears certain that the vice president is running out of time not only in the court of law but also the court of public opinion.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll taken Sunday showed 60 percent of respondents thought Gore should immediately concede the election to his opponent.

— Wire reports contributed to this article.

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