For this first time in six days of political and constitutional struggle, lawyers for Vice President Al Gore '69 and Texas Governor George W. Bush will argue the merits of manual recounts before a federal judge this morning.
Republican lawyers will ask Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks to issue an injunction barring a hand recount of every ballot cast in Palm Beach County, on the basis that such recounts are significantly prone to error, and that Bush and his running mate, Dick Cheney, would be deprived of their constitutional rights.
As of last night, the Associated Press reported that updated vote totals gave Bush a tiny margin of 288 out of nearly 6 million cast, or one half of one ten thousandth of one percent.
"I'm in agony of anticipation," said Erin Shelley, the secretary of the Harvard College Republicans.
Totals from four counties are still outstanding.
The Bush campaign alleges that hand recounts require human judgement and intuition, particularly when paper bits called "chad" aren't fully punched, or when two bits of chad have been punched for a single race.
They said that computer recounts are likely to make random errors, but that humans are likely to make errors of perspective and judgement, potentially skewing the results.
"I do think machines are a lot less biased than human begins," Shelley said.
And Bush's counsel are worried about the specific counties in which Gore has asked for a recount.
They include Volusia County, northeast of Orlando, where approximately 115,000 ballots must be sifted.
Marcie B. Bianco '02, a member of the executive board of the Harvard College Democrats, expressed skepticism about the Bush campaign's response.
"I don't want to say it's a right wing conspiracy but it makes you wonder," she said. "I don't see the big deal [about a hand recount] if Bush is so sure of his victory."
Yesterday, Gore lawyers asked officials in Osceola County, a marshy and diverse square south of Orlando, to look at every ballot. They alleged that Hispanic voters were told to produce two forms of state identification, when state law requires only one.
Former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who is Gore's lead counsel in the recount effort, said the campaign chose those counties not because they had the potential to tip the balance but because "there were anomalies there."
On the Internet and through hastily-called press conference with reporters, prominent Republicans denounced the Democratic efforts as partisan, dangerous and divisive.
Writing for the National Review
online, syndicated columnist Deroy
Murdock said, "Adult American citizens
have the right to vote, but they have
no right to metaphysical clarity at
the ballot box. If ignorance of the
law does not excuse illegality,
confusion over a reasonable ballot
does not define disenfranchisement."
The public face of Bush's effort to oppose the recount, former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, threatened yesterday to demand recounts in close-voting states won by Gore, such as Iowa, Wisconsin, Oregon or too-close-to-call New Mexico.
"If the Gore campaign is going to continue to call for recount
after recount after recount until they are satisfied with the result, we may be forced to suggest there may be recounts in all these states," Baker said yesterday.
Christopher countered that the Florida recount was necessary to ensure that every vote is counted properly and that everyone who voted is assured that their ballot counted.
"We're not talking about a long delay here," Christopher said. "I think it's a matter of days--not weeks, not months--but days before we reach a result."
John F. Bingaman '02, campaigns chair for the Harvard College Democrats, said, "Bush's campaign is acting like every minute counts, but I think every vote counts."
Officials within the Bush campaign said they would drop the suit if the Vice President promises to recognize whatever results are reported this Friday, Nov. 17--the deadline for receiving overseas absentee ballots postmarked by Nov. 7.
Analysts have remarked that those ballots often come from members of the military stationed overseas who traditionally vote Republican, though predominantly Democratic ballots from Americans living in Israel might reduce a Bush gain.
A series of deadlines further complicate the situation.
Bob Crawford, the head of Florida's Canvassing Commission, said this weekend that if Palm Beach county fails to certify its vote count by 5 p.m. Tuesday, its results will be thrown out.
Further question will arise if the state as a whole fails to certify its results by December 18, the day the Electoral College is schedule to meet and cast its votes.
The electors could chose a president without Florida, but if neither candidate received at least 270 electoral votes, the House of Representatives would be called to choose the president.
Even there, constitutional complications could potentially prevent a clear winner.
On Jan. 20, if no president has been elected, Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert would be sworn in as president.
The prospect of a protracted struggle has left both candidates questioning their next moves.
Gore and Bush barely ventured into public this weekend.
Saturday, Bush held a press conference, refusing to talk about the election. Yesterday, Gore attended church in Virginia.
Behind-the-scenes, both candidates are preparing for a presidential transition. Bush, in particular, has allowed himself to be photographed with former Mass. state representative Andrew Card, his likely chief of staff.
They have left the tug and pull to their surrogates, who have not hesitated to invoke the rhetoric of crisis and calamity.
--Compiled from the Associated Press and other wire services.