Katherine Harris Pulls the Helpless Routine—Again!

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
Nov. 27 2000 5:11 PM

Katherine Harris Pulls the Helpless Routine—Again!

In certifying the election for George W. Bush, Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris yesterday refused to consider the partial hand recount submitted by the Palm Beach County canvassing board. Palm Beach County had fallen a little behind in its hand recount and had asked Harris for an extension past the 5 p.m. deadline (which, in a pinch, could have been pushed back to this morning without violating the Florida Supreme Court's Nov. 21 order). Harris said no. Whereupon Palm Beach County submitted its nearly finished recount. (It finished up two hours later.) Whereupon Harris, citing Section 102.166 of the Florida election statutes for the year 2000, claimed the law did not permit her to count even that. Here is what she said (click here, scroll down to Harris's picture, and click again to watch her say it):

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One set of numbers is identified as a partial--one set of numbers is identified as [a] partial manual recount that fails to comply [italics Chatterbox's] with the provisions of Section 102.166.

But did Palm Beach County really fail to comply? Remembering that Harris had assumed a phony "my hands are tied" stance when she initially tried to block the hand recount (even the lower court, which ruled that the law gave her discretion to shut the hand recount down, didn't buy that the law required her to shut it down), Chatterbox decided to look at the statute. Here is what Section 102.166 has to say about partial recounts:

The manual recount must include at least three precincts and at least 1 percent of the total votes cast for such candidate or issue. In the event there are less than three precincts involved in the election, all precincts shall be counted.

Palm Beach County's partial manual recount, submitted to Harris by the 5 p.m. deadline, included all but roughly 1,000 out of 462,000 ballots. It just isn't possible that this partial recount failed to cover "at least three precincts and at least 1 percent of the total votes." Wondering whether he was missing something, Chatterbox phoned Bruce Rogow, lawyer to Palm Beach County Elections Supervisor Theresa LePore. "There is nothing in the statute that precluded her from accepting the partial recount," Rogow confirmed. Did she just cite the wrong law? Is there some other statutory language that forbids a partial recount? Nope, Rogow said.

Of course, this is all academic because Palm Beach County was in no position to provide Gore a margin of victory. But as Mickey Kaus has noted, that very fact makes Harris' stinginess about the deadline seem particularly foolish--a lost opportunity to appear magnanimous while still getting the result she so obviously sought. For Harris to pretend, on top of that, that she was unable to count any of the hand-counted Palm Beach County ballots goes a long way toward explaining why Democrats have taken to comparing Harris to Cruella DeVil (though Chatterbox thinks she looks more like Natasha Fatale in Rocky and Bullwinkle).

[Correction, 11/28: The plague of misunderstandings and misinformation besetting Indecision 2000 finally caught up with Chatterbox: I completely botched this one. As several readers were kind enough to point out (see, for instance, Paul Decker's reprinted "Fray" comment, below), the relevant language in 102.166 is NOT the business about including three precincts and at least 1 percent of the total vote. That language merely describes the rules for a preliminary test before the manual recount takes place. The relevant language is 5 (c), which calls for a manual recount of "all ballots." A logical reading of this is that manually recounting "some" ballots would not be sufficient. Bruce Rogow, who yesterday assured Chatterbox that the statute did not compel Harris to exclude a partial recount, seems to have misunderstood either the facts or Chatterbox's question; or, possibly, Chatterbox misunderstood Rogow's answer. (It was a very hurried interview.) In any case, Chatterbox read Rogow 5 (c) today and asked whether Harris, having decided not to grant an extension, would have been permitted by law to accept a partial recount. Rogow replied: "The answer would be no." Rogow then reaffirmed that there was no need for Harris to impose the 5 p.m. deadline, a point with which Chatterbox agrees. Nonetheless, Chatterbox apologizes to Harris for casting aspersions on her reading of Florida law in this instance.]