Tags: Bush | Will | Begin | Transition | Process

Bush Will Begin Transition Process

Monday, 27 November 2000 12:00 AM

Bush was certified the winner of Florida's presidential election by a 537-vote margin, less than one hundredth of one percent of the votes cast in the state. If the certification stands, Bush gains 25 electoral votes, enough to give him a majority in the Electoral College and make him the 43rd U.S. president.

But it is still far from certain that Bush will be the one to take the oath of office on Jan. 20.

The Gore campaign said it will go to court Monday to contest the results from at least three Florida counties. And the result in Florida is also the subject of a U.S. Supreme Court hearing, scheduled for Friday.

Speaking at the state capitol in Austin, Texas, Bush said he and his running mate – former Defense Secretary Richard Cheney – would "undertake the responsibility of preparing to serve as America's next president and vice president."

He said that he was appointing Cheney and former George Bush Sr. Transportation Secretary Andy Card to lead his transition team. He put the ball firmly in the court of the Clinton-Gore White House by saying that he had asked Cheney "to work with President Clinton's administration to open a transition office in Washington."

He added that "we look forward to a constructive working relationship [with the administration] throughout this transition."

He said that the election had been hard fought, "but now that the votes are counted, it is time for the votes to count." He called on Gore to reconsider his decision to contest the result, saying that such a move is "not the best route for America."

Florida's certified vote tally was announced by Secretary of State Katherine Harris shortly after 7.30 p.m., as follows: Bush, 2,912,790; Gore, 2,912,253.

"I hereby declare George W. Bush the winner of Florida's 25 electoral votes," she said.

The announcement came more than two hours after the deadline set Tuesday by the Florida Supreme Court for the state's 67 counties to submit their final vote tallies to the state's division of elections for certification.

It makes Florida the final state to certify its votes – nearly three weeks after the Nov. 7 election. Harris and the two other members of the state elections board each signed five copies of the certification before announcing the results.

Harris rejected a partial hand recount total from Palm Beach County that she said "purports to be an amended return." She said it failed to comply with Florida law, and she instead accepted the earlier machine count total.

Palm Beach County was unable to finish its manual recount by 5 p.m. and had requested an extension from Harris Sunday afternoon. She rejected it, but election officials continued counting and finished about two hours later, less than half an hour before Harris made her announcement. The final result showed a 200-vote gain for Gore – not enough to overturn Bush's lead even if the votes had been included in the state's final tally.

Minutes after Harris's announcement, Democratic vice presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman, in Washington, criticized the refusal to include the Palm Beach County recount and said the Gore campaign would contest the certification.

"How can we teach our children that every vote counts if we are not willing to make a good-faith effort to count every vote?" Lieberman said, speaking from the Hay Adams Hotel across Lafayette Park from the White House.

"Because of our belief in the importance of these fundamental American principles, Vice President Gore and I have no choice but to contest these actions as provided under Florida law and in accord with the decision of the Florida Supreme Court."

The Bush campaign's point man in Florida, Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, said that Bush had won the election even after the recounts in Florida that Democrats had asked for, and called on Gore not to drag out the process by contesting the result in the courts.

"At some point there must be closure," said Baker. "At some point the law must prevail and the lawyers must go home. We have reached that point. … It is time to honor the will of the people, it is time to let the orderly process of transitioning go forward."

But Baker said that the GOP would continue with its challenge to the recount process in the U.S. Supreme Court: "We have no assurance that the other side will stop. In fact, their lawyers … have said they intend to contest the election result … so obviously we cannot dismiss our request to the Supreme Court."

He also indicated that the Bush campaign might contest the election results themselves: "We would not file contest of the election result except as a defensive measure, perhaps as a counter claim in any contest that the other side might file."

The ballot totals certified Sunday also showed activist and Green Party candidate Ralph Nader received 97,488 votes. Nader has been sharply criticized for drawing votes away from Gore.

Florida's 25 electoral votes are enough to give either Bush or Gore the Electoral College votes needed to win the White House. Electors are appointed by state authorities Dec. 12 and meet Dec. 18 in their state capitals to cast their votes, which are counted in a joint session of Congress Jan. 6.

Last week, the Florida State Supreme Court ordered Harris to accept manual recounts submitted before 5 p.m. Sunday, or 9 a.m. Monday if her office was not open. Harris did in fact open her office to receive results, meaning that the 5 p.m. deadline applied.

Before signing the certification, Harris said she disagreed with the ruling extending the certification deadline to Sunday.

