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Context of '5:00 p.m. November 17, 2000: Florida Supreme Court Stops Secretary of State from Certifying Presidential Winner'

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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

James Baker and Warren Christopher.James Baker and Warren Christopher. [Source: Slate / Metrolic]The Gore campaign sends a quick-response team led by Al Gore’s former chief of staff, lawyer Ron Klain, to Florida to deal with the uncertainty of the Florida presidential race (see Early Morning, November 8, 2000). Almost immediately, Klain and his group are inundated with rumors of voting irregularities—understaffed polling places in Democratic strongholds, Democratic voters sent on “wild goose chases” to find their proper polling places, African-Americans illegally prevented from voting (see November 7, 2000), police roadblocks set up to keep voters from reaching their polls (see 11:30 a.m. November 7, 2000). Klain and his group are unable to ascertain the truth or fiction behind some of the rumors, though they learn about one that is verifiable—the problems surrounding Palm Beach County’s “butterfly ballot” that seem to have cost Gore some 2,600 votes (see November 9, 2000). Klain and the Gore campaign’s Florida head, Nick Baldick, learn that 10,000 votes for both candidates in Palm Beach have been set aside, uncounted, because of their classification as “undervotes”—votes that record no choice for president. Some 4 percent of Palm Beach voters cast their votes for senator but not for president, according to the machine scoring, a conclusion Klain and Baldick find hard to believe. They soon learn that many more “undervotes” were set aside in Miami-Dade County, like Palm Beach a Democratic stronghold. Broward County, which includes the heavily Democratic Fort Lauderdale region, is the source of a number of rumors concerning missing ballot boxes and unbelievable precinct totals. And Volusia County, another expected mine of Gore voters, initially reported a total of negative 16,000 votes for Gore. The automatic recount triggered by Florida law would not address any of these issues; manual recounts and human examination of ballots would be required to sort through the inconsistencies. Klain asks a number of Florida lawyers for legal advice and finds little help: the lawyers he contacts tell him that they are reluctant to give too much aid to the Gore campaign. “All the establishment firms knew they couldn’t cross Governor [Jeb] Bush [brother of presidential candidate George W. Bush] and do business in Florida,” Klain will later recall. Klain instead pulls together an ad hoc team to be led by former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, now a lawyer in Los Angeles. Gore chooses Christopher because he believes Christopher will lend the team an image of decorous, law-abiding respectability. But, according to a 2004 Vanity Fair report, “Christopher set a different tone, one that would characterize the Democrats’ efforts over the next 35 days: hesitancy and trepidation.” One of Christopher’s first statements on the situation is given to Gore’s running mate Joseph Lieberman, with Christopher saying: “I think we should be aggressive in asserting our position. But we’ve got to temper what we do with the realization that the nation is focused on us and is expecting to act responsibly.” The Bush campaign’s approach is very different from that taken by the sometimes-timorous Christopher. Their quick-response campaign team is headed by Texas lawyer James Baker, a close Bush family friend and another former secretary of state. As Vanity Fair will write, the Bush team “dug in like a pit bull,” issuing frequent press statements that hew to the same line: Bush won the vote on the morning of November 8 (see 2:15 a.m. November 8, 2000 and After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000) and therefore is the legitimate president. Any attempts to alter that “fact” amount to “mischief.” Privately, Baker worries that the narrative is untenable, telling his team: “We’re getting killed on ‘count all the votes.’ Who the hell could be against that?” The Gore campaign will ask for manual recounts in four counties, Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade, and Volusia (see November 9, 2000), and the choice of selective recounts, as opposed to asking for statewide recounts, gives Baker the opening he is looking for. [National Journal, 11/9/2000; Tapper, 3/2001; Vanity Fair, 10/2004]

Entity Tags: County of Palm Beach (Florida), Warren Christopher, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Al Gore presidential campaign 2000, County of Miami-Dade (Florida), Ron Klain, Vanity Fair, Joseph Lieberman, George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, George W. Bush, County of Volusia (Florida), Nick Baldick, John Ellis (“Jeb”) Bush, James A. Baker, County of Broward (Florida)

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

’Corrected’ St. Louis Post-Dispatch from November 8 headline showing the uncertain state of the election.’Corrected’ St. Louis Post-Dispatch from November 8 headline showing the uncertain state of the election. [Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch / Authentic History]The US presidential election remains undecided as “final” tallies are reported. Vice President Al Gore (D-TN) has a slim popular vote lead, with 48,976,148 votes to contender George W. Bush (R-TX)‘s 48,783,510 votes, for a popular-vote margin of 192,638. Gore has won 18 states plus the District of Columbia for 260 electoral votes; Bush has 29 states with 246 electoral votes. Florida’s 25 undecided electoral votes will give either candidate enough to surpass the 270 electoral votes needed to claim the presidency. [Leip, 2008]

