TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – While recounted Florida votes edged toward certification Sunday, lawyers for Al Gore and George W. Bush doggedly pursued more legal avenues for changing the totals yet again.
“This is one of the most amazing legal chess games we’ve ever seen played,” said Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola University Law School in Los Angeles. “I don’t think even the parties know what their next move will be. It changes from hour to hour.”
The deadline for their maneuvers is Dec. 12 when Florida must certify its electors.
Bush has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling that the hand recounts requested by Gore should go forward. The U.S. court has scheduled arguments in the case for Friday.
Should Bush maintain his lead when the tally is certified, he could drop his appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. That strategy involves a political risk because it would leave in place the votes Gore picks up in the recount — putting the vice president closer to winning in any post-certification contest.
It has become evident that the outcome of the presidential election will depend heavily on legal sorties by an army of lawyers who have found new challenges in the murky depths of Florida election law.
“Because we’re in uncharted waters, it’s almost impossible to know all the legal options. They’re being created every day,” said Levenson. “Both sides have the best lawyers available and they’re being very creative and aggressive”
For now, there are some clear moves ahead:
—Secretary of State Katherine Harris was to receive the results Sunday of all votes in the state including recounts in scattered counties.
—The declaration of the final totals opens the door for contests to be filed by the unsuccessful candidate and counter-contests to be filed by the candidate with more votes.
—Gore lawyers will challenge results in Miami-Dade County where disputed votes were never fully recounted by hand. The canvassing board said they couldn’t finish in time and just quit counting.
—Bush lawyers have already begun lawsuits challenging the exclusion of overseas and military ballots eliminated for such things as missing postmarks.
—Gore lawyers may challenge the results from Palm Beach County where multiple problems exist. So-called dimpled ballots were never counted and many voters claimed they were so confused by a “butterfly ballot” form that they mistakenly voted for Pat Buchanan rather than Al Gore. To complicate matters further, the Palm Beach board said Sunday it could not complete its work by the 5 p.m. deadline.
—A challenge in Seminole County was possible involving some 15,000 absentee ballots amid allegations that Republicans wrongly tampered with ballot applications on behalf of GOP voters.
“The violations in Seminole County are extraordinary,” said Erwin Chemerinsky, constitutional law professor at University of Southern California. “But it seems unlikely that all absentee ballots would be thrown out because that would disenfranchise voters who cast their ballots properly.”
Chemerinsky, who has represented voters in Palm Beach on the butterfly ballot issue, said the remedy being sought there would be either a new election or a statistical recount that would transfer some of Buchanan’s votes to Gore. That battle, lost at the circuit court, is now wending its way through appeals court.
The end of the line for all the legal maneuvering could be Friday’s hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court.
“The dead end could be the Supreme Court,” said Levenson. “They may direct the participants to where the buck stops.”
“It seems extraordinary that they are intervening,” she added, “One reason may be to bring finality to a process that seems to have spun out of control.”