Published on Saturday, November 11, 2000 at 11:39 AM by the Associated Press
Bush Goes to Court To Halt Recount
by David Espo
 
WASHINGTON –– George W. Bush's campaign went to federal court in Florida on Saturday, determined to block Democratic requests for hand recounts of votes of portions of the state that holds the key to the 2000 presidential election.

Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III said the Republicans had acted "to preserve the integrity and the consistency and the equality and finality" of Tuesday's close vote between the Texas governor and Vice President Al Gore.

Within moments of Baker's announcement in Tallahassee, Gore's spokesman , Chris Lehane, accused the GOP presidential candidate of trying "to use every legal means available, including lawyers and court injunctions, to block the speedy and accurate count of Florida votes. We are confident that Americans will reject Mr. Bush's arrogant stance and will demand a full fair and accurate counting of Florida's votes."

The stakes couldn't have been higher. The winner of Florida's 25 electoral votes stands to take the oath of office on Jan. 20, 2001 as the nation's 43rd president. An unofficial tally by The Associated Press of the recount in Florida's 67 counties showed the Texas governor with a 327-vote lead over the vice president in the state whose 25 electoral votes will determine the next president.

State officials said their recount showed Bush leading by 960 votes with 66 counties reporting. The 67th county, Palm Beach, is under a court order not to certify results after a court hearing on Tuesday. The order, handed down by Circuit Judge Kathleen Kroll, is the result of one of eight lawsuits filed by voters who say a faulty ballot design may have caused them to vote inadvertently for Pat Buchanan when they intended to cast ballots for Gore.

Not counting the Sunshine State, Bush had won 29 states for 246 electoral votes. Gore, who added Oregon to his column on Friday, had won 19 states plus the District of Columbia for 262, with 270 needed for victory. New Mexico remained too close to call, but its five electoral votes would not be decisive.

The suit was filed in Miami. "It is brought reluctantly because the election of the president is properly left to the people, not the courts," it said in part. "But it is necessary because the current course of events threatens to undermine the democratic process."

It was not clear when he spoke whether officials in Palm Beach and Volusia counties had yet begun the partial hand recount they agreed earlier to undertake.

Baker insisted that a manual recount would be more susceptible to error than a machine tally.

"Machines are neither Republicans nor Democrats and therefore can be neither consciously or unconsciously biased," he said.

For the second day in a row, he said Bush had won the election day count over Democrat Gore, and won a recount conducted by machine and said the outcome should now be subject only to the count of an unknown number of ballots cast by Floridians living overseas.

After a long day of charges and countercharges about the design of the ballot and discounted ballots in Palm Beach County, William Daley, Gore's campaign chairman, said on Friday that the recount "wouldn't matter if the presidency didn't depend on Florida."

With feelings running high, hundreds of Floridians who complain that their votes may not have been counted Election Day gathered Saturday to tell their stories at a public hearing organized by the NAACP in Miami.

With a handful of counties ready to recount at least some ballots by hand, as requested by the Democrats, Bush gave Baker authority Friday night to seek the court order barring the action. Baker, the former secretary of state, is protecting Bush's interest in the Florida case.

At the same time, though, the Bush campaign asked for another machine recount in Palm Beach County.

In any event, no final results are expected for several days, in part because the state has yet to tally the unknown number of ballots cast by Floridians living overseas, ballots that both sides contend will favor their man.

In his weekly radio address Saturday, President Clinton cautioned patience as the recount proceeds in Florida.

"The people have spoken," he said. "The important thing for all of us to remember now is that a process for resolving the discrepancies and challenges to the election is in motion. The rest of us need to be patient and wait for the results."

At the request of Democrats, a few Florida counties agreed to check at least some ballots by hand.

In Volusia County, officials said they would begin checking ballots Saturday that already have been counted twice by hand. They planned to work 14-hour days counting and expected to be finished by Tuesday.

In Palm Beach County, elections officials agreed to recount ballots in three precincts by hand. A decision will be made about the rest of the county pending the outcome.

In Broward County, officials also agreed to do a hand-recount of three precincts Monday afternoon. If there are significant problems found, they also will consider a full hand-recount of all precincts. Officials said there are 6,686 ballots not counted because the computer did not recognize any selection in the presidential race. In some cases, Democratic Party officials say, voters may have selected a candidate without dislodging a tiny paper rectangle called chad. Chad can block holes and make the choice unreadable by tabulation machines that count votes by flashing light through ballot holes.

In Miami's Dade County, elections officials will meet Tuesday to discuss a hand recount.

"This is not about sore losers," Democratic vice presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman said Friday, as he urged patience on all sides. "This is about the fundamental principles of our democracy."

The Bush campaign saw it otherwise.

While acknowledging that overseas votes mailed to Florida remain to be counted, Bush aides and supporters suggested that Gore concede the state and the White House if the initial recount and next week's certification show Bush ahead. "We certainly hope that in the best interest of the country the vice president will think carefully about his talk of lawsuits and endless recounts," said Bush's spokeswoman, Karen Hughes.

Some Democrats seemed uneasy about the prospect of the election ending up in the courts.

"I'd advise we exhaust all other remedies before we attempt any consideration of a court challenge," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.

Republicans went considerably further than that.

"Anything that involves a recount is absolutely in order and must take place," said Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del., "(but) this business of lawsuits or re-voting is completely off the mark, and could seriously undermine credibility and would be a problem."

© Copyright 2000 The Associated Press

###