Baker says Gore allegations ‘simply wrong,’ ‘not fair’

By DAVID ESPO

Associated Press

George W. Bush’s point man in Florida argued today it was “wrong, simply wrong” for Al Gore to claim that thousands of votes have never been counted in the state’s bitterly contested presidential election. Democratic running mate Joseph Lieberman said so anyway, over and over.

“There are more than 10,000 votes in South Florida that have never been counted,” Lieberman said in an early morning interview on CBS, following up on Gore’s nationally televised appeal for patience while he pursues his unprecedented legal challenge to Bush’s certified victory in Florida. The vice presidential hopeful made the same claim on the other television networks, with only slight variations in phrasing.

But former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, speaking for Bush, sharply disputed that at a news conference in Tallahassee.

“It is wrong, simply wrong, and I would submit not fair to say, as our opponents do … that these votes have never been counted,” he said. The ballots contain no vote for president, he said, but even so, “they’ve been counted just like all of the other nonvotes, not only in other counties in Florida, but across the United States of America have been counted. They’ve been counted, and they’ve been recounted by machines.”

Lieberman said “our hope” is for the election to be settled by Dec. 12, the date for final selection of Florida’s 25 electors. The candidate who controls them will become the next president, since neither Bush nor Gore can command a majority of the Electoral College without Florida in his column.

That mathematical imperative has spawned an election controversy unlike any other – machine recounts, manual recounts, countless lawsuits – but not yet an acknowledged winner in the race for the White House.

Bush was in Texas today, meeting with his aides, after serving notice on Monday he wanted the keys to the government’s transition office – a request the Clinton administration rebuffed.

Gore was in Washington on the morning after his televised appeal to the nation in which he cast his court challenge as an obligation to assure that the true winner is known, and said, “ignoring votes means ignoring democracy itself.”

Public opinion polls pointed to an uphill climb for the vice president A CNN-USA Today-Gallup survey, released just before Gore spoke, showed 56 percent of those polled believe the vice president should concede, and 38 percent believed he should not. A Washington Post poll yielded approximately the same result.

Whatever the timetable Lieberman had in mind, the legal wheels were turning.

Gore’s attorneys filed a motion in late morning to speed up the process of hearing their challenge to the vote count in three Florida counties, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Nassau. Gore’s challenge is before Circuit Judge N. Sanders Sauls, a jurist known for swift action. He told lawyers on Monday he understood their difficulty in trying to get the case resolved before the Dec. 12 deadline for selecting Florida’s 25 electors.

A mid-afternoon hearing was set in yet another case, a lawsuit in Seminole County on a lawsuit challenging thousands of ballots there.

And the Bush team labored over its written appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has set arguments for Friday in the Texas governor’s lawsuit challenging the validity of the manual recounts that the Gore campaign triggered last week.

At the heart of the legal contest, and the public sparring between Baker and Lieberman, was a dispute over thousands of ballots on which voting machines failed to read a vote for president. The Gore campaign argues that an unknown number of them contained an imperfectly cast vote – meaning the voter failed to punch a hole out of the cardboard ballot fully. The Bush team says not all voters intended to vote for president in Florida, as elsewhere, and the votes have, in fact, been counted.

Republican running mate Dick Cheney was on the talk show circuit as well as Lieberman, making the case that Bush needed all the time available for his transition, especially given the time spent on recounting votes in Florida.

“It’s time to wrap this up that we’ve had the election, we’ve had the count, we’ve had the recount now we’ve had the certification of George W. Bush as the winner,” Cheney said on NBC’s “Today” show.

He said the Bush team is “rapidly running out of time to put together that new administration.”

Yet another interested party, the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature, was taking a step toward a special session that could result in appointment of its own slate of electors. A special joint committee was scheduled to meet for the first time to discuss election issues.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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