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Context of '2:45 p.m. November 26, 2000: Florida Secretary of State Refuses Deadline Extension; Almost 2,000 Ballots Go Uncounted'

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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

The Florida Supreme Court rules that Palm Beach and Broward Counties can proceed with a manual recount of ballots (see 4:30 p.m. November 14, 2000, 3:40 p.m. November 15, 2000, and Early Morning, November 16, 2000). Almost immediately, Palm Beach officials announce that they will begin that recount. The Court rules that a state judge must decide if the recount totals must be accepted. [US News and World Report, 12/13/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12/17/2000; Leip, 2008]

Entity Tags: County of Palm Beach (Florida), County of Broward (Florida), Florida Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

The ballot recounting in Palm Beach County is halted for an hour as Republican lawyers disrupt the proceedings, disputing the order in which precincts are being evaluated. Democrats object to the Republican position, and tempers fray. The counting resumes at 5:00 a.m. [US News and World Report, 12/13/2000] The delay will contribute to Palm Beach County being unable to complete the recount by the end of the day, as mandated by the Florida Supreme Court (see 2:45 p.m. November 26, 2000). Democratic election observer Steven Meyer writes of his observations of numerous and varied Republican “stalling tactics” since recounts began almost two weeks ago (see 8:20 a.m. November 14, 2000), including the selection of thousands of clearly indicated Gore ballots as “questionable.” Meyer writes: “Unfortunately, these stalling tactics were widespread. Because the Republican observers had caused the Board to review so many frivolous challenges, it probably added a full day’s work for the Canvassing Board, and now we were in real danger of missing the 5:00 p.m. deadline for certifying the recount totals to the secretary of state.” As board members attempt to expedite the process, two commissioners advise Republican lawyer Mark Wallace to “stop whining” about so many “questionable” ballots. Meyer also writes about being pursued in the parking lot by a Republican activist who follows him to his car, shouting, “Go back to Massachusetts!” [American Prospect, 12/14/2000]

Entity Tags: County of Palm Beach (Florida), Mark Wallace, George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, Steven Meyer

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), rejects a request by Palm Beach County election officials to give them a brief extension on turning in their recount tallies (see 3:00 p.m., November 16, 2000). This morning, Republican lawyers successfully disrupted the recounting for an hour by arguing about the order in which precincts should be handled (see 4:00 a.m. November 26, 2000). The county misses the 5:00 p.m. deadline by less than three hours, and thusly leaves almost 2,000 ballots unrecounted, though officials continue to count the remaining ballots. Harris decides to reject Palm Beach’s request after conferring with Mac Stipanovich, a Florida Republican lobbyist serving as her political “handler” (see Mid-Morning, November 8, 2000). [US News and World Report, 12/13/2000; Vanity Fair, 10/2004; Leip, 2008] Some media reports say that Democrat Al Gore picked up some 46 votes in the Palm Beach recount, though these votes are not added to the tally; Harris dubs Palm Beach’s entire recount null and void. [Guardian, 11/27/2000; Vanity Fair, 10/2004] Steven Meyer, an election observer for the Democratic Party, writes that when the 5:00 deadline arrived, election officials “had reviewed the challenged ballots in all but 51 of the 637 precincts and Gore had received a net gain of 192 votes in the manual recount.” The entire recount is finished by 7:20 p.m., and Gore’s net gain is 215 votes. Meyer learns that though Harris refused to accept the recount votes from Palm Beach County because it missed the deadline, she had accepted recounts from counties where Bush showed slight gains. Meyer writes, “This resulted in the 537 vote ‘official’ lead that the media is reporting.” Of the recount process itself, Meyer writes: “The Republican spin is that all votes have been counted by machine at least twice in every county. The only trouble is the machines don’t read every vote. The counting includes much more than simply reading the dimpled ballots. In our hand recount, we found many, many ballots on which the voter had indicated a preference, but not punched the ballot in the prescribed way. On some ballots, the voter had darkened in the numbers in each race for the candidate he or she wanted. On others, the voter punched out two different numbers, but wrote ‘Mistake’ or something equally as clear, with an arrow pointing to one of the holes. This shows clear intent to cast a vote for one candidate. The tabulating machine records this as an ‘overvote’ because more than one candidate’s number is punched, and the ballot is disqualified in the machine count.” [American Prospect, 12/14/2000]

Entity Tags: County of Palm Beach (Florida), Steven Meyer, Katherine Harris, George W. Bush, Mac Stipanovich, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr.

