Florida Supreme Court To Hear Gore Appeal
Seminole County Court Set To Hear Absentee Ballot Challenge
By LARRY NEUMEISTER
.c The Associated Press
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Dec. 5) - Florida's highest court kept the presidential race on the legal fast track Tuesday, agreeing to speedily hear Al Gore's appeal of a ruling awarding George W. Bush the state's 25 electoral votes.
The arguments were scheduled for Thursday morning, the latest legal twist among many in the month since the presidential election left Bush leading by a slim margin among 6 million votes cast in the pivotal state.
Gore wants to reverse a devastating defeat Monday, when Circuit Judge N. Sanders Sauls rejected every argument Gore presented for why a state certified 537-vote victory for Bush should be nullified.
The ruling left Gore lawyer W. Dexter Douglass, among others, reaching for dramatic comeback examples to capture the historic significance of the contest. Douglass chose the World War II Battle of the Bulge.
''We won and then we were told to surrender,'' Douglass recalled. ''But if we're in that position, we're there to win. We may be surrounded by the enemy, but we still have a court that is willing and unafraid to decide a case on the law.''
Encouraging to Democrats was their return to a state appeals court that provided their greatest legal victory to date, a decision last month extending by a week the date by which counties could conduct hand counts.
After the extension failed to put Gore ahead, he challenged the certified Florida results in court, forcing a marathon weekend trial capped by Sauls' dramatic announcement from the bench Monday.
Sauls rejected Gore's request for a manual recount in two counties and to overturn Bush's victory in the state that stands to pick the next president when it formally awards its electoral votes.
Florida Supreme Court spokesman Craig Waters said the justices had allotted an hour Thursday for oral arguments, 30 minutes apiece. On a technical point of what issues would be argued, he said lawyers would discuss whether the court should decide the case as well as the issues.
The court could still reject the case, uphold Sauls' ruling or reverse all or part of it, returning it to the lower court with further instructions.
Joseph Lieberman, Gore's vice presidential candidate, said the Florida Supreme Court would be ''the final arbiter'' of the election dispute.
Gore himself said he didn't feel ''anything other than optimistic.''
On other legal fronts:
-Though Gore has not joined a challenge to several thousand absentee ballots in Seminole County, the vice president said it appeared that enough potential Democratic votes to give him victory were thrown in ''the trash can by the supervisor of elections there.''
He said the Democratic votes were lost while Republicans were unfairly allowed to correct absentee ballot applications. A trial was set in the case for Wednesday after a lawsuit accused Republicans of tampering with ballot application forms by adding voter identification numbers. About 90 Seminole County residents rode GOP-chartered buses to protest outside Leon County Circuit Court. Inside, Judge Nikki Clark said the trial would go forward because the allegations were sufficient to avoid Republican efforts to dismiss the lawsuit.
- A judge in Pensacola listened as Republican lawyers urged that hundreds of rejected overseas ballots, mostly from military personnel, be counted. U.S. District Judge Lacey Collier promised a prompt ruling.
- At oral arguments in the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, a judge asked Democratic lawyer Teresa Wynn Roseborough why it was constitutional to do manual recounts in only Florida's three largest predominantly Democratic counties. Roseborough said every vote should be counted. The question came during arguments in a pair of related cases from Bush supporters who want the results of any hand recounts thrown out.
Gore's appeal to the Florida Supreme Court was one of two election-related cases before the high court. The other, returned Monday from the U.S. Supreme Court, sought clarification of the reasoning behind the Florida court's extension of the manual recounting deadline. Written arguments were submitted by both sides Tuesday.
Bush lawyers urged the court to change its mind and agree with a state judge's ruling that concluded no recounts were allowed after a Nov. 14 deadline set in state law.
''The conclusion that this court elevated the supremacy of the Florida Constitution over the legislature's plain statutory directive is inescapable,'' the lawyers wrote.
Gore's legal team urged the state Supreme Court to reinstate its prior ruling allowing the recounts, saying it was correct and the U.S. justices only want a clarification about legal grounds upon which it was based.
The GOP-led Florida Legislature took the rare step of intervening in the state Supreme Court case, telling justices the U.S. Constitution gave lawmakers - not the courts - final say in picking Florida's 25 electors.
It urged the court to vacate its earlier decision allowing belated hand recounts, uphold the original Nov. 14 deadline for final vote tallies and avoid forcing lawmakers to ''appoint those electors directly'' to avoid missing the Dec. 12 deadline for the Electoral College.
