Bush declared winner of Florida

by George Fairbanks

The 2000 Presidential race is over.
Florida’s secretary of state certified Texas Gov. George W. Bush the winner Sunday night with a 537-vote lead over Vice President Al Gore of the 6 million votes cast in the state.
“Accordingly, on behalf of the state elections canvassing commission and in accordance with the laws of the state of Florida, Ihereby declare Governor George W. Bush the winner of Florida’s 25 electoral votes,” said Florida’s Secretary of State Katherine Harris.
The declaration spurred excitement from Bush supporters, but the Gore camp lamented the decision and plans to challenge it later this week.
“It is in our nation’s best interest that the winner in Florida is truly the person who got the most votes,” said vice presidential nominee Joseph Lieberman. “We do not know who would prevail after a full and fair count of every legal ballot.”
Democratic challenger Al Gore, who is stuck at 267 electoral votes, plans to contest the certification and could still seize the White House.
However, Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris effectively ended Gore’s chances of gaining a lead when she denied a request Sunday afternoon by the Palm Beach County canvassing board for more time to count an estimated 1,000 to 2,000 additional disputed ballots.
Harris made her decision within the parameters of last week’s Florida Supreme Court ruling that all new vote tallies must be certified by Sunday at 5 p.m. EST. The court granted Harris the authority to extend the deadline, but she chose not to do so.
In a faxed letter made public Sunday, Palm Beach County canvassing board chairman Judge Charles Burton cited the “extraordinary and unprecedented challenge” that the board is confronted with, considering its time constraints.
The Secretary of State’s office, though, quickly dismissed Burton’s request for more time by countering with a letter presented to all 67 Florida counties last week highlighting the Supreme Court’s request that all recounts be certified on Sunday.
In a surprising development, the canvassing board elected to ignore and defy Harris’ order and continue their counting. The vote counters worked through the night and their final tallies were expected this morning.
Broward County was able to complete its entire recount within the time limit. In that recount — made public Sunday — Vice President Gore gained 563 votes.
The Gore camp plans to hit the courts early this week to contest Harris’ decision to not allow questionable Palm Beach County ballots to be counted and certified.
According to numerous reports, Gore and his lawyers are expected to launch a major legal assault based on Palm Beach County’s infamous “confusing ballots.” The Democrats also plan to challenge the results of hand recounts in Miami-Dade County, where the canvassing board elected to stop their recount efforts well before they were completed.
Gore’s lead attorney David Boies held a press conference Sunday afternoon and gave clues the campaign may mount legal challenges. He specifically addressed the Miami-Dade County situation, claiming that uncounted ballots were “clearly legal votes that have not been accepted by the certification board.”
Lastly, the Vice President is expected to target Nassau County. Officials in the county tossed out results from a machine recount, deciding to certify their original Nov. 7 count. That decision gave Bush a 51-vote boost.
Across the party line, Bush’s lawyers will present arguments to the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday arguing that the Florida Supreme Court overstepped its authority by forcing the state to include the hand-count totals.
Bush’s team is also considering their own legal challenges in counties where they feel overseas military ballots were improperly thrown out.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.