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

Bush supporters in Florida celebrate Katherine Harris’s decision to certify Bush as the winner of the 2000 election.Bush supporters in Florida celebrate Katherine Harris’s decision to certify Bush as the winner of the 2000 election. [Source: Salon]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), certifies George W. Bush (R-TX) the winner of Florida’s presidential election, though according to a Florida Supreme Court ruling she can choose to accept recount tallies through November 27 (see November 20-21, 2000). She chooses not to do so. Harris says Bush has a 537-vote lead. Her totals are: Bush, 2,912,790; Vice President Al Gore (D-TN), 2,912,253. The totals include none of the recounted ballots from either Palm Beach or Miami-Date Counties, both of which did not complete their recounts by Harris’s deadline (see 9:00 a.m. and after, November 22, 2000 and 2:45 p.m. November 26, 2000). Ongoing legal actions by both parties keep the election in doubt. Regardless, Governor Jeb Bush, George W. Bush’s brother, signs the Certificate of Ascertainment designating 25 Florida electors pledged to George W. Bush and transmits the document to the National Archives as required by Title 3, US Code, Section 6. Three days later, a Florida legislative committee will recommend a special session to name the state’s 25 representatives to the Electoral College, where they will presumably cast their votes for Bush. [US News and World Report, 12/13/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12/17/2000; Leip, 2008] If Bush is indeed the winner of the Florida presidential election, he has enough electoral votes to assume the presidency (see November 9, 2000). The Gore campaign refuses to accept Harris’s certification, and says it will ask Florida courts to order recounts of thousands of disputed votes. Gore’s running mate Joe Lieberman says, “This evening, the secretary of state of Florida has decided to certify what—by any reasonable standard—is an incomplete and inaccurate count of the votes cast in the state of Florida.” The Gore campaign is working out details of what will be a formal “contest” of the results, and will ask a state judge to order court-appointed “special masters” to complete interrupted recounts of about 2,000 uncounted votes in Palm Beach County and 10,700 uncounted votes in Miami-Dade County. They also want an inquiry into the Nassau County returns, where Gore officials believe Bush was wrongly credited with some 51 votes, and are considering challenging the legality of Palm Beach’s controversial “butterfly ballots.” Gore’s chief lawyer David Boies says: “We’re preparing contest papers that will be filed Monday, as early in the day as we can get them done. Until these votes are counted, this election cannot be over.” Republicans intend to use Harris’s ruling to publicly pressure Gore into conceding the election, pressure the Gore campaign says it is prepared to combat. Miami-Dade County, expected to yield enough votes in a recount to swing the election in favor of Gore, called off its recount under pressure from Republican protesters and due to time constraints (see 9:00 a.m. and after, November 22, 2000). [Salon, 11/25/2000; Guardian, 11/27/2000; Guardian, 11/28/2000] Investigative reporter Robert Parry will later write that Harris deliberately allowed Nassau County to throw out its recounted figures that gave Gore the 51 votes. [Consortium News, 8/5/2002] A brief furor ensues when some media outlets mistakenly report that 500 absentee ballots “not previously counted” were discovered in Broward County. The story is not true. [Salon, 11/25/2000] According to state law, it is only now that Gore can ask for a statewide recount. [Vanity Fair, 10/2004] Former President Jimmy Carter tells a reporter: “More than two weeks will remain before Florida’s 25 electors will have to be named, and then two more months before a new president will be sworn into office. We must not sacrifice speed for accuracy in deciding who has been chosen by the voters to take that oath.” [Salon, 11/25/2000]

Entity Tags: Al Gore presidential campaign 2000, Florida Supreme Court, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., County of Miami-Dade (Florida), County of Broward (Florida), George W. Bush, County of Palm Beach (Florida), Katherine Harris, Robert Parry, James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr., George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, Joseph Lieberman, John Ellis (“Jeb”) Bush

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

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