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

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

After her self-imposed deadline of 5:00 p.m. for election results certification passes (see 9:00 a.m. November 13, 2000), 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 George W. Bush (R-TX) leads Vice President Al Gore (D-TN) by some 300 votes, based on returns submitted by all 67 Florida counties. The 300-vote lead Bush currently has is substantially smaller than the 1,784-vote lead he had immediately after the election. Harris says she will comply with a judicial order to consider late returns (see Afternoon, November 14, 2000). She gives three heavily Democratic counties still counting votes until 2:00 p.m. November 15 to submit written explanations as to why they want to add their manual-recount tallies after the deadline; all three counties will comply with her request. [US News and World Report, 12/13/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12/17/2000; Leip, 2008]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Katherine Harris, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr.

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

Apparently emboldened by a judge’s halt to Florida declaring a winner in its presidential race (see 5:00 p.m. November 17, 2000), Miami-Dade County election officials vote to conduct a full manual recount of their county’s presidential ballots. [Leip, 2008] Initial figures in the recount show a significant number of “undervotes” going to Democrat Al Gore (see November 7, 2000). In response, Republican lawyers attempt to challenge vote after vote that is tallied to Gore, with corresponding counter-challenges from Democratic lawyers. Kendall Coffey, a Gore campaign lawyer, later recalls that as the Gore totals begin to accumulate, “panic buttons were being pushed” among the Republicans. Days later, a mob of Republican activists will descend on the Miami-Dade election board and force the shutdown of the recounts (see 9:00 a.m. and after, November 22, 2000). [Vanity Fair, 10/2004]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Al Gore presidential campaign 2000, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, County of Miami-Dade (Florida), Kendall Coffey

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

The online news Web site Salon reports that while the Bush campaign opposes the Gore campaign’s requests for manual recounts in four heavily Democratic counties (see Mid-Morning, November 8, 2000, November 8, 2000, November 9, 2000, 11:35 p.m. November 9, 2000, November 10, 2000, November 11-13, 2000, 9:00 a.m. November 13, 2000, 12:00 p.m., November 15, 2000, 10:15 p.m., November 15, 2000, Early Morning, November 16, 2000, 5:00 p.m. November 17, 2000, and 12:36 p.m. November 19, 2000), it quietly accepted voluntary manual recounts from four Florida counties that contributed 185 votes to the Bush tally. According to Salon, in those four counties—Seminole, Polk, Taylor, and Hamilton—elections officials took it upon themselves to manually count ballots that could not be read by machine, so-called “undervotes.” Those recounts are entirely legal. The Seminole recount garnered 98 votes for George W. Bush. Al Gore lost 90 votes in Polk County because the votes had apparently been counted twice. The Taylor recount garnered four votes for Bush. The Hamilton recount garnered 10 votes for Gore. (A similar report by the online news site Consortium News uses different counties—Franklin, Hamilton, Seminole, Washington, Taylor, and Lafayette—to note that Bush has garnered some 418 votes in those counties’ recounts.) Bush campaign spokeswoman Mindy Tucker says that under Florida law, county canvassing boards have the discretion as to whether to inspect uncounted ballots by hand, and says that the Gore campaign’s calls for recounts of undervotes in Miami-Dade County (see November 7, 2000) is another in its attempt to “continually try to change the rules in the middle of the game. The ballots were inspected by hand in some cases but not all, and under Florida law it’s the canvassing board’s decision legally. It’s our belief that these votes have been counted.” Gore spokesman Chris Lehane says the Gore campaign wants the same consideration given to Miami-Dade votes as given to votes in other counties. Moreover, Miami-Dade uses punch-card ballots, which yield far more errors than the “optiscan” balloting systems used in Seminole, Polk, Taylor, and Hamilton. “Keep in mind, punch cards are used in poorer areas,” he says. “Most of these other ballots were optical ones where the reliability was much, much higher. And in poorer areas, you have bad machines or flawed ballots. We think we have a pretty clear and compelling argument.” Senior Bush campaign adviser James Baker says that manually recounting votes in Democratic-leaning counties was comprised of “subjective” attempts to “divine the intent of the voter,” and that hand-counting votes provides “tremendous opportunities for human error and… mischief.” Democrats retort that Baker’s statement is hypocritical, and point to Bush’s gain in Republican-leaning counties as proof of both the accuracy of recounting and the need to count each vote. [Consortium News, 11/19/2000; Salon, 11/28/2000]

Entity Tags: County of Polk (Florida), County of Franklin (Florida), Chris Lehane, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., County of Hamilton (Florida), County of Miami-Dade (Florida), County of Washington (Florida), James A. Baker, County of Seminole (Florida), County of Taylor (Florida), County of Lafayette (Florida), George W. Bush, George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, Mindy Tucker

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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