Court Legalizes Hand Jobs

Court Legalizes Hand Jobs

Court Legalizes Hand Jobs

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Nov. 22 2000 7:38 AM

Court Legalizes Hand Jobs

Everybody leads with last night's unanimous decision by the Florida Supreme Court that hand recounts can continue and that the results of such recounts, provided they are ready by next Monday morning Florida time at the latest, must be included in the state's final presidential vote tabulation.

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The papers note the court's view that county officials should do everything they can to ascertain the will of the voters and its citation of an Illinois Supreme Court decision that held voters should not be disenfranchised simply on the grounds that chad did not completely dislodge from a voting ballot. But the coverage also notes that the court did not promulgate rules for ballot assessment, leaving that task to canvassing officials. Which, the papers all emphasize, means the issue of how the three recounting counties handle dimpled (which, today's coverage makes clear, has now replaced "pregnant"--squeamishness?) and/or partially attached chads now weighs a ton. The Los Angeles Times lead and New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal chad front-pagers underscore the complexities ahead by noting that each of the three is using a different chad procedure.

The LAT lead says in its third paragraph that counting yesterday's recount results, the statewide margin is now Bush by 664.

Everybody except USA Today notes that Al Gore made a statement after the decision was handed down, in which he renewed his call for a meeting with George W. Bush to demonstrate "essential unity," said it was OK now for both sides to commence transition planning, and pledged not to lobby Bush electors. None of the papers mention that Bush has not yet made the same promise.

Bush didn't make a public statement, but his chief Florida legal adviser James Baker did, and all the sheets but USAT note that Baker was very upset as he criticized the court for usurping the powers of the state legislature and executive branch to regulate the conduct of elections. The coverage expresses genuine surprise at Baker's suggestion that the Republican-run Florida legislature may step into the controversy. The NYT says there had been little previous hint that the Bush camp was considering this option, and the LAT lead puts it in the third paragraph. The USAT and LAT leads and the WSJ main Florida court news story pass along further cryptic comments, some attributed to the new Republican Florida speaker, suggesting that the legislature may get involved. The WSJ attributes to an unnamed "senior Bush advisor" the notion that the Bush campaign is "prepared to take this case to the U.S. Supreme Court." The NYT lead says an unnamed "senior Republican official with close ties to the Bush campaign" said of the Florida court's decision: "It's pretty horrible. ... They've got five days to go down there and count all these dimples and do what they need to do."

An inside WSJ story reports that Republican lawyers think they've found a Florida Supreme Court precedent that will allow them to bring a lawsuit to get hundreds of tossed-out Florida absentee ballots, many from military members, reinstated. The 1975 ruling held that absentee ballots should be counted when there is no evidence of fraud even when there are technical mistakes such as no postmark.

In an WP op-ed the president of Johns Hopkins, William R. Brody, weighs in with a provocative observation about manual recounts: Since the Bush margin in Florida is about one vote in every 20,000, if the recounters make even one mistake per 20,000 rechecked votes, they will reinstate the original margin of error they are supposed to be eliminating. In other words, not only are machines not accurate enough for this presidential election, but manual recounting isn't either. The only thing to do, advises Brody, would be to empirically determine the average error rate for people hand-counting the ballots, then have a large number of individuals independently count the same ballots and then apply that average to the resultant counts. This could, he says, take months. Brody concludes that before the next election, we should be sure to do this statistical work. But Today's Papers thinks this conclusion is itself statistically flawed. A recent NYT piece stated that the odds of an election being this close again this century are only a few in a million. So there's absolutely no rush.