New York Times Editorial
November 14, 2000

Keep Counting in Florida

The question before the nation regarding the counting of votes in Florida is actually simple. It is whether the next president should be determined by the most accurate counting of the ballots in that state. By announcing that all of Florida's 67 counties must certify and report their vote totals no later than 5 p.m. today, whether or not the manual counting of ballots has been completed, Katherine Harris, Florida's secretary of state, has made a hasty and partisan judgment. The Florida courts should extend the deadline, as several counties and the Gore camp requested in state court yesterday.

Americans can be as skeptical as they want about the motives of both Vice President Al Gore and Gov. George W. Bush, who insist that