USA: Gore Campaign Challenges Florida Vote

Publisher Name: 
Reuters

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.

AMP Section Name:Money & Politics
  • 106 Money & Politics