The presidential election is swinging full speed into litigation
mode, raising for the first time in American history the
possibility that judges will play a key role in determining who is
the next president of the United States.
That is the ultimate implication as lawyers for George W. Bush
today try to convince a federal judge here to order county election
officials in Florida to stop a special hand recount of ballots cast
in last week's presidential election.
US District Judge Daniel Middlebrooks, a Clinton appointee, must
decide whether to allow the manual recount to continue as requested
by lawyers for Al Gore, or whether the post-election hand recounts
in four counties amount to an unconstitutional devaluing of
Republican and other votes, as claimed by lawyers for Governor
Also on the horizon is the legal issue of whether a state judge
should order a revote in heavily Democratic Palm Beach County after
some 19,000 ballots were invalidated due to apparent voter
confusion. And the Rev. Jesse Jackson has suggested a need for
possible federal civil rights suits in the wake of what he says
were significant irregularities that prevented some Floridians from
Both the Bush and Gore campaigns are marshaling small armies of
highly talented lawyers in anticipation of these and other legal
battles. The high-stakes hearing in Miami today marks the first
shot in what may explode in the weeks ahead into all-out legal
"What is scary about this is that the atmosphere is so highly
charged that reasonable judgments can sometimes get clouded," says
Bruce Rogow, a lawyer representing Palm Beach County Elections
Supervisor Theresa LePore. "It is important that everyone take a
With a roughly 300-vote difference between Mr. Bush and Mr. Gore
in the critical Florida election, any legal action that changes the
status quo will likely help one candidate while hurting the other.
For example, Democratic officials are hopeful that a manual
recount of ballots in four counties that are Democratic strongholds
will identify large numbers of Gore votes that were misread or
otherwise rejected by machines that automatically count the
Such manual recounts are legal under Florida law, but Bush
supporters insist that only recounts by machine should be
permitted. "Machines are neither Republicans nor Democrats and
therefore can be neither consciously nor unconsciously biased,"
says James Baker, the former secretary of State and Bush campaign
troubleshooter in Florida.
Warren Christopher, the former secretary of State and Gore's
troubleshooter in Florida, counters that hand recounts are under way
where voting anomalies appeared. "This is a procedure called for by
Florida law," he says. "They are checking the machine count to make
sure it was accurate."
Bush maintained his slim lead during the machine recount last
week. And Bush supporters believe he will receive a majority of
absentee ballots expected to arrive from overseas by Friday.
They want any further recount efforts halted pending the return
of the overseas absentee ballots and certification of the results. …