Tags: Republicans | Defend | Strategy | Dismiss | Handcount

Republicans Defend Strategy to Dismiss Handcount

Sunday, 19 November 2000 12:00 AM

The essence of the Republican argument before the Florida Supreme Court is that Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris was within her rights when she ruled Wednesday that hand recounts of ballots in three heavily Democratic Florida counties will not be accepted in the state's final vote count.

Democrats on Saturday had filed a motion in the state Supreme Court arguing that Harris abused her discretion and should be required to allow the hand counts to go forward. Bush held a 930-vote lead over Gore in the Sunshine State's presidential tally, including overseas absentee ballots, but Democrats were confident the ongoing hand counts would turn up

enough votes for Gore to overcome that margin.

Sunday afternoon, Democrats issues a response to the Republican motion, reiterating their claim that the hand counts should go forward and asking the court to also address what standards should be applied in judging ballots that are not clearly punched.

Nationally, Gore appeared to have 255 of the 270 Electoral College votes needed to be elected president, while Bush had 246, based on totals from the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Gore also led in the national popular vote tally by about 200,000 votes, and had slim leads in New Mexico and Oregon, which carry a total of 12 electoral votes.

Barring other unforeseen complications, whichever candidate claims the 25 electoral votes in Florida will be able to claim the presidency when the Electoral College electors meet in their state capitals to vote Dec. 18.

The Republican brief filed Sunday said Harris acted under a state law that required her to cut off election returns Nov. 14 at 5 p.m. Petitioned by several counties to hold the deadline open while they complete recounts, Harris said Florida law allowed for such an extension only if there was a technical problem with the machine counts that generated the initial returns.

Republicans argued in their brief that no "extraordinary circumstances" existed to justify

extending the deadline, and that Harris' decision was a "reasoned and reasonable" exercise of her authority.

A Democratic legal adviser said Saturday that Harris's actions had been "Kafkaesque" because she first issued opinions telling counties not to conduct recounts -- which led the counties to pause before continuing -- and then later refused the recounts on the grounds that they were late.

But the Bush reply Sunday said, "The (Florida) statutory structure all but dictated that the

Secretary of State conduct herself exactly as she has throughout the course of events since the election."

Harris' conduct was "reasoned and reasonable," the brief said.

Harris and the Democrats also traded briefs on the schedule for oral argument Monday. Harris argued in her brief Sunday that she is not a party in the dispute but a neutral arbiter, and therefore should have equal but separate time to make her case before the court. Harris suggested the two-hour oral argument schedule be broken into thirds, with 40 minutes each

for the Bush camp, the Gore camp, and her office. The Democrats fired back that this allocation of time would be unfair because Bush and Harris are on the same side of the issues and should be considered allied.

While the court battle heated up, both Bush and Gore kept a low profile Sunday. Gore scratched a long-planned trip to Tennessee to attend a family reunion conference, deciding instead to stay in Washington and attend church services. He addressed the conference by satellite instead. Bush remained in Texas, attending church in Austin with his wife,

Laura.

Meanwhile, recounts continued in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

In Miami-Dade, elections officials began a machine scan of nearly 654,000 presidential ballots Sunday in preparation for Monday's hand count after a Republican effort to delay the process failed.

Circuit Judge Margarita Esquiroz denied the motion to delay the machine scan, but she set a hearing for Monday on the merits of the case. Republican attorneys argued by telephone with

Esquiroz for about an hour, contending the scan would further damage the ballots.

Elections workers used an automatic reader Sunday to separate the under and over votes from the rest of the ballots, but all of them will be hand counted.

Supervisor of Elections David Leahy said the under votes, ballots with no vote for Republican Texas Gov. George Bush, Vice President Al Gore or any other candidate, will automatically go the county canvassing board for perusal. He said there were about 10,750 of those.

Over votes are those with marks for more than one candidate.

The county hoped to finish its recount by Dec. 1.

Broward County continued counting Sunday but changed its approach to "dimpled" or "pregnant" ballots where no hole had been fully punched to indicate the voter's intent. Previously, the county was counting only ballots where the "chad" that fills a vote hole had been partially punched through, with at least two corners perforated. But Sunday the county canvassing

board decided to count "dimpled" ballots as well.

Broward County has filed a brief with the Florida Supreme Court asking what rules should apply to dimpled ballots or partially punched ballots.

In Palm Beach County, 32 of 531 precincts have been recounted by hand thus far, with a net gain of 12 votes for Bush. But Democratic attorney Dennis Newman told reporters Sunday that 150 "dimpled" ballots that "should have gone for Gore" were rejected by the canvassing board, and that Democrats are considering legal action to have those votes reinstated.

Palm Beach hoped to have the initial recount concluded by Wednesday, though disputed ballots may take longer than that to settle.

In Seminole County on Saturday, a circuit judge set another hearing for Monday to determine whether all 15,000 of the county's absentee ballots in the recent election should be thrown out. Democrat Harry Jacobs filed suit Friday claiming the ballots had been tampered with.

Apart from Florida, New Mexico, with 5 Electoral College votes, and Oregon, with 7, have remained uncertain, although some news organizations put both in Gore's column. The New York Times reported that although 2,000 votes remained to be counted in Oregon, Gore had gained enough votes to put his lead out of reach. His lead of more than 5,000 votes also gave him

a wide enough margin -- two-fifths of one percent -- so that an automatic recount would not be triggered, the Times reported.

The Washington Post reported Saturday that Gore had won New Mexico by a margin of 380 votes out of 572,508 cast. Bush held a 4-vote lead in New Mexico earlier in the week, but the discovery of a clerical error added several hundred votes to Gore's total.

The Bush campaign announced this week it would not ask for a recount in Iowa, where Gore's margin was fewer than 5,000 votes.

--

(With reporting by Mark Benjamin from West Palm Beach, Fla.)

--

Copyright 2000 by United Press International.

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The essence of the Republican argument before the Florida Supreme Court is that Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris was within her rights when she ruled Wednesday that hand recounts of ballots in three heavily Democratic Florida counties will not be accepted in the...
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Sunday, 19 November 2000 12:00 AM
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