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Tumultuous Events In Florida - What's Happening?

December 9, 2000

Constitutional crisis! Bedlam in the nation's capital! Ladies and gentlemen, the 2000 presidential campaign IS JUST GETTING STARTED.

This is the campaign that cannot be killed. You can stab it in the heart. You can cut off its head. You can burn it and bury it. But it will not die. The campaign is stronger than all of us. It may soon begin to spread to other inhabited planets in the galaxy.

- Joel Achenbach, Washington Post

11.00am AEST - Fast-moving events in Florida have once again thrown the outcome of the United States presidential election into confusion. Here's what has happened in recent hours:

Court Decisions:

  • Judge Terry Lewis in Martin County and Judge Nikki Clark in Seminole County rejected applications by Democrats to exclude around 25,000 absentee ballots from the final count. The applications had been brought because of alleged irregularities in the processing of voter applications. These decisions were seen as striking a near-fatal blow to Al Gore's chances of overcoming Bush's 537-vote lead in Florida.

  • A few hours later the Florida Supreme Court gave Gore a stunning victory by overturning a decision given earlier this week by Judge N. Sanders Sauls which had denied Gore's contest of the certification of Florida's election. The Supreme Court also ordered the inclusion of votes already recounted, namely 215 votes from Palm Beach County and 168 votes from Miami-Dade County. These 383 votes trim Bush's lead to 154 votes.

  • The Court ordered an immediate recount of 9000 Miami-Dade ballots that registered undervotes. Undervotes are ballots that counting machines recorded as not registering a presidential vote.

  • The Court also ordered a manual recount of undervotes in all of Florida's 67 counties where this has not already taken place. In practice, 27 counties which use punch-ballot machines will be affected by this decision.

  • The Supreme Court's decision was split 4-3. The four justices in the majority were Harry Lee Anstead, Barbara J. Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince. The three dissenters were Charles T. Wells (the chief justice), Major B. Harding and Leander J. Shaw Jr. All seven justices were appointed by Democratic governors.

Legislative Action:
  • The Florida Legislature, the State House of Representatives and the State Senate, met on Friday to begin the process of appointing Florida's 25 Electoral College electors.

  • There is now much talk of a constitutional crisis around the possibility of two "slates" of electors being chosen from Florida. This could cause difficulties in the Electoral College itself and the possibility of Florida not being represented on December 18. Alternatively, the outcome may be determined by the United States House of Representatives and Senate in early January.

  • A vote of each house is required to exclude the electors from any state. The interesting situation here is that the Republican Party narrowly controls the House of Representatives, whereas the Senate will be tied 50-50 with Al Gore having the casting vote by virtue of his vice-presidential role as President of the Senate. This situation poses the possibility of deadlock in Congress. A law detailing the presidential succession would have to be invoked in the event that Congress were unable to decide on a president. The Speaker of the House, Denny Hastert, is next in line.

The Recounts:
  • Confusion reigns around Florida in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision a few hours ago. The television networks report moves towards recounting, but details are sketchy. During the various hearings over the contest of the certification, votes from Miami-Dade and other counties were moved north to Tallahassee, Florida's capital.

  • There may be a dispute about whether to recount all counties in Florida, or just those counties that use the punch-ballot system.

  • The recounts may be stopped by an appeal to the Federal Circuit Court. An appeal by the Bush campaign to the United States Supreme Court represents another imponderable.

  • Few people believe that the recounting in all counties can be finished before Tuesday December 12 when the certification of Florida's electors is supposed to take place, although events in the next few hours will clarify this.

Political Implications:

  • Today's events represent a stunning political victory for Vice-President Al Gore. Written off over the past week, particularly since the rejection of his appeal against the certification earlier this week, the Democratic candidate has now been given a new lease of political life.

  • The Republican Party is now outraged by the turn of events. Republican spokesmen have attacked the Florida Supreme Court as a partisan, aggressively interventionist court of Democratic Party appointed judges. The more conservative members of the GOP, such as House Whip, Tom DeLay, are reported to be furious about today's events.

  • By contrast, the Democratic Party is now likely to move more solidly behind the Vice-President. In recent days there have been reports of various Democratic officials, representatives and senators preparing to cut Gore loose, but they will now be silenced by the prospect of recounts providing an electoral bonanza to their candidate.

  • There is a dispute about whether the recounts have to be completed by December 12. There have been occasions in previous elections where results have altered after this date. It is argued by some that the real deadline is January 6 when the Congress meets to count the votes from the Electoral College.

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