Rashomon To Judgment

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Nov. 15 2000 7:30 AM

Rashomon To Judgment

Everybody leads with yesterday's main Florida election developments: After state judge Terry Lewis said that yesterday's 5 p.m. deadline for counties to submit their vote tabulations was more or less binding, the secretary of state, Katherine Harris, produced a vote tally that gives Bush a 300-vote statewide margin. All the majors' headlines mention the 300 votes (the New York Times puts it in a subheadline), but they differ in the context they supply for that number. USA Today's header adds that there are 4,000 overseas ballots still pending. Reflecting their leads' reading of the judge's fine print, the Los Angeles Times and NYT headlines state that further hand recounts could still apply, and the Washington Post's says that could happen, but justification would be required. The headline over the Wall Street Journal Florida front-pager says that the state court ruling "BOOSTS BUSH HOPES." The NYT lead says the judge's ruling "should soon settle the question of who will carry Florida's 25 electoral votes and win the White House." The LAT says it seemed to "further muddy the situation." The WSJ sums up Tuesday as signaling that "light may finally be dawning over the longest election night in modern American history, with George W. Bush a step closer to the White House, but Al Gore still in the fight."

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In this diversity, the papers are reflecting that right now, the state animal of Florida is the duck-rabbit. The Bush campaign cheered the state court ruling while the Gore campaign was buoyed because the judge said in his ruling that if counties submit corrected returns later based on a hand recount, the secretary of state may ignore those results but not arbitrarily. The LAT lead and WSJ front-pager have Florida's attorney general, who was Gore's campaign chairman in the state, adding to the mix by issuing an opinion contradicting Secretary of State Harris by supporting county rights to full hand counts. Meanwhile, Harris issued a deadline of 2 p.m. EST today for counties to submit justifications of any hand count-based corrections. And while a large, predominantly Democratic county, Miami-Dade, decided, on the basis of precinct sampling that didn't indicate much potential change, to abandon its hand count, two other counties decided to appeal the state court ruling.

Everybody reports Bush campaign spokeswoman Karen Hughes' comment that further manual recounts not be considered: "These Democratic counties are no longer recounting. They are reinventing." The WP and LAT report that earlier yesterday, Bush adviser James Baker proposed that both sides drop legal action and that Gore accept the state tally as of 5 p.m. yesterday including any hand counting done by then, await the absentee ballots, and then abide by the result. The Gore campaign rejected this.

The USAT lead has the most on those absentee ballots, reporting that the majority of untabulated overseas absentee ballots--1,174--come from Escambia County, home to Pensacola Naval Air Station, double the next largest number, which is from Palm Beach County. The paper adds that if overseas Florida voters follow the same pattern as the counties of their registration, the overseas absentee count will net Bush another 476 votes.

The USAT and WP leads don't mention that David Boies, who was the government's lead trial attorney in its antitrust case against Microsoft, suddenly appeared in Florida yesterday on behalf of the Gore campaign. The NYT and LAT do, down low. The WSJ does, in the middle of the story, with an elaborate mention of his role in the Microsoft case and a mini tick-tock of how he came to be involved in Florida.

The NYT lead editorial says "it would be a great antidote to the growing public disenchantment over this presidential wrestling match" if both campaigns would take a cue from Judge Lewis and commit right now to the result, whatever it may be, of adding hand counts in all contested counties to the absentee ballot total. The WP op-ed page offers a pastiche of more far-reaching proposals: having both sides agree to a deadline any time before Dec. 12 (the date by which the electors must be certified); letting the Florida state legislature assign the state's electoral votes in proportion to the state's popular presidential vote, which would put the weight of the outcome on the 25th elector and perhaps on other states; go to an 1984 Israel-style power-sharing arrangement between Bush and Gore in the Cabinet, even to the point where one would be president and the other vice president and then after two years, they'd switch; and then there's ... hold a new election.

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