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USA: Gore Campaign Challenges Florida Vote

by Daniel J. WakinReuters
November 9th, 2000

Vice President Al Gore's campaign announced an all-out effort today to contest Florida's presidential election result, demanding a recount by hand in four counties and promising to support legal challenges as the dispute grew increasingly bitter.

The Bush campaign responded that Democratic officials were politicizing events "at the expense of our democracy," in contrast to what it called its own calm and responsible approach.

In issuing one of the strongest statements yet from the Gore campaign, William Daley, the campaign's chairman, said, "If the will of the people is to prevail, Al Gore should be awarded victory in Florida and become president."

Mr. Daley spoke at a news conference in Tallahassee, the Florida capital, where the nation's focus has turned now that the election hinges on the state. Adopting a markedly more combative tone, Mr. Daley accused George W. Bush's camp of riding roughshod over the will of the electorate.

"I believe their actions to try to presumptively crown themselves the victors, to try to put in place a transition, run the risk of dividing the American people and creating confusion," Mr. Daley said. At the same time, he said the Gore campaign would "honor and obviously respect" a Bush victory if that should be the case once the dispute is resolved.

More specifically, he accused the Bush side of resisting efforts to make sure the outcome in Florida is accurate.

"They blithely dismiss the disenfranchisement of thousands of Floridians as being the usual sorts of mistakes made in elections," Mr. Daley said.

"They put a demand for finality ahead of the pursuit of fairness," he said.

He added, "Technicalities do not determine the presidency of the United States. The will of the people should."

Bush campaign officials responded by fully joining the public relations battle, Jim Yardley a correspondent for The New York Times, reported from Austin, Texas. Bush campaign officials held a news conference there suggesting the Gore campaign was overstating election irregularities. In some of their more pointed comments, the Bush officials implied that Mr. Gore was being a sore loser, without quite saying it, he said.

"The Democrats who are politicizing and distorting these events risk doing so at the expense of our democracy," said Don Evans, the Bush campaign chairman. Referring to Democrats' suggesting a new vote should be held in one Florida County, he said: "The democratic process calls for voting on Election Day. It does not call for us to continue voting until someone likes the outcome.

"Throughout this process it is important that no party to this election act in a precipitous manner or distort an existing voting pattern in an effort to misinform the public."

A Bush spokeswoman, Karen Hughes, said that in contrast, the Bush campaign had acted in a "calm, thoughtful and responsible manner."

And Mr. Evans said it was "only appropriate" that the Bush campaign start thinking about the transition to the White House.

Reporting from Tallahassee, David Firestone of The Times said Mr. Daley's comments made it clear the Gore campaign had abandoned any worries that by prolonging the contest the Vice President Gore would go down in history as a sore loser.

The campaign stressed that Mr. Gore did not fear his efforts would pose a risk to the electoral process or to the country's prestige abroad, Mr. Firestone noted.

Warren Christopher, whom Mr. Gore dispatched to oversee his efforts in Florida, said, "Let me assure you that the presidency goes on until Jan. 20 in a vigorous way."

Florida's 25 electoral votes would push either candidate over the 270 mark needed for the presidency. The narrowness of the tally after Election Day 1,784 votes, with the edge to Mr. Bush meant a recount had to proceed under state law.

Democratic officials have raised a series of what they said were irregularities that the assert denied Mr. Gore victory.

They included the suspicion that many voters had been confused by ballots in Palm Beach County, a stronghold for Mr. Gore, and mistakenly voted for Patrick Buchanan, the Reform Party candidate, when they intended to vote for Mr. Gore.

Mr. Daley said those Buchanan votes far exceeded the total in other counties with larger populations, and that 2,000 of the 3,400 marked for Mr. Buchanan should have gone to Mr. Gore.

The Bush campaign countered that the high Buchanan vote in Palm Beach County had come as no surprise.

Karl Rove, a Bush campaign strategist, said 16,695 voters in Palm Beach registered to vote for the Independent, Reform or American Reform parties, an increase of 110 percent over the 1996 election, and that the number was far higher than in nearby counties.

And Mr. Rove criticized Mr. Daley, who had said the two-sided ballot paper used in the county was confusing and led people to vote for Mr. Buchanan inadvertently . Mr. Rove said the same ballot paper was used for a judicial elections in Cook County, Illinois, Mr. Daley's home base.

Mr. Rove also noted that many absentee ballots in Colorado, Arizona, Washington, Oregon and California were still being counted, suggesting that the balance could be tipped toward Mr. Bush outside of Florida.

Democratic officials also have pointed to 19,000 ballots in Palm Beach County that were disqualified on Election Day because voters marked them for both Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush. A lawyer for the Gore campaign, Kendall Coffey, suggested today that one legal remedy could be a new election for the county.

Florida Democratic officials will be asking for a hand count in Palm Beach Dade, Broward and Volusia counties, Mr. Daley said, because elections officials there said it was merited. Otherwise the recount has been progressing electronically.

"In addition today I am announcing we will be working with voters from Florida in support of legal action to demand some redress for the disenfranchisement of some 20,000 voters in Palm Beach County," Mr. Daley said. The campaign would not immediately file law suits of its own, he said.

Mr. Evans pointed out that in 1996, 14,872 ballots were also disqualified in Palm Beach County for being marked twice.

He said Gore supporters were collecting reports of other irregularities such as "voter intimidation," which if substantiated would become part of legal action. The Democratic National Committee has set up extensive field operations around Florida to gather intelligence about any other voting problems, Mr. Firestone reported. He added that the Daley family a political dynasty in Chicago has a heritage of baring its knuckles when it comes to employing election laws in political battles.

A suit in federal court in Florida was filed by Democrats but withdrawn, though two state cases were being pursued.

"All we are seeking is this: That the candidate who the voters preferred becomes president," Mr. Daley said.

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