''It would be a travesty, after all Florida has been through these past few weeks, for the end result to be that all 6 million voters in Florida might be disenfranchised in the Electoral College,'' the Legislature's filing said.
House Speaker Tom Feeney has pressed for a special session to appoint Bush electors, while Senate President John McKay has moved more cautiously, saying that might not be necessary.
Sauls concluded Gore had not proven the results of the election would change even if his legal arguments won out and the court conducted hand recounts of 14,000 disputed ballots in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
The vice president also sought to change the official vote certification in Nassau County, where 51 votes were involved.
The Bush team argued there was no reason for the recount, and said the Texas governor had been certified properly on the basis of tallies submitted by the canvassing boards in all 67 Florida counties.
To win an appeal, Gore must show a reasonable probability that recounts would tip the election to him and that county boards abused their discretion.
Gore Remains Delusional
By RON FOURNIER
.c The Associated Press
Al Gore suggested Tuesday that even a rejection of his Florida Supreme Court appeal might not drive him from the presidential race, though many Democrats said that would be the limit of their loyalty. George W. Bush confidently declared himself ready to ``seize the moment'' as the nation's 43rd president.
``I don't feel anything other than optimistic,'' the vice president told reporters, his tone a stark contrast from the sense of foreboding expressed by Democrats across the country.
Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, a finalist in Gore's summertime search for a running mate, was among those warning that Gore had one last chance.
``The Florida Supreme Court is going to rule in two or three days, and if he's unsuccessful on that, then I think that is the end of it,'' he said.
Four weeks into America's election limbo, the courts still held the keys to the White House: The Florida Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal of Gore's historic election challenge to Bush's certified Florida victory; briefs were filed in reaction to U.S. Supreme decision; and oral arguments were heard at a federal appeals court in Atlanta.
The flurry of activity came one day after Circuit Judge N. Sanders Sauls rejected Gore's request to order hand recounts of disputed ballots and overturn Florida's official election results. Gore appealed, and oral arguments will be heard by the Florida high court Thursday.
The could-be presidents responded in different ways, Gore by rallying Democratic troops for his last stand and Bush by acting as if his presidency was only a matter of time.
``We've got a lot of work to do,'' the Texas governor told reporters outside the state Capitol in Austin, Texas, promising an efficient transition to power. ``I think it's going to be important to show ... the American people that this administration will be ready to seize the moment.''
An NBC News poll suggested that 60 percent of Americans think Gore should concede, but the vice president showed no sign of surrender.
He dispatched running mate Joseph Lieberman to Capitol Hill, where Democrats pledged their support - at least until the Florida high court rules on Gore's appeal.
``Al Gore and Joe Lieberman enjoy strong support with our caucus for what they're doing to try to get every vote counted in Florida,'' said House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt.
Lieberman said Sauls was ``wrong on the law'' and noted that the Democratic ticket narrowly won the national popular vote. Neither candidate can top the required 270 electoral votes without winning Florida's 25, which Bush's certified 537-vote victory would give him.
Gore advisers said privately they made the Florida high court their final destination to calm Democrats who were clamoring for an end to the race. Many Democrats said they understood the appeal of Sauls' decision to be Gore's last-ditch bid for the presidency.
But the vice president seemed to be rolling back from that end game scenario, telling reporters that he was concerned about allegations of favoritism toward Bush in the handling of absentee ballot applications in two Florida counties.
``That doesn't seem fair to me,'' Gore said outside the White House.
Democrats filed lawsuits in Seminole and Martin counties over the ballot applications. A trial in the Seminole case is scheduled for Wednesday, and Gore's advisers said there might be a ruling by the end of the week - perhaps before the Supreme Court rules on the Sauls appeal.
``I do think it's likely that all of the current controversies will end up being resolved, one way or another, in the Florida Supreme Court,'' Gore said.
Gore's remarks were the latest twist in a convoluted case: The vice president, who has argued that every vote should count, is now embracing legal action seeking to throw out thousands of absentee ballots.
Despite the vice president's hesitation, top Democratic aides on Capitol Hill said there will be calls for Gore to concede if the seven Florida justices - all Democratic appointees - upholds Sauls' decision.
Outside Washington, rank-and-file Democrats said Gore had a right to fight in the state Supreme Court but they held out little hope for a positive ruling. Many criticized Republicans or the judicial system for blocking recounts.
Others second guessed the Gore team.
