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Context of '10:04 a.m. - 12:45 p.m. November 17, 2000: Florida Judge Rules Secretary of State Has Power to Accept or Reject ‘Late-Filed’ Election Returns'

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Katherine Harris.Katherine Harris. [Source: AP/Pete Cosgrove]Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, one of eight co-chairs of the Florida Bush election campaign and the state official ultimately in charge of election procedures, is introduced to the politics of the Florida presidential recount by a ringing telephone. She is awakened at 3:30 a.m. by a call from the Bush campaign chairman Donald Evans, who puts Governor Jeb Bush, George W. Bush’s brother, on the line. Governor Bush asks coldly, “Who is Ed Kast, and why is he giving an interview on national television?” Harris is unsure who Kast is for a moment. Kast is the assistant director of elections, whose division reports to her office. He is on television talking about the fine points of Florida election law (see 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000), when and how manual recounts can be requested, and, most importantly, the driving concept of “voter intent”—if a ballot shows the intent of the voter to cast a vote for a candidate, then that vote will be counted. The governor does not want the media narrative to focus on recounts and voter intent, and has already tasked his general counsel with the job of getting Kast off the air as quickly as possible. (CNN “loses” Kast’s transmission in mid-sentence minutes later.) Democrats have questioned the propriety of having the Florida official with ultimate authority over elections being a state chairman for a presidential campaign before now, and in the coming days, the question will devolve into outright accusations of partisanship and impropriety. Harris has called herself “thrilled and honored” to be part of the Bush campaign, and served as a Bush delegate during the Republican National Convention. During the campaign, she often traveled around Florida representing the ticket. Representative Robert Wexler (D-FL) says of Harris: “She is clearly a partisan Republican—and there’s nothing illegal about that. And I give everyone the benefit of the doubt, expecting them to perform their public functions appropriately. But her actions will speak volumes about whether she is qualified. If she does this fairly, fine. But if she acts as an emissary for Bush to steal this election in Florida, she will delegitimize Florida’s vote count.” Harris gives some initial media interviews on November 8, and according to a 2004 Vanity Fair article, “appear[s] overwhelmed and uninformed.” She does not know what county elections supervisors have been doing, and seems unaware of the chaos surrounding the Palm Beach County “butterfly ballot” (see November 9, 2000) and other ballot disputes. The Bush campaign senses trouble and assigns Harris a “minder,” Florida Republican lobbyist Mac Stipanovich, a former campaign advisor for Jeb Bush and a close Bush ally. Stipanovich, the Vanity Fair article will observe, “appealed to Harris’s grandiosity. (Her emails replying to Bush supporters later revealed that she had begun identifying with Queen Esther, who, in the Old Testament, saved the Jews from genocide. ‘My sister and I prayed for full armour this morning,’ she wrote. ‘Queen Esther has been a wonderful role model.’) He told her that nothing less than the course of history rested on her shoulders. ‘You have to bring this election in for a landing,’ he repeated again and again.” Under Stipanovich’s tutelage, Harris quickly learns to stay on message and repeat the given talking points. Stipanovich, who remains out of sight of the media, will later describe his daily routine with Harris to documentary filmmaker Fred Silverman, saying: “I would arrive in the morning through the garage and come up on the elevators, and come in through the cabinet-office door, which is downstairs, and then in the evening when I left, you know, sometimes it’d be late, depending on what was going on, I would go the same way. I would go down the elevators and out through the garage and be driven—driven to my car from the garage, just because there were a lot of people out front on the main floor, and, at least in this small pond, knowledge of my presence would have been provocative, because I have a political background.” [Salon, 11/13/2000; Vanity Fair, 10/2004] Most importantly to the Bush campaign, Harris is a part of the campaign’s message propagation plan to insist that Bush has indisputably won the Florida election (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, Donald L. Evans, CNN, Ed Kast, George W. Bush, Katherine Harris, Vanity Fair, John Ellis (“Jeb”) Bush, Fred Silverman, Mac Stipanovich, Robert Wexler

