Lawsuits go on and on, and still no president

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 29, 2000

The Associated Press

Lawsuits by the fistful, lawyers by the score, contested ballots by the thousands – and still no president-elect.

Wednesday, November 29, 2000

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Lawsuits by the fistful, lawyers by the score, contested ballots by the thousands – and still no president-elect. That’s the simple arithmetic of the 2000 race for the White House as Al Gore struggles to overcome George W. Bush’s certified victory in Florida three weeks after Election Day.

"The state of Florida has certified a vote count that is neither complete nor accurate," Gore said Tuesday as he appealed to the courts for a manual recount of 13,000 ballots and to the public for patience while he presses his unprecedented legal challenge.

That’s not how the Bush high command saw it. Gore "proposed yet another count and yet another deadline" after losing each tally in Florida thus far, countered Karen Hughes, spokeswoman for the Texas governor. "Common sense does not allow it and the rights of the citizens of Florida to have their votes count do not allow it."

The battle for public opinion continued Wednesday, as it had each of the 22 days since the election in the state that stands to settle the race for the White House.

An upbeat Gore, hoping to prevent public sentiment from shifting against him, appeared in a taped interview for the morning "Today" show on NBC and insisted his chances of winning the presidency remain at 50-50.

"I am not tortured over what ifs at all. And, in fact, I believe we are going to win this election," he said, adding he expected the legal battle to end by mid-December.

The Bush campaign did what it could to undermine the vice president’s efforts. Asked if be believed Gore should concede, Bush’s running mate, Dick Cheney, told CNN’s Larry King, "If I were in his position, that’s what I’d do.

"We really think it’s time to get on with the business of governing," Cheney said in the Tuesday night interview.

Neither Bush nor Gore can command an electoral college majority without Florida’s 25 electoral votes. Bush was certified the winner by 537 votes on Sunday night, triggering Gore’s appeal to the state courts.

"Seven days, starting tomorrow, for a full and accurate count of all the votes," the vice president said Tuesday, and when his lawyers failed to gain immediate approval in court for their timetable, they signaled a possible appeal to the state Supreme Court, perhaps as early as Wednesday. The state’s electors must be chosen by Dec. 12.

At the same time the legal drama unfolded, a GOP-controlled legislative committee began discussion of a possible special session of the Florida Legislature to appoint a slate of electors.

Both sides talked of a presidential transition, although the General Services Administration has yet to turn over the keys to the suite of federal offices set aside for that purpose a few blocks from the White House. Bush has begun naming staff to help him prepare to take power, and said he intends to raise private funds to proceed.

But increasingly, the lawsuits filed by both sides generated a momentum of their own.

"There are cases pending in the Supreme Court of the United States, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, the Florida Supreme Court" and various lesser courts in Florida, Joseph Klock, a lawyer representing Secretary of State Katherine Harris told a judge in a Tallahassee courtroom on Tuesday.

"And we … are party to every one," Klock said. "And we, your honor, do not have 500 lawyers."

Supplying legal talent wasn’t likely to be a problem for either Gore or Bush. "Both sides here have a lot of lawyers," said David Boies, one of several attorneys the vice president brought into Florida to help represent his interests.

Even so, Boies didn’t get far on Tuesday when he pressed Circuit Judge N. Saunders Sauls to order a manual recount immediately of 13,000 ballots from Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties where voting machines found no vote for president, either on Election Day or in a statewide machine recount.

The Gore campaign says the ballots never have been counted; Bush partisans argue they contained no valid vote for president, only for other races being contested on Nov. 7.

Sauls agreed to have thousands of questionable ballots and a sampling of voting machines brought to Tallahassee, but no more.

"I have no idea what we’re going to do concerning ballots counting or not counting of ballots," he told a courtroom packed with attorneys, and set a hearing for Saturday.

That was more than Bush wanted, less than Gore sought, and Sauls observed wryly he was trying to be "equally unfair" to both sides.

When Sauls noted the earliest counting could start would be Saturday, three days after Gore’s proposed timetable, Boies said that was "tantamount to denying substantive relief."

But lawyers for Bush said if there was to be a recount, it should include all votes cast in each of the contested counties, or perhaps all 6 million votes in Florida.

Outside Sauls’ courtroom, the dispute churned on.

Both sides filed written arguments with the Supreme Court in Washington, set to hear arguments Friday on Bush’s claim that the Florida Supreme Court erred when it granted Gore a deadline extension that gave a few Democratic counties more time to conduct manual recounts.

Gore’s attorneys argued there was no role for the nation’s high court.

"Principles of federalism counsel strongly against interference by this court," the vice president’s legal team said in its brief.

And in a mirror image of the Florida situation, Republican concerns over Gore’s narrow lead in New Mexico were holding up certification of election results there until Thursday while state officials considered reviewing the vote. State GOP officials said it was "highly unusual" that 10 percent of the ballots cast in Roosevelt County – about 570 ballots – contained no vote for president.

Gore led Bush by 483 votes of the 572,673 cast for the two in New Mexico, whose five electoral votes could not affect who wins the presidency.