``He's on his last legs now. We're at the end game,'' said Ted Kaufman, a Democratic National Committee member in Delaware. ``I worked for Gore, but Bush will be my president.''
Jon Ausman, vice chairman of the Florida Democratic Party, blamed Gore's lawyers for presenting a skimpy case to Sauls.
``We're cooked,'' he said. ``It's possible the appeal might work, but when you call only two witnesses in Sauls' court and the other guy calls nine, you can't expect much. That was blunder. It was extremely stupid.''
Democratic state Sen. Chris Cummiskey of Arizona pointed to the U.S. Supreme Court decision Monday to set aside a state high court ruling allowing some recounts.
``Unfortunately, I think this is the end for the vice president,'' he said.
Party leaders stood behind Gore out of loyalty to him and, more significantly, concern about their own futures. No Democrats wants to abandon the vice president too soon, and risk alienating minority voters and key core constituencies who have made the election a political crusade.
Republicans were more optimistic as GOP running mate Dick Cheney visited Capitol Hill. ``I expect the courts will speak again with finality,'' said House Speaker Dennis Hastert.
The fierce fight for Florida's 25 electoral votes spawned more than 40 separate lawsuits that threaten to tie up the 2000 presidential race beyond a Dec. 12 deadline for states to assign electors and the Dec. 18 meeting of the Electoral College.
In Atlanta, the U.S. Appeals Court heard arguments in two separate but related appeals from Bush supporters fighting recounts. The Florida Democratic Party has argued there is no need for the appeals court to rule on the matter since manual recounts are finished and Bush has been certified the winner in the state.
``Why isn't this case moot? Why isn't this appeal moot?'' Judge Charles Wilson, appointed by President Clinton, asked a GOP lawyer.
``No one has won this election, as far as I know,'' replied the GOP attorney, Theodore Olson. ``It's still very up in the air.''
In Florida, Republicans squabbled over whether to call a special session to appoint a slate of electors loyal to Bush. The governor's advisers have quietly urged restraint in the GOP-led Legislature, fearing backlash if a Bush slate is appointed before the courts resolve the dispute.
The U.S. Supreme Court set aside a Florida high court ruling Monday that had extended the deadline for recounts, and asked the state court for more information about its decision.
In papers filed with the Florida court Tuesday, Gore's legal team urged the justices to reinstate its prior ruling allowing the recounts. Bush lawyers asked the court to change its mind.
ELECTION 2000, Day 29
It's already official:
Bush has Fla. electors
State's governor sent certification
to national archivist in November
By Jon E. Dougherty
© 2000 WorldNetDaily.com
Records on file with the National Archives and Records Administration and sent by the Florida secretary of state's office on Nov. 27 show that Texas Gov. George W. Bush has already won the U.S. presidential election.
According to published information, Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris certified the state's ballots Nov. 26 in favor of Bush, giving him the Sunshine State's crucial 25 electoral votes.
After Harris certified the results, she sent them to Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who then signed the certificate of ascertainment identifying the presidential electors. Bush then sent them via registered mail to the national archivist on Monday, Nov. 27. Per federal law, Florida's role in the 2000 presidential election has been completed.
Though the process was complete nine days ago, the campaign of Vice President Al Gore has refused to recognize Florida's certification as legitimate. Today, the Gore legal team filed new briefs before the state Supreme Court in an effort to get 14,000 previously counted ballots recounted.
However, according to the staff for the Rush Limbaugh Show, -- who checked with the Florida governor's office -- there is no law on the books in that state that would compel Gov. Jeb Bush to file a new set of electors, regardless of the outcome of Gore's legal challenges.
"Gore is still hoping that some court will give him a competing set of electors, but he doesn't have much chance of that happening," according to an explanatory article posted on Limbaugh's website. "There have been four times in history when duplicate sets of electors have been sent to Congress by states, and in each case, the slate that the governor certified was accepted."
In an 1870s case, State of Florida vs. Drew, a losing congressional candidate sued the governor of Florida to try to force him to certify a new election return, the article said.
"In its ruling, the Florida Supreme Court held that the governor could not be ordered by the court to submit a second election certification," said the Limbaugh report.
The report continued: "Since the governor, Jeb Bush, has already filed his certificate of ascertainment with the archivist -- and Florida legal precedent prevents state courts from ordering him to file a second certification in support of Gore's electors -- Bush wins. Whatever occurs in any court in Florida is of no legal consequence."
WorldNetDaily attempted to contact the Florida secretary of state's office, but officials there would not comment on the report.
