Big-Time Trouble

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Nov. 25 2000 6:11 AM

Big-Time Trouble

Everybody leads with the U.S. Supreme Court's decision yesterday to hear Gov. George W. Bush's appeal of the Florida Supreme Court's order that the recounted votes be included in the state's final tally. The high court will hear arguments next Friday, several days after the Florida votes are to be certified. Other front-page stories cover the escalating litigation on both sides of the Florida tumult. Agreeing with Bush that the Florida court overstepped its authority and "rewrote" state law by allowing the manual recounts, the Republican-led Florida Legislature announced yesterday that it will "intervene" in Bush's appeal. And Vice President Al Gore gave notice that, after the votes' formal certification on Sunday evening, he will file suit to contest election results in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties, and, perhaps, in other Florida counties as well. The Washington Post lead nails the upshot of the increasingly murky situation: "the nation will slog through at least another week of uncertainty about the outcome of the November 7th election."

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As all the leads explain, the court agreed to hear part of Bush's appeal, but refused to consider his argument that the manual recounts in selected counties are unconstitutional. The court will rule on his claim that--according to federal law and the U.S. Constitution--the state legislature has the authority to establish election laws and, further, that the rules for elections can't be changed after the fact. The New York Times quotes directly from the federal code, which holds that rules established prior to Election Day "shall be conclusive, and shall govern the counting of the electoral votes."

Bush claims that the Florida Supreme Court established new rules when it extended the certification deadline to include manual recounts. The Gore team claims that the Florida court did not write a new law, but simply gave an ordinary interpretation of a law enacted before the election. The Los Angeles Times is alone in observing that this law, the Electoral Count Act of 1887, has "apparently never been used in the 113 years it has been on the books." To these issues, the leads report, the court added a pretty good question of its own: "what would be the consequences" if the Florida court was not constitutionally authorized to order the recounts to continue? All the papers agree with legal analysts that the Supreme Court's decision to join the fray is a surprise, given its general reluctance to insert itself into a battle between two branches of state government.

The Florida Legislature's intervening role in the Bush appeal, according to an NYT front-pager, could come in the form of a friend-of-the-count-brief, or perhaps even a lawsuit of its own to be consolidated with the Bush appeal before it reaches the Supreme Court.

The Gore camp, meanwhile, began laying the groundwork for its own legal challenges to the certification of Florida's electoral votes, which seem increasingly likely to go for Bush, who still holds an official margin of 930 votes over Gore. In Broward County last evening, Gore picked up another 144 votes, which gave him a total net gain of 369 votes since the recounting began there. In Palm Beach County, where about half the county's precincts have been recounted, Gore has gained 32 additional votes, considerably fewer than the Democrats has hoped.
According to an NYT front-pager, these results will be challenged by the Democrats on the grounds that the Palm Beach County Canvassing Board has refused to count dimpled ballots as votes. As further support for the inevitable lawsuit, the Gore camp has amassed some 10,000 signed affidavits from county residents that seem to confirm the alleged pandemonium surrounding the infamous "butterfly" ballot in Palm Beach County. The range of voter horror stories covered in the sworn statements, according to a Gore aide, provides "compelling evidence of the fact that Florida citizens were disenfranchised of their vote." Gore strategists acknowledge that while their tales of voter woe are likely to win public sympathy, they are on firmer legal ground in challenging the standards used to evaluate ballots and chad.

Everybody fronts the news that Dick Cheney was released from the hospital yesterday, two days after suffering his fourth heart attack. The NYT goes above the fold with a photo of Cheney exiting George Washington University Hospital with his granddaughter in tow. Cheney assured reporters that the attack was not brought on by the stress of the presidential campaign, which, he claimed, paled next to the pressure he experienced as secretary of defense during the Persian Gulf War, what he called "sort of the ultimate stress for the public official."

The papers seem to agree that the most heated election rhetoric of the day came from Democratic vice-presidential nominee Joseph Lieberman, who alleged that the Republican protests on Wednesday outside the Miami-Dade County Canvassing Board office were "designed to intimidate" board officials into stopping the manual recount. The WP notes that Lieberman warned against "surrender to the rule of the mob" and requested that Bush publicly censure these acts of "intimidation and violence." According to the NYT, Lieberman also suspected that these tactics of organized intimidation would be taken to Broward County for "similar demonstrations and similar disruptions." The Bush team denied any such coordinated efforts. In Lieberman's statement, the WP discerns a blueprint for both for both sides' current strategy: "aggressively pursue every advantage, loudly protest every grievance and fight in every political and legal arena available."

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