Florida Supreme Court allows hand recounts to continue

By ANNE GEARAN

Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida’s highest court rejected the Republican secretary of state’s request today to delay any hand recounting of ballots in the chaotic tally of presidential ballots.

Katherine Harris had asked the Florida Supreme Court to order a halt to ongoing manual recounts “pending resolution as to whether any basis exists” for their legitimacy.

She also asked that the flurry of legal actions around the state be transferred to the local circuit court in Tallahassee, the state capital. She wanted any new suits filed in the same court, too.

“We have considered this petition and have determined that the decision should be denied,” the unanimous seven-member court wrote in a brief order.

The court ruled without holding a hearing on Harris’ request.

In rejecting her suit, the judges, all chosen by Democratic governors, did not address the many other election-related legal challenges making their way through Florida courts.

The legal maneuvering continued as officials in Broward County reversed course and decided to grant the Gore campaign its request for a full recount by hand.

David Boies, a lawyer recently added to Gore’s legal team, set out the types of issues that Democrats would like to see addressed.

“What kind of manual recount? When do you terminate it? What are the standards? Can you have a manual recount in some counties and not in another?”

It was not clear whether by his comment he was suggesting Democrats might seek to expand manual recounts beyond the four counties where they have requested them. They include Volusia, where it has been finished; Broward and Palm Beach where they are pending, and Miami-Dade where officials voted Tuesday night not to proceed.

Bush made a one-page filing in the Florida state Supreme Court, saying he is entitled to become part of Harris’ case because “initial vote tabulation and the statutory recount tabulation resulted in a majority of votes being cast for George W. Bush.”

Also, Bush asked to intervene in a separate lawsuit filed by Palm Beach County elections supervisors against Harris.

The Florida Supreme Court has seven members, all chosen by Democratic governors.

In yet another case, Circuit Court Judge Jorge Labarga said the Palm Beach County canvassing board cannot arbitrarily toss out all votes with “dimpled chad” and may decide on individual ballots whether the dimple constitutes a vote. The Palm Beach board was still holding up its recount.

“No vote is to be declared invalid or void if there was a clear intention of the voter,” Labarga said after a 90-minute hearing in West Palm Beach.

Early in the day, Harris asked the state’s top court to delay any hand recounting of ballots and to consolidate lawsuits in the chaotic vote count that has left the presidential election hanging in the balance for more than a week.

Harris a day earlier gave all counties until 2 p.m. EST today to justify to her why they should be allowed to conduct further counting past a 5 p.m. Tuesday deadline.

After the deadline, the state said the returns showed Republican Gov. Bush ahead of Democrat Gore by 300 votes, an outcome hotly contested by Democratic lawyers. Still to be tallied are overseas ballots due by midnight Friday.

The candidate who wins Florida’s 25 electoral votes will likely win the White House.

Harris also asked that the flurry of legal actions around the state be transferred to the local circuit court in Tallahassee, the state capital. She wants any new suits filed in the same court, too.

“Without question, this court must make it clear that the election of the president and vice president is not a matter of local pleasure,” the petition said.

In an additional filing today, Harris addressed the situation in Palm Beach, which an elections official there called “musical courts.”

The state Supreme Court should step in and bar the Palm Beach count “to protect the integrity of the process and ensure the application of a uniform rule of law,” Harris said.

“The secretary of state has created the legal complexities with her opinions and roadblocks,” Gore spokesman Doug Hattaway. “If she wants to simplify the process, she should stop all the maneuvering and let the hand counts continue without delay.”

Meanwhile, Republicans moved ahead on a separate legal front. Mindy Tucker, speaking for Bush, said the campaign would file legal briefs today in its appeal of a federal lawsuit over the manual recounts.

Republicans lost the first round in that case in federal court in Miami on Monday. They argue that manual recounts are unconstitutional since they mean some voters are treated differently depending on where they live.

A ruling from the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on that issue could end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

In other developments:

  • Volusia County had completed a full manual recount. Volusia County has a challenge pending, nonetheless, of a state judge’s ruling that said counties must abide by the 5 p.m. Tuesday deadline. Their case is expected to pass immediately from a midlevel state appeals court to the state Supreme Court. In the end, the matter could reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

  • Broward County decided to go ahead with a full by-hand recount. The Democratic Party filed a motion in state court Tuesday arguing that Broward should be ordered to conduct a hand recount of its 588,000 ballots.

  • Miami-Dade’s canvassing board voted 2-1 Tuesday night against a full manual count after a hand count of three precincts awarded Gore a net gain of six votes.

  • In Gadsden County west of Tallahassee, the canvassing board agreed to let both parties inspect disputed ballots. State Attorney Willie Meggs, the top prosecutor in the region and a Democrat, told The New York Times that the county shouldn’t have recounted by hand more than 2,000 ballots that had been rejected by voting machines. The county’s canvassing board – mostly Democratic but with a Republican chairman – recounted those ballots and Gore ended up with a gain of 170.

  • Republicans in Palm Beach County said board member Carol Roberts poked and twisted ballots during a Saturday hand recount of four precincts and should step down. She said she had been “fair and impartial” and would not step aside.

    In general, Democrats said a ruling by a state judge regarding the 5 p.m. Tuesday deadline gave them new legal options because Circuit Judge Terry Lewis said counties still recounting ballots by hand at the request of Gore campaign’s may be able to make a case for filing those totals late.

    If Harris rejects those requests, Democrats could sue.

    “If the secretary of state arbitrarily refuses to accept the amended returns based on the recount and violates what this court has ruled … then we will be back in court,” said Boies.

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

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