Harris Discusses Florida, Elections

DIMPLED CHAD
Gregory A. Elinson

KATHERINE HARRIS, secretary of state of Florida and congressional candidate, spoke at the ARCO forum at the Kennedy School of Government yesterday.

Florida Secretary of State and congressional candidate Katherine Harris spoke at the Kennedy School of Government’s ARCO forum last night, just a year after her state’s crucial electoral votes secured President George W. Bush’s victory.

Nearly 300 people listened to Harris explain the decisions she made as the chief overseer of Florida’s role in the 2000 presidential election, although most of her speech focused on Florida’s election reform and the state’s role in national and international politics.

“Florida is the only state in the nation to have implemented [election] reform,” Harris said. “We’re no longer the national concern, now we’re the national model.”

But Harris, a 1997 alumna of the Kennedy School’s Master of Public Administration program, addressed the controversy over the election results, saying that she remained impartial throughout the dispute over the contested ballots despite her Republican affiliation.

“My decisions reflected my desire to follow the law,” said Harris.

Bush won the presidency after a narrow popular vote in Florida tilted the state’s 25 electoral college votes in his favor—and gave him the majority needed to win the presidential election.

Harris came under fire by Democrats for certifying a vote count that disregarded flawed ballots with votes intended for Gore. Bush won the popular vote in Florida by only 537 votes.

At the Kennedy school last night, a sole protestor stood outside for the duration of the speech.

A handful of Gore supporters also interrupted Harris throughout the speech, though most remained respectful.

Members of the audience, mostly composed of graduate school students, had mixed reactions to Harris’ speech.

“She did a very good job of explaining why she did what she did,” said R. Paul Simon, a student at the law school and the Kennedy school.

“She didn’t answer a lot of the direction questions,” said Melinda E. Weekes, a third year Divinity school student.

–—Staff writer George B. Bradt can be reached at gbradt@fas.harvard.edu.