Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Positions Harden on Vote Count ; as the Florida Deadline Looms, Political and Legal Conflicts Escalate to New Levels

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Positions Harden on Vote Count ; as the Florida Deadline Looms, Political and Legal Conflicts Escalate to New Levels

Article excerpt

The legal and political tempest that has raged in Florida for the past two weeks may yet explode into a full-force hurricane.

Worse, it appears likely the gale will last awhile - not only in naming the next president, but also in terms of the damage being sustained to national unity and reconciliation.

While Tuesday's ruling by the Florida Supreme Court sets the stage for possible certification of the state's vote as early as Sunday, such a step wouldn't necessarily mean the battle for president is over. Even if Al Gore is announced the winner of Florida's pivotal 25 electoral votes - a scenario that the Democrat- leaning court has made more likely - legal and political maneuvering could further delay any resolution of the thorniest election outcome in US history.

When results are announced, there are a number of avenues the losing candidate or his supporters could take. First could come a challenge to the results in state court in Tallahassee. Both the candidate and Florida taxpayers are entitled to file challenge suits.

If George W. Bush is the challenger, a suit would most likely attack the inclusion of "dimpled" ballots from three Democratic strongholds in Florida to turn the tide of the election.

This approach, though, may prove unsatisfying to Republicans. Even if Bush lawyers prevail in state court, they would eventually find themselves back in the Florida Supreme Court, which would likely take the opportunity to explicitly endorse the counting of dimpled ballots as a more accurate expression of the "will of the people," even if the standard is not uniformly applied to every ballot cast in Florida's presidential election.

Republicans may argue, as a fallback position, that only if a ballot shows a pattern of dimpled voting throughout, should it be counted as a valid vote.

The issue of hand recounts is crucial to the Gore camp because it offers the vice president his best opportunity to find enough votes to overcome Mr. Bush's 930-vote lead after the machine ballot recount and receipt of overseas absentee ballots.

Bush, for his part, may find greater hope by looking to the federal courts. There, his team could renew its attack on the hand- recount procedure as a violation of the due-process and equal- protection guarantees in the US Constitution. Giving special attention to votes cast in Democratic counties, Bush lawyers could argue, dilutes similar votes cast in Florida's other counties.

So far, federal judges in Miami and Orlando have refused to block the ongoing hand recounts, and the full 12-judge federal appeals court in Atlanta has also declined to stop them.

But the federal appeals court hasn't thrown out the case entirely, and it may offer the Bush camp its best opportunity to once again argue the constitutional issue. …

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