Florida may not get the last word


Associated Press

WASHINGTON — As the battle for Florida drags on, no one knows for sure how the race between Al Gore and George W. Bush might be settled. Endgame scenarios once thought far-fetched are now openly discussed.

The Florida Legislature, the Congress or even the U.S. Supreme Court could end up having the final word in campaign 2000.

Thisc afternoon the Supreme Court of Florida will hear from both campaigns and Florida secretary of state Katherine Harris, to argue whether she can certify the Florida vote count and ignore hand recounts that continue in several heavily Democratic counties. On Friday, the court instructed Harris to not certify the votes until it heard arguments.

Regardless of the court’s decision, it is unlikely that the fight for Florida, which determines who becomes the next president, will end there. A look at some possible scenarios:

  • The Electoral College:

    If Harris declares a winner, Florida will cast its electoral votes with the rest of the nation in the Electoral College on Dec. 18. Under state law, Florida has until Dec. 12 to designate its electors. If Florida’s votes are not delivered, the electoral process will continue without them, one way or another.

    The 12th Amendment says, "The person having the greatest number of votes for President, shall be president, if such a number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed." The dilemma, then, is the definition of "appointed," and whether it means the number of electors before, or after, the election.

    Will the Electoral College simply vote without Florida and a declare a winner based on the majority of the votes without Florida? No one knows — this would be unprecedented. Without Florida’s votes, Gore has 267 electoral votes and Bush 246. Florida’s 25 votes would put either candidate above the 270 vote threshold needed to win the election.

  • The U.S. Congress:

    If neither Gore or Bush has a majority of the 538 electoral votes, the election could be thrown to the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, which is what would have occurred in the event of a tie in the Electoral College. Each state delegation receives one vote, regardless of the state’s size. The U.S. Senate would decide the vice presidency, with each senator getting one vote. A simple majority wins in both houses.

    If no new president has been selected by Jan. 20, Inauguration Day, the Presidential Succession Act would take effect, with Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert to serve as acting president, followed by the president pro tempore of the Senate: 98-year-old Strom Thurmond of South Carolina. To ascend to the presidency, either man would have to resign his seat.

  • The Florida legislature:

    Ultimately, the Republican-controlled Florida legislature decides whether Gore or Bush will receive the state’s 25 electoral votes. The legislature is not bound to assign the state’s electors to the popular vote winner, although it traditionally does so. So in theory, the GOP legislature could ignore a Gore popular victory earned by hand recounts included in the final tally and give the decisive electoral votes to Bush.

  • The U.S. Supreme Court:

    Based either on the state case or the Bush campaign’s lawsuit to stop the manual recounts, which is pending in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, Gore or Bush could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Courts generally do not overrule government officials’ decisions in areas where the law gives those officials discretion, unless those decisions amount to abuse of that discretion. The court would not review Florida courts’ interpretation of state law unless the losing side were able to argue plausibly that it violated a federal right. It is not clear exactly what remedies the Court might be able to institute.

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

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