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Context of '9:14 p.m., November 15, 2000: Florida Secretary of State Refuses to Consider Further Recount Numbers'

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Hundreds of thousands of voters in Miami-Dade County go to the polls to cast their votes for president. Two of its precincts, 255 and 535, are over 88 percent Democrat and over 90 percent African-American. The 20 punch-card machines designated for the two precincts were tested beforehand and certified as working properly, but in the hours before the polls open, a worker at Precinct 255 does a test and finds that seven of the 10 machines do not accept punch-card votes for president. Precinct clerk Donna Rogers will later claim that no one tells her of the problems with the machines, but by the end of the day, 113 of the 868 ballots cast do not register a vote for president. Of the votes that do register in the precinct, over 99 percent of them go to Democrat Al Gore. At Precinct 535, six of the 10 machines fail to register votes for president during test runs. Of the 820 ballots cast in this precinct, 105 do not register a vote for president. Gore wins over 98 percent of this precinct’s votes. The 13 percent “discarded ballot,” or “undervote,” rate for these two precincts is by far the largest in Miami-Dade. [Tapper, 3/2001] A later attempt to hand-count the ballots in question is forcibly prevented by an orchestrated “riot” by conservative activists and political aides at the Miami-Dade elections office (see 9:00 a.m. and after, November 22, 2000).

Entity Tags: Donna Rogers, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., County of Miami-Dade (Florida)

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections, Civil Liberties

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

The Miami-Dade County canvassing board unanimously votes to begin manually recounting its election ballots in three precincts (see November 7, 2000), complying with a request from the Gore campaign (see November 9, 2000). [Leip, 2008] The recount is of sample ballots only. [US News and World Report, 12/13/2000]

Entity Tags: Al Gore presidential campaign 2000, County of Miami-Dade (Florida)

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

Notwithstanding a deadline imposed by Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris (see 9:00 a.m. November 13, 2000), the co-chair of Florida’s Bush campaign team (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000 and After), the Palm Beach County canvassing board votes to resume its manual recount of its election ballots (see 8:20 a.m. November 14, 2000) on Wednesday, November 15. It also votes to submit its machine-count results to Harris by the deadline, and continue the manual recounts in the hope it can resubmit its modified tallies at a later date. [US News and World Report, 12/13/2000; Leip, 2008]

Entity Tags: Katherine Harris, County of Palm Beach (Florida)

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

Ignoring Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris’s decision that all counties must have certified their election vote results by yesterday afternoon (see 9:00 a.m. November 13, 2000), the Broward County canvassing board reverses its earlier decision (see Evening, November 13, 2000) and decides to conduct a full manual recount of all 587,928 ballots cast there. Harris (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000 and After) says she will not count new tallies submitted by either Broward or Palm Beach Counties (see 4:30 p.m. November 14, 2000). [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), Katherine Harris

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

Shortly after the presidential vote that resulted in an as-yet-unresolved flurry of recounts and criticisms (see 6:36 p.m. November 15, 2000 and 9:14 p.m., November 15, 2000), two law clerks at the US Supreme Court laugh about the unlikely possibility that the election will end up being resolved in the Court. Could it happen that way? they wonder. And if so, would the Court split 5-4 along ideological lines, with the conservative majority giving Governor George W. Bush (R-TX) the presidency? The idea is preposterous, they decide, no matter what some of their friends and relatives are predicting. Even the most conservative of Court justices, they say, are pragmatic and mindful of the law. Moreover, they tell one another, the Court has always steered clear of sticky political conflicts. And the conservative justices are the most mindful of states’ rights and most devoted to the concept of the Constitution’s “original intent,” including the Founders’ insistance that Congress, not the judiciary, should be the body to resolve close elections. One clerk later tells reporters: “It was just inconceivable to us that the Court would want to lose its credibility in such a patently political way. That would be the end of the Court.” As November moves closer to December and the election fracas continues unresolved, a law professor predicts that Bush’s chances before the Court are “between slim and none, and a lot closer to none.” Over Thanksgiving, the justices and clerks leave Washington for vacation, with only a skeletal staff of a few clerks remaining in town in case of emergencies. Justice Stephen Breyer says over the holiday that there is no way the Court would ever get involved in the election. [Vanity Fair, 10/2004]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, US Supreme Court, Stephen Breyer

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections, Civil Liberties

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

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