Page One

Bush and Gore backers head to court today

The Associated Press
Monday November 13, 2000

The legal skirmishing quickened in the overtime race for the White House as Al Gore’s lawyers argued Sunday night that painstaking election recounts have been allowed “since our nation’s founding.” Republicans said the practice exposes decisive Florida to political “mischief” and human error in Democratic-controlled counties. 

Updated voting figures in Florida gave Republican George W. Bush a 288-vote margin out of some 6 million votes cast with recounts under way in four counties. The vice president leads in the nationwide popular vote but the Electoral College tally is so close that whoever takes Florida almost certainly will win the White House. 

Both parties previewed their legal strategies for a federal court hearing Monday on Bush’s request to block manual recounts. Top Bush adviser James A. Baker III, who described the five-day Florida standoff as “a black mark on our democracy and on our process,” said the GOP legal team will argue that manual recounts in only four of Florida’s 67 counties would constitute unequal treatment under the 14th Amendment. 

Baker said Florida has no uniform standard for reviewing the ballots, and suggested that Democrats who control the contested counties would play favorites. “It’s all subjective, and therefore it presents terrible problems of human error and potential for mischief,” Baker said. A statewide machine-operated recount has already narrowed Bush’s lead. 

Baker’s rival, Gore consigliere Warren Christopher, portrayed vote recounts as a routine necessity of democracy. “If at the end of the day, George Bush has more votes in Florida than we do, certainly the vice president will concede,” Christopher said, even while leaving open the prospect of court action if recounting ends with Bush still ahead. 

Democrats filed court papers Sunday night on behalf of Gore arguing that Florida’s manual ballot law is constitutional. Led by Harvard University law professor Laurence Tribe, party lawyers also said Bush’s complaints threatens Florida’s right to run its own elections. 

Bush is arguing against a system that “reflects an electoral practice — the handcounting of ballots — in effect throughout the country since the nation’s founding, yet here alleged to be unconstitutional and indeed to be vulnerable to a form of judicial intervention extraordinary in our federalism,” the Gore reply says. 

The marshaling of legal forces sets the stage for one of the most dramatic periods in American political history. A climax could come at the end of this week when final overseas mail-in ballots will be counted and the trailing candidate would be forced to concede or push deeper into uncharted waters. 

“By next Friday,” said Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., “the pressure on someone is going to be enormous to accept whatever results Florida has reached.” 

Their public financing drying up, both camps are raising money to pay rafts of lawyers and political operatives sent to every corner of Florida to examine county voting records and wage a campaign-style, poll-tested public relations battle. 

The Bush team dispatched an “urgent message” by e-mail Sunday asking supporters for up to $5,000 to help finance the recount campaign. Democrats are hoping to raise $3 million, with top Gore aides moving from his headquarters in Tennessee to Democratic offices in Washington. 

Among the weekend developments: 

—Palm Beach County, Fla., election officials added three dozen additional votes to Gore early Sunday in a mechanical recount. Leaders of the Democratic stronghold then decided to manually check each of the 425,000 votes cast. One top county official said he will try to block the move. 

Officials said their manual recount of precincts representing 1 percent of the vote turned up 19 votes for Gore beyond a machine count. Carol Roberts, a county commissioner and a member of the Palm Beach County canvassing commission, argued that a manual recount of 100 percent of the precincts could potentially change as many as 1,900 additional votes — far more than the existing statewide margin between the two candidates. 

—In Deland, Fla., Volusia County officials began a marathon manual recount of all 184,018 ballots, despite Bush’s pending request to stop it. With Democratic-laden Daytona Beach included, Gore’s team hoped to pick up more votes. 

—Polk County, Fla., officials, rescanning ballots by machine for a third day, found an additional 104 votes for Bush and seven for Gore. Home to Lakeland, the county went for Bush. 

—Democrats added Osceola County to their list of hand recount requests. The Osceola canvassing board meets Monday to weigh it. Gore had a small lead over Bush in the 54,000-plus votes cast in the county just south of Orlando. Hispanic voters alleged they were required to produce two forms of identification when only one was required. 

— Florida secretary of state Katherine Harris, a Republican who has campaigned for Bush, scheduled a meeting Monday with Christopher and Gore campaign chairman William Daley as Democrats expressed concern that she might refuse to certify ballots uncovered in the manual count. 

— Bush had a 17-vote lead in New Mexico, where state police have begun impounding ballots from Tuesday’s election. Republican lawyers asked the courts to order protection for early voting and absentee ballots cast statewide. 

A Gore-requested manual recount in Broward County, Fla., another Democratic bastion with Fort Lauderdale as its hub, was to begin Monday. A hearing is scheduled for Tuesday in Miami-Dade County, site of what Gore hopes will be a fourth manual recount. 

Bush and Gore were in seclusion with top aides Sunday — Bush at his Texas ranch, Gore at his Washington, D.C., residence. Bush has made several public appearances since Tuesday, casting himself as a man preparing for the transition to power. Gore has laid low, wary that voters might interpret his legal challenge as a grab for power. 

If Bush fails to win an injunction against the manual counts, a prospect that even GOP officials say is likely, his next step would be fateful. Senior strategists say Bush is likely to seek recounts in some GOP-dominated Florida counties if the Gore-backed recounts and overseas balloting put him in danger of losing the lead.