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Supreme Court Hears Bush Appeal, But Real Action Is In Florida; Setbacks For Gore, But Cases Still Pending

December 2, 2000

"The burden is supposed to be on Vice President Al Gore. Why, so many ask, is he prolonging this process? But the burden should be on Bush. He could get us to a resolution easily. The simple way to resolve this problem is for him to agree that we need to take a look at those 10,700 ballots cast in Miami-Dade County on which no vote for president was registered.

The Bush people say there are no presidential votes on those ballots. But if they're so sure of that, why are they going to such lengths to prevent the public from seeing what is on them?

The reason is obvious. The Bush campaign fears that if these ballots--or, as should have happened, all the ballots--are thus counted in Florida, Bush might lose. That's why the Bush people are going to court after court after court using lawyer after lawyer after lawyer to keep those ballots out of the light of day. Speed is good when it comes to pushing Gore out of the race. Speed is bad when it comes to counting votes."

- E. J. Dionne
Washington Post

The United States Supreme Court has heard arguments in a case brought by Texas Governor George W. Bush against the use of manual recounts in Florida.

The court conducted a 90 minute hearing earlier today, releasing audio tape of the proceedings shortly after.

Many commentators believe that the court may split along its usual conservative-liberal lines, with Justices Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas leading the conservatives, and Ginsburg, Breyer and Stevens leading the more moderate and liberal justices.

The Supreme Court will rule on whether the manual recounts ordered by the Florida Supreme Court can stand. The Bush campaign argues that the Florida court effectively made new law in its ruling extending the deadline for recounts. A decision in favour of this argument would be a setback for Gore, effectively increasing Bush's lead from 537 votes to 930.

But the real action may well be playing out in Florida, where a bewildering number of court actions will be decided in the coming week.

Today, the Florida Supreme Court made two decisions:

  • It denied an application by Gore for recounting to begin immediately, pending a decision by a lower court.
  • It upheld the constitutionality of the controversial "butterfly ballot" in Palm Beach County, ruling out any possibility of a revote.

The effect of the first decision is to further restrict the time available for any recount, should one be ordered. The Florida electors have to be chosen by December 12, prior to the meeting of the Electoral College on December 18.

The other court cases pending are independent of the decision now being awaited from the US Supreme Court:

Florida Contest - Leon County Appeal Court Judge N. Sanders Sauls is presiding over a contest by Gore to the certification of the Florida results. Gore is asking for 14,000 disputed ballots from Palm Beach and Miami-Dade to be examined.

Sauls will hear the case on Saturday.

Seminole County - a Democrat is seeking to have absentee ballots thrown out on the grounds that the electoral process was "corrupted" by the Republican supervisor of elections, Sandra S. Goard, because she allowed Republican campaign workers to sit in her office for about 10 days in October so they could "alter" Republican application forms for absentee ballots that Goard had rejected.

Under new laws enacted to prevent absentee ballot fraud stemming from a scandal in the Miami mayoral contest in 1997, only a voter, an immediate family member or legal guardian can request an absentee ballot, and that request must include details such as a voter ID number. A computer software problem meant that about 80% of GOP application forms were distributed to voters without ID numbers. After the campaign workers added the numbers, Goard accepted them. About 15,000 ballots were issued which went 2-1 to Bush. Having these ballots ruled out would be more than enough to give Florida to Gore by several thousand votes.

The case is being heard by Judge Nikki Ann Clark of Leon County Circuit Court. Her bona fides have been questioned by the Bush campaign on the grounds that she harbours resentment because Governor Jeb Bush overlooked her for promotion to another court.

A similar case is taking place in Martin County.

Atlanta Federal Appeals Circuit - On Friday this court decided to hear two challenges to the constitutionality of manual recounts. This will be heard on Tuesday.

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