Florida Election Enters Courtroom
A federal judge yesterday rejected Gov. George W. Bush's petition to halt manual recounts of the presidential balloting in four predominately Democratic Florida counties.
Heading the legal team of Vice President Al Gore '69 was Tyler Professor of Constitutional Law Laurence H. Tribe '62, who is frequently mentioned as a possible Gore nominee to the Supreme Court.
The decision capped an extraordinary day of legal wrangling over the ballot count in Florida. The state's 25 electoral votes will likely determine the winner of last Tuesday's presidential election.
Bush has a 388-vote lead in Florida according to the latest results of an unofficial tally conducted by the Associated Press, but U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks' ruling clears the way, at least temporarily, for the hand recounts to continue.
Earlier in the day, however, Katherine Harris, the Republican Florida secretary of state, announced that all tallying of votes in the state must finish by 5 p.m. today. Harris' move is a major roadblock for Gore, as Democrats say three of the manual recounts that they requested are unlikely to be completed by that time.
Gore's camp has joined a lawsuit in state court to fight Harris's decision, asking that the Florida extend the deadline for the manual recounts. Former Secretary of State Warren Christopher described the deadline as "arbitrary" and intended to "frustrate the hand count."
The legal battles seem far from finished. Middlebrooks said he expects Republicans to appeal his decision allowing the hand recount. But he agreed with the Gore team's argument that Bush's suit was a matter for state rather than federal courts.
Tribe was caught in the spotlight yesterday, with even his comings and goings from the courthouse captured live on TV. His staff said yesterday that he is expected to appear on today's "Good Morning America."
"The basic principle is that states should do their best to make sure the actual will of the people is expressed in the vote of the president," Tribe said on the New York Times web site yesterday. "That is done in a different way in different states, but one way is to recount manually when it is terribly close and there is a reason to believe the machines screw up."
But Bush's lawyers said that manual counting introduces randomness into the election.
"The process, to sum it up, is selective, standardless, subjective, unreliable and inherently biased," said GOP lawyer Theodore Olson.
Gore's camp made similar claims about the arbitrariness of Harris's decision to impose the 5 p.m. deadline for recounting Florida's vote. Christopher, who heads Gore's Florida team, accused Harris of playing favorites.
"Her plan, I am afraid, has the look of an effort to produce a particular result in the election rather than to ensure the voice of all citizens will be heard," he said.
Frankfurter Professor of Law Alan M. Dershowitz was one of thirty lawyers who appeared in federal court before Middlebrooks this morning. Dershowitz represented a group of Palm Beach voters.
At Harvard, officials of the Republican and Democratic Clubs parroted the arguments of their national counterparts.
"Any ballots in the gray area are going to go in the Democrat's favor," said Jason P. Brinton '00-02, who heads the College Republicans. "I just think it's patently unfair to use one method of recounting in heavily Democratic counties and another for the rest of the state of Florida."
But Marc Stad '01, the president of the College Democrats, said that Bush has the right to ask for recounts as he fancies in whatever counties he chooses.
"The judge made absolutely the right decision," Stad said. "If more people went to the polls in Florida to vote for Al Gore than those who went to vote for George W. Bush, I think that Al Gore should win the votes of Florida."
In other election news, NBC News reported late last night that one county in New Mexico found an additional 500 votes for Gore, reversing Bush's 17 vote lead and putting Gore ahead in the state.
This story was compiled from the Associated Press and other wire services.