Magazine article Insight on the News

Battle for Justice on the 19th Floor

Magazine article Insight on the News

Battle for Justice on the 19th Floor

Article excerpt

The outcry against the Miami-Dade Election Board's exclusion of Republican observers from its vote recount was portrayed as mob intimidation, but here is the truth.

Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., smelled "a whiff of fascism." Democratic vice-presidential nominee Joseph Lieberman said, "This is the time to honor the rule of law, not surrender to the rule of the mob." They were referring to a group of outraged citizens shouting and pounding on the door outside a 19th-floor room in which the Miami-Dade Election Board had secreted itself in contravention of the state's sunshine laws to count votes. Within the hour, the board decided to suspend all counting in Miami-Dade, thus dashing the hopes of Al Gore's party to open a hoped-for treasure trove of votes for their nominee.

The media saw its chance and took it. The same 30 seconds of tape was played on the networks over and over again. ABC's Bill Redeker claimed that the Republicans had sent "busloads of hooligans" to shut down the counting by force. Eric Alterman, on MSNBC, said "the rule of the mob was triumphant." Joe Conason on talked about "Bush thugs." John Lantigua, also writing for Salon, stated flatly that "the fracas at Miami's recount was engineered and carried out by Republican Party operatives imported from the heartland, far from South Florida."

However, a different picture emerged when Insight interviewed a number of these so-called "Republican operatives" a few days after the event. None of them could go on the record, since 23 Democratic congressmen, led by Rep. Peter Deutsch, D-Fla., had petitioned Bill Lan Lee, the controversial head of the Justice Department's civil-rights unit, to investigate them for alleged violations of the Voting Rights Act.

According to the account of several of the participants, however, there were only about 30 people in the corridor -- all of them officially credentialed Republican observers of the recount process who were supposed to be sitting at the recount tables, along with their attorney specialists in recount law. Up to this point, the recounting had been taking place in a large conference room on the 18th floor, reviewing all of the punched cards. There were 40 TV cameras in that room, recording everything on tape, as well as a substantial press presence.

Suddenly, the board voted not to count all the ballots, but only the 10,700 that had no holes punched for president. "On the Sunday before we began counting, the board decided to run all the ballots through the machine for the third time," one of the credentialed observers tells Insight, "but they didn't want to count them. …

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