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, the co-chair of Florida’s Bush campaign team (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000 and After), announces that she will not consider any further submissions of recounted election ballots from any Florida counties (see Evening, November 14, 2000). She has already accepted submissions from three counties still conducting recounts (see November 14, 2000, 3:40 p.m. November 15, 2000, and 4:30 p.m. November 14, 2000), and has received written explanations from three counties—Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach—explaining why they need additional time to complete their recounts. Palm Beach explained that it had found serious discrepancies between the results of its machine and sample manual recounts. Broward told of a large voter turnout and accompanying logistical problems. Miami-Dade said it had reason to believe that a manual recount would provide significant differences in its results (see November 7, 2000). Harris announces that she finds all three counties’ explanations insufficient and will not include their recount tallies in her final election numbers. [US News and World Report, 12/13/2000; Vanity Fair, 10/2004; Leip, 2008]

Entity Tags: County of Miami-Dade (Florida), County of Broward (Florida), Katherine Harris, County of Palm Beach (Florida)

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

Lawyers for the Gore presidential campaign ask Judge Terry Lewis (see Afternoon, November 14, 2000) to require Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000 and After) to include recount ballot tallies made after her November 14 deadline (see 9:14 p.m., November 15, 2000). Gore lawyer Dexter Douglas tells Lewis: “She says, ‘You can only have a hand count in case of mechanical failure or hurricane.’ And the attorney general said that’s a bunch of bunk” (see 9:00 a.m. November 13, 2000). [US News and World Report, 12/13/2000] The next day, Lewis will rule that Harris has the power to ignore late-filed returns (see 10:04 a.m. - 12:45 p.m. November 17, 2000).

Entity Tags: Dexter Douglas, Al Gore presidential campaign 2000, Terry Lewis, Katherine Harris

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

Leon County Judge Terry Lewis rules that Florida law gives Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, the co-chair of Florida’s Bush campaign team (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000 and After), “broad discretionary authority to accept or reject late-filed returns,” referring to recounts submitted after Harris’s November 14 deadline (see 9:14 p.m., November 15, 2000). After Lewis issues his ruling, Harris issues a statement hinting she is poised to certify the election when the absentee ballots are in by noon on November 18 (see November 18, 2000). An hour after the ruling, James Baker, representing the Bush campaign team, says George W. Bush and his running mate Dick Cheney “are understandably pleased” with Lewis’s finding. “The rule of law has prevailed,” he says. Gore campaign lawyer Warren Christopher warns against premature “partying” by Republicans, and says the campaign is taking Lewis’s ruling to the Florida Supreme Court. This afternoon, the Florida Supreme Court puts a hold on Lewis’s decision, citing a pending appeal by the Gore campaign (see 5:00 p.m. November 17, 2000). [US News and World Report, 12/13/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12/17/2000; Leip, 2008]

Entity Tags: Katherine Harris, County of Leon (Florida), Florida Supreme Court, James A. Baker, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Terry Lewis, George W. Bush, Warren Christopher