The information has been posted on the National Archives' site and has been accepted as official by the appropriate federal agency.
"At this point, Gore's only hope is that some court somewhere will either order a recount or the use of dimpled ballots -- or maybe reject votes in a Bush-friendly county," the Limbaugh report said.
If that were to happen, analysts speculate that the Gore legal team may attempt to de-legitimize Florida's electors.
Also confusing to some observers is the Florida legislature's earlier vow to meet this week to solidify the state's electors for George W. Bush. If Bush has already been certified as the winner of Florida's electoral votes, there would be no real need for state lawmakers to meet in special session specifically to name electors.
The Limbaugh report said the GOP-led Florida legislature may decide to meet because of what they believe was a demonstrated lack of respect for established state law on the part of the state Supreme Court.
One reason lawmakers have said they would meet "could be that the Florida Supreme Court has demonstrated that it is willing to contravene the federal constitutional authority of the state legislature," the Limbaugh report said. "Therefore, the state legislature wishes to make it clear that it alone appoints electors."
ELECTION 2000, Day 29
Why Gore lost the presidency
Tennessee cops, media credit Al's defeat
in home state to WND investigative series
By Charles Thompson
and Tony Hays
© 2000 WorldNetDaily.com
SAVANNAH, Tenn. -- Vice President Al Gore is tortured by the fact that he lost Tennessee, say friends. After all, had he won his home state -- the state he represented all his years in Congress -- he would now be President-elect Gore, with or without Florida.
"I know that's one thing bothering him the most, that he lost Tennessee," said close friend Steve Armistead, who spent his summers with Gore while growing up in Tennessee, according to a New York Times report. "The other night he asked me, 'What happened in Tennessee?'"
Although the media have accurately reported that Tennessee's 11 electoral votes would have put Gore at 271 and thereby made him the next president of the United States, most have missed the reason Gore suffered his first-ever defeat in Tennessee.
Indeed, 24 years ago in his first run for Congress, Gore won an overwhelming 94 percent of the vote. His dominance was such that he ran unopposed for his next two House terms. And when he ran for his second term in the Senate a decade ago, Gore became the first statewide candidate in Tennessee's history to take all 95 counties.
So why did Gore lose Tennessee on Nov. 7 -- the first time a presidential candidate has failed to win his own state since George McGovern lost his native South Dakota in 1972?
The usual press analysis is that Tennessee's demographics have changed, sending the once-Democratic stronghold tipping to the Republican Party. Sen. Fred Thompson and Gov. Don Sundquist have echoed this idea, while Rep. Bill Jenkins, from historically Republican upper east Tennessee, noted in an Associated Press report that "Tennessee didn't leave Gore. Gore left Tennessee." He pointed to Gore's changing stance on gun control and abortion as bellwethers.
Yet, while these issues may have played a role, the answer is far more fundamental than that.
"It was the character issue," says popular Nashville radio talk host Phil Valentine. "Thanks to talk radio and sources like WorldNetDaily getting out the truth, I believe it tipped the state to Bush."
Valentine initially broke a story on Gore's ties to alleged criminal figures in Wilson County, Tenn., next door to Gore's home county. Shortly after that, WorldNetDaily ran a series of investigative reports detailing Gore's involvement in and interference with criminal investigations linked to his uncle, retired judge Whit LaFon and top campaign fundraisers like Clark Jones, of Savannah, Tenn. According to Valentine, it was stories like those that spelled Gore's defeat.
"They [the stories] stayed under the radar nationally," he said, "but around here they were on everyone's lips."
Charlotte Alexander, editor of the Decatur County Chronicle in Parsons, Tenn., agrees.
"Absolutely, it was the integrity issue," she affirms. Alexander's paper ran the WorldNetDaily series of articles profiling Gore's seamy political dealings in Tennessee.
"We sold out of every edition that carried those stories. People literally drove in from hundreds of miles away to buy 25, 50, 100 copies, whatever they could afford, to take back with them," she said. "We had well-known Democrats come in here after reading those stories and say out loud that they couldn't be associated with somebody that behaved as Gore had." Alexander even had additional copies printed, but the public soon gobbled those up as well.
"Those [WorldNetDaily] stories coming out about Gore involving himself in criminal investigations were just too much," says former Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agent Milton Bowling. "I'm a Democrat, but I couldn't get past that. I know plenty of people who felt the same way. It was never a matter of party in Tennessee; it was always about character and integrity. Gore flunked that test."
The WND articles clearly had a major impact in Tennessee's legal community, especially those reports dealing with Gore's ties to Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director Larry Wallace. According to former TBI director and now District Attorney General John Carney, at a recent meeting of the Tennessee District Attorney Generals Conference, the articles were widely discussed, yet only one DAG took issue with them, and that was longtime Wallace friend and Gore supporter Gus Radford of the 24th Judicial District.
"Gus was the only one trying to undermine them [the WND articles]," said Carney. Carney is now looking beyond the election toward bringing reform to the Tennessee law enforcement community after eight long years of Clinton-Gore influence. "Something needed to be done," Carney said flatly. "That's the message that went out in the communities. It's time this mess got cleaned up."
Is Tennessee turning Republican? Not really. Tennesseans have been conservative politically for decades. Since 1968, Tennessee has been a swing state in presidential politics, usually voting Republican, but giving its electoral votes to Democratic neighbors like Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Bill Clinton in 1996. The fallacy of the establishment media's argument -- that the state's political demographics have changed -- becomes clear upon examination of the way Tennesseans voted in their congressional races this year.
Historically, the mountainous regions of east Tennessee were staunchly Republican, while middle and west Tennessee were Democratic strongholds, with only Memphis holding a substantial Republican bloc. Any Republican candidate for state office had to come out of east Tennessee with a huge margin to overcome the Democratic totals in the western two-thirds of the state.
Despite Thompson's and Sundquist's claims to the contrary, the people of middle and west Tennessee have not changed their politics. In what was basically Gore's old congressional district, Democratic incumbent Bart Gordon trounced his Republican opponent, and outpolled Gore in every county including Gore's home county, Smith.
In Nashville, long a Democratic base, Rep. Bob Clement, son of a populist Democratic governor, outpolled the vice president by more than 28,000 votes. And Clement's district does not include all of the city.
But the 6th District was no exception. In upper and central west Tennessee, home of the 8th District, Democrat incumbent John Tanner carried every county against a credible opponent. In Madison County (Jackson, Tenn., and hometown of Gore's uncle, Whit LaFon), Tanner outpolled his party's standard-bearer by more than 8,000 votes. By the media's yardstick, Tanner, Gordon and Clement should have felt some of the same heat as Gore -- but not only did they win convincingly, they outpolled their party's presidential candidate in his home state.
Republican Rep. Ed Bryant and Rep. Van Hilleary hold seats that span historically Democratic counties, but in both cases, more than half of their victory margins came from the traditionally Republican territories in their districts. Moreover, Tennessee has a habit of returning incumbents, no matter the party.
Gore carried west Tennessee, but only marginally, and then only because of the Ford political machine in Shelby County (Memphis). The large African-American family has controlled Democratic politics in Memphis for decades, and Harold Ford Jr., who currently holds the congressional seat in that district, was Gore's choice to deliver the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention. But even the Ford machine couldn't make up the losses Gore sustained in what should have been his strongholds, middle and west Tennessee. And it was voters in those two regions, observers say, that brought concerns about Gore's character and integrity to the ballot box with them.
The Gore campaign was evidently concerned about the influence of the WorldNetDaily stories early on. Doug Hattaway, one of Gore's primary campaign spokesmen, personally called media outlets across middle and west Tennessee in late September and early October, pleading with, and in some cases reportedly threatening, news directors to keep the stories off the air and out of print.
"Doug Hattaway called me," said freelance TV reporter Tommy Stafford. Stafford had produced a story for WMC-TV in Memphis on the Thompson-Hays articles in WorldNetDaily. "He hammered at me," said Stafford, "but I told him, 'Look, I interviewed these guys. They're credible.'" Hattaway then turned his attention to the news director at the Memphis station and the story was put on indefinite hold. "It was that kind of arrogance, plus the credibility issues, that beat Gore in Tennessee," said Stafford. "Political parties didn't have anything to do with it."
"It was an uphill battle against news sources like the Tennessean, who refused to tell the true story," said Valentine. "I think people began to question Gore's character and integrity here in Tennessee. I think the truth came back to bite Gore in Tennessee, and I find it ironic that, if Florida holds for Bush, it will be Tennessee that was Gore's downfall."
"Whether the mainstream media believed the WorldNetDaily stories were credible or not," said Alexander, "the voters did. I've never seen articles that attracted the kind of attention these did. They cost Gore the margin he needed in middle and west Tennessee. They cost Gore Tennessee's electoral votes. That's a fact."