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Published: Thursday, 11/16/2000

Bush rejects Gore offer

BY FRITZ WENZEL
BLADE POLITICAL WRITER

In the speech from his residence in Washington, Mr. Gore pushed his effort to get the hand recounts under way as a means to get “a resolution that is fair and final. We need to move as expeditiously to the most complete and accurate count that is possible,” he said.

“We should complete hand counts already begun in Palm Beach County, Dade County, and Broward County to determine the true intentions of the voters based on an objective evaluation of their ballots,” the Vice President continued.

In Austin, Mr. Bush rebuffed the Vice President's suggestion.

“This process must be fair,” Mr. Bush said in his televised address. “This process must be accurate, and this process must be final.

“Everyone in Florida has had his or her vote counted once. Those votes have been recounted. In some counties, those votes have been counted a third, and even fourth time,” Mr. Bush said. “Additional manual counts of votes that have been counted and recounted will make the process less accurate, not more so.”

In an announcement after Mr. Gore's address and before Mr. Bush's, Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris said she would not accept the results of hand recounts.

Ms. Harris, a Republican and co-chair of Mr. Bush's Florida campaign, earlier in the day asked the Florida Supreme Court to stop hand recounts, but the court refused.

Gore campaign chairman William Daley described Ms. Harris's announcement as “rash and precipitous” and promised to fight in court today.

Mr. Bush retains a 300 vote lead out of nearly 6 million cast statewide, but four heavily Democratic counties - Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade, and Collier - notified Ms. Harris yesterday they intend to recount votes and will file amended reports later.

Vice President Gore last night also reached out to Governor Bush, calling for a “one on one” meeting “to improve the dialogue in America.”

The Vice President asked Mr. Bush to work out an agreement on wrapping up the race for the White House and unifying the country.

Mr. Bush responded: “Once this election is over, I would be glad to meet with Vice President Gore.”

Mr. Gore also offered to support a statewide manual recounting of ballots, a process rejected earlier by the Bush campaign as too large and cumbersome an undertaking. Bush spokesmen have said all manual recounts are “too subjective” and “open to mischief.”

But should the Texan agree to such a deal, Mr. Gore said he would “abide by the result. I will take no legal action to challenge the result and I will not support any legal action to challenge the result.”

He said he wanted an immediate meeting with Mr. Bush “before the vote count is finished not to negotiate, but to improve the dialogue in America. We should both call on all of our supporters to respect the outcome of this election, whatever it may be. We should both call on all our supporters to prepare themselves to close ranks as Americans and unite the country behind the winner as soon as this process is completed.”

He called on a second meeting after a winner is declared “to reaffirm our national unity.”

The Vice President's proposals came hours after rulings by the Florida Supreme Court yesterday that paved the way for the manual recounts of votes in certain counties here. The court rejected a Republican request to block the hand tabulations.

The unanimous ruling by the seven-member court was a defeat for Ms. Harris, a Republican, who filed the suit, and for Mr. Bush, who would have benefited from the recount ban. The Bush campaign had joined the petition with Ms. Harris.

The court also denied a Harris request to move all election-related lawsuits from courts around the state to the Leon County Circuit Court in Tallahassee so that she could more easily manage the cases.

The state's high court decrees were the latest in a post-election frenzy of litigation that has complicated the vote certification process here and has kept the nation from learning who would win the state's 25 electoral votes and become the country's 43rd president.

Tomorrow is the deadline for overseas absentee ballots to arrive at county boards of canvassers. Those votes will be added to the certified vote totals submitted by all 67 counties to Ms. Harris on Tuesday.

Mr. Gore leads Mr. Bush in the Electoral College votes by a 262 to 246 margin, but both candidates need Florida to win the presidency.

The Bush campaign is also using the federal court system to try to block the hand recounts. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta notified the campaign it would hear the challenge to the recounts. James Baker III, spokesman for the Bush campaign in Florida, said the appeals court has not set a timetable to hear the case, but that written arguments are due at the court by 7 a.m. today.

Democrats also turned to the Florida Supreme Court for help yesterday, filing a motion asking the court to establish guidelines for the hand counting of ballots.

David Boies, an attorney for the Gore campaign, criticized Ms. Harris for trying to block the hand counts. “The game may be to delay the recounts as long as possible, and then bring down the curtain,” he said, adding that he is afraid Ms. Harris will move to certify the state election results and declare Mr. Bush the winner before the recounts in the counties can be completed.

He said the Gore campaign's Supreme Court filing yesterday is designed to speed up the counting.

“This is not a matter of weeks. This is a matter of days. All we are saying is, let the [hand counting] process continue,” he said. “The Florida Supreme Court has been very protective over the years in its citizens' right to vote, and in making sure that the vote, as the court said in a recent opinion, is not only made, but heard.”

The filing, he said, asks the court how the hand counts should be conducted, if dimpled chads should be counted, and when the recounts should be completed.

Former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, a Gore adviser, said the papers to be filed would ask the state's top court to rule “whether hand counts are appropriate under Florida law and if so what is the deadline for their completions.”

Mr. Christopher left open the possibility of appeals beyond the state Supreme Court. “We simply must, in order to protect the rights of the Vice President in this matter, enable us to take steps that seem warranted,” he said.

The high court has not responded to the Democratic filing.

In yet another case, Circuit Court Judge Jorge Labarga, a Republican, said the Palm Beach County canvassing board cannot arbitrarily toss out all votes with “dimpled chad” and may decide on individual ballots whether the dimple constitutes a vote.

Dimpled chads - the chip of paper on a ballot that is designed to be poked out by a stylus when a voter makes his selection - are punctured or dented somewhat but not detached from the ballot.

“The Palm Beach canvassing commission has the discretion to utilize whatever methodology it deems proper to determine the true intention of the voter. It should not be restricted in that task,” Judge Labarga declared in a ruling after a 90-minute hearing.

But the judge ruled the canvassers could not make a blanket decision to ignore all dimpled chads out of expediency to complete the recount.

“To that end, the present policy of a per se exclusion of any ballot that does not have a partially punched or hanging chad is not in compliance with the intention of the law,” the judge said.

The ruling is thought to benefit Mr. Gore because the county has more Democrats than Republicans and the wider discretion to count more votes means the Vice President will likely gain more new votes than Mr. Bush.

But, should the state Supreme Court establish uniform rules for counting votes as requested by the Gore campaign, those rules would supersede the directive issued yesterday by Judge Labarga.

Palm Beach County elections officials made moves to begin a manual recount of more than 400,000 votes.

About 50 workers gathered before sunrise at the county's Emergency Operations Center yesterday for the second day in a row but were prohibited from counting ballots while the court action in Tallahassee carried on.

The three-member county canvassing board here decided last night to reconvene this afternoon to decide when its recount should begin. Board member Carol Roberts, a Democrat, said she wanted to get the recount started, but that the board needs to be careful to follow every procedure prescribed by the state to avoid Republican recriminations later.

Fifty miles to the south, the Broward County board of canvassers reversed course yesterday morning and decided to press forward with a countywide hand tabulation of almost 600,000 votes in all precincts. By yesterday afternoon, the recount there was under way.

The Miami-Dade County board of canvassers has voted not to conduct a manual recount, but the Gore campaign has filed a lawsuit in Circuit Court to force the board to reverse its action.



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