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

The Florida Supreme Court bars Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, the co-chair of Florida’s Bush campaign team (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000 and After), from rejecting all post-deadline recount tallies (see 9:14 p.m., November 15, 2000) as well as certifying George W. Bush (R-TX) as the state’s presidential winner “until further order of this court” (see 10:04 a.m. - 12:45 p.m. November 17, 2000). It sets a hearing for Monday, November 20 to hear arguments on the recount dispute. The Court says flatly, “it is NOT the intent of this order to stop the counting.” [Supreme Court of Florida, 11/17/2000 pdf file; US News and World Report, 12/13/2000; Leip, 2008] Harris is prepared to certify Bush as the winner (see Evening, November 14, 2000), which would give him the electoral votes needed to grant him the presidency (see November 9, 2000). With that no longer a possibility, James Baker, the leader of the Bush “quick response” campaign recount team (see Mid-Morning, November 8, 2000), issues a public threat: the incoming Florida speaker of the House, Republican Tom Feeney, will, if necessary, take matters into his own hands and vote in an independent slate of “electors” who would journey to Washington and vote for Bush in the US Electoral College. Because both houses of the Florida legislature are dominated by Republicans, Feeney could pass just such a bill authorizing that procedure. [Vanity Fair, 10/2004] Bush and his campaign officials harshly denounce the Court’s ruling. Bush accuses the Court of using “the bench to change Florida’s election laws and usurp the authority of Florida’s election officials,” and states that “writing laws is the duty of the legislature; administering laws is the duty of the executive branch.” However, the liberal news Web site Consortium News notes that Bush seems unaware of the duty of the judicial branch, “a fact taught to every American child in grade-school civics class—that it is the duty of the judiciary to interpret the laws. It is also the responsibility of the courts to resolve differences between parties under the law.” [Consortium News, 11/23/2000]

Entity Tags: Tom Feeney, Florida Supreme Court, Katherine Harris, George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, George W. Bush, James A. Baker, Consortium News, US Electoral College

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

Florida’s presidential vote tallies are adjusted, in line with state law, to reflect absentee ballots (see 12:00 a.m., November 17, 2000 and November 15-17, 2000). The slim lead belonging to George W. Bush (R-TX—see Evening, November 14, 2000) expands to 930 votes; Bush picks up 1,380 votes and Vice President Al Gore (D-TN) picks up 750 votes. [US News and World Report, 12/13/2000; Leip, 2008] After the modified vote tallies are announced, Bush campaign officials begin publicly complaining of manual-recount irregularities. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12/17/2000] Three Florida counties are either engaged in manual recounts or are preparing to recount (see November 17, 2000, 3:40 p.m. November 15, 2000, and 3:00 p.m., November 16, 2000).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

The Florida Supreme Court hears recount arguments from both the Gore and Bush presidential campaigns regarding whether Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, the co-chair of Florida’s Bush campaign team (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000 and After), should consider hand-recounted ballots before she certifies results of the presidential election (see 5:00 p.m. November 17, 2000). Bush lawyers argue that the Court is “without power” to decide which ballots should or should not be tallied. At 9:45 p.m. November 21, the Court unanimously rules that the manual recounts can continue and that Harris must accept those totals in the final results (see 10:04 a.m. - 12:45 p.m. November 17, 2000). The Court rules that the deadline for certifying the election is either 5:00 p.m. November 26, a Sunday, or November 27, at Harris’s discretion. Harris’s staff is caught by surprise by the ruling, downloading it off the Internet instead of receiving a copy from the Court; Harris’s plan to certify George W. Bush as president is blocked. Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore welcomes the ruling, saying that both he and Bush should plan their transitions in case either is certified. [Supreme Court of Florida, 11/21/2000 pdf file; US News and World Report, 12/13/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12/17/2000; Leip, 2008] The Court says in its ruling that “the right of the people to cast their vote is the paramount concern overriding all others.” Campaign observers have said that if the Florida high court’s ruling went the other way, Gore would concede the election. Some of Gore’s senior campaign advisors reportedly told Gore to stop further challenges if the Florida court decision went in Bush’s favor. [Guardian, 11/22/2000] Bush campaign representatives level charges that the Gore campaign is attempting to “steal” the election. Bush campaign attorney James Baker calls the Supreme Court’s ruling “unjust.” Governor Marc Racicot (R-MT), who has emerged in recent days as an influential Bush campaign spokesman, threatens “some extraordinary” measures to overcome the effects of the Court’s ruling (see 9:00 a.m. and after, November 22, 2000). [Guardian, 11/23/2000]

Entity Tags: Marc Racicot, Katherine Harris, George W. Bush, George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, Al Gore presidential campaign 2000, James A. Baker, Florida Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

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