"It was and remains my opinion that the appropriate deadline for providing certified returns in this election are those mandated by the legislature, and it remains my opinion that the proper returns in this election are those certified by those deadlines. The Florida Supreme Court disagreed."

The extension, which allowed manual recounts to be included in the certified total, is the subject of a Bush campaign appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court that will be heard Friday.

County Judge Charles Burton, chairman of the Palm Beach County canvassing board, said the members had written Harris to give them until 9 a.m. Monday to finish their manual recount.

The letter to Harris said in part: "Your consideration of our request to extend the deadline for final submission of this hand count until Monday, Nov. 27 at 9 a.m. would be greatly appreciated, as we know you are interested in counting all votes as accurately as possible."

Burton said afterwards that about 14,500 questionable ballots had been set aside by the counters, and it is "an extraordinary and unprecedented challenge for the canvassing board to review each of the ballots."

He sounded a rather bitter note: "I can think of a lot of things I'd rather do than count votes for two weeks."

Despite the certification of the final vote totals in the final state of the union, it seemed clear Sunday that there was still no end in sight to the most bitterly and closely fought presidential election in living memory.

In continued legal maneuvering, the Gore camp on Sunday said it plans to file lawsuits in Leon County Circuit Court contesting ballot totals in three Florida counties – Miami-Dade, Nassau and Palm Beach. The campaign wants the court to force Miami-Dade to complete the hand count that was suspended on Wednesday after the canvassing board said it did not have time to count its remaining ballots in time to meet the Sunday deadline set by the Florida Supreme court. County officials had begun manually counting more than 10,000 ballots that had not registered a vote when tallied by machines. The Gore camp contends that the recount was only suspended after a group of Bush demonstrators intimidated canvassing board members.

They also want 388 Miami-Dade votes already counted in the partial recount there to be included in the final state total. The Gore campaign says Gore had a net gain of 156 votes there.

In Nassau County, Gore attorneys are challenging officials' refusal to conduct a hand count despite discovering discrepancies from the machine count in a hand count sampling. And in Palm Beach the campaign is seeking a recount of 2,000 incompletely punched ballots. Campaign sources say as many as 600 extra votes for Gore could be found there.

In Seminole County, a lawsuit brought independently by a Democratic lawyer seeks to have all the heavily Republican county's absentee ballots excluded. The suit alleges that the county election supervisor allowed a GOP party worker to use her office for 10 days to correct flawed applications for absentee ballots from thousands of Republican supporters.

For its part, the Bush campaign announced Saturday evening it had filed suits against Hillsborough, Okaloosa, Pasco and Polk counties in an effort to force local election officials to reconsider invalidated overseas absentee ballots from military personnel. They expected to file a suit against Orange County later.

Bush campaign spokeswoman Mindy Tucker said the campaign chose the counties as targets because officials had publicly "stated they would not take any action [on counting the military ballots] without a court order."

Tucker said the campaign wants the canvassing boards to reconsider ballots and include those that have no postmark, are undated and/or have no corresponding signature on file with the election boards.

The campaign had filed actions against 12 counties on Thursday to force them to reconsider 1,420 military ballots disqualified throughout the state because they arrived with either no postmark, a smudged postmark or a misplaced or missing signature.

But in a surprise move on Saturday, attorneys for Bush withdrew the suits filed in Leon County Circuit Court after some counties voluntarily agreed to re-examine their vote, yet still threatened legal action against those they considered having a "recalcitrant posture."

Post-certification challenges from either camp would come under a provision of Florida law titled "Contest of elections." Under the vague language of the law, either campaign or any voter could file suit in "circuit court" when it appears that the actual victor has not been declared the winner in the final vote certification. Any new state court action would be a different case from the one to be argued in the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday, and would be entitled to its own hearings and appeals process.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments on whether the new deadline for final tallies set by the Florida Supreme Court – in order to allow the hand counts to be factored in – violates an 1887 federal law.

The 113-year-old law, enacted by Congress to prevent abuses in the post-Civil War South, has never been used, but requires any state to settle disputes over the appointment of presidential electors under "laws enacted prior to" election day.

A second issue before the court is whether the court overstepped into territory controlled by the legislature, which the Constitution says is empowered to set the rules for picking electors.

Copyright 2000 by United Press International. All rights reserved.

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Bush was certified the winner of Florida's presidential election by a 537-vote margin, less than one hundredth of one percent of the votes cast in the state. If the certification stands, Bush gains 25 electoral votes, enough to give him a majority in the Electoral College...
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2000-00-27
Monday, 27 November 2000 12:00 AM
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