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Fla. Count, Supreme Court Ruling May Not End Bush-Gore Fight

Sunday, 26 November 2000 12:00 AM

Florida's Secretary of State Katherine Harris certified a final state vote tally Sunday evening after a late deadline set by the Florida Supreme Court, declaring Texas Gov. George W. Bush the winner of the state's 25 electoral votes.

Harris indicated that Bush beat Vice President Al Gore by 537 votes out of about 6 million cast. The final tally certified by Harris did not include a hand count from Palm Beach County, which did not finish the manual tally by the 5 p.m. EST Sunday deadline. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is set to hear argument Friday on very narrow grounds in the election dispute, and could rule as early as next week.

Neither action appears likely at this point to end the struggle. The Gore campaign was poised Sunday night to challenge the results of the latest Florida vote counts in new lawsuits, contending that the final tally was unfairly achieved.

Democrats insist that at least 10,000 votes in Miami-Dade County were not factored into the final tally. Miami-Dade refused to conduct a hand count, saying it could not finish by the Sunday deadline. The campaigns are engaged in a legal war "to the knife." Whoever finally wins Florida's 25 electoral votes wins the White House. Gore won the national popular vote by about 300,000, and leads in the electoral tally with just three electoral votes short of the 270 needed to win. Bush needs Florida's 25 electoral votes firmly in his pocket to claim the prize.

Post-certification challenges from the Gore 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 in two very specific areas.

The first deals with the deadline for vote certification as outlined in Florida law. Two provisions of state election law say the final tally must be achieved by 5 p.m. on the seventh day following the election – which would have been Nov. 14 – though other provisions allow for challenges after certification.

The U.S. Supreme Court said it would hear argument on whether the new deadline for final tallies set by the Florida Supreme Court, one set by the state 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.

In the second specific area, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear argument on whether the deadline set by the Florida Supreme Court "is inconsistent" with a clause in the Constitution "which provides that electors shall be appointed by each State 'in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct.' " In other words, did the Florida Supreme Court set the new deadline in violation of state law as enacted by the Legislature? Republicans contend the plain language of the law shows that the state court violated the law by allowing the hand counts, which favor Gore.

Democrats insist that the thrust of all the election provisions of Florida law is designed to discover how state citizens actually voted, not incomplete tallies achieved with technical difficulties. The U.S. Supreme Court has also said it wants to hear opinions during Friday's argument on the "consequences" of not allowing hand counts to be included in Florida's tally.

Unlike the Florida Supreme Court, which consists of six Democrats and one independent, the U.S. Supreme Court is more politically balanced. Seven of the justices on the nation's highest court were appointed by Republican presidents, two of those by the father of the Texas governor, former President George Bush.

Only two of the nine justices were appointed by a Democratic chief executive, both by President Clinton in his first term. In practical terms, the court breaks down into four consistent liberals, three consistent conservatives, one moderate conservative and one moderate. The moderate is a Reagan appointee, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who often acts as a key swing vote.

However, political ideology may not be the deciding factor. Prior to the ruling in 1997's Clinton vs. Jones – which unanimously allowed a sexual harassment suit to proceed against a sitting president – one justice privately conceded to United Press International that there is "pressure" to "speak with one voice" on issues of utmost importance to the nation.

The "pressure" on the U.S. Supreme Court to speak with one voice in the battle for the presidency will be enormous. The nine justices may do what they can to bring finality to the election, but even their authority may not be enough to end a cascade of lawsuits from the campaigns.

(C) 2000 UPI. All Rights Reserved.

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Florida's Secretary of State Katherine Harris certified a final state vote tally Sunday evening after a late deadline set by the Florida Supreme Court, declaring Texas Gov. George W. Bush the winner of the state's 25 electoral votes. Harris indicated that Bush beat Vice...
Sunday, 26 November 2000 12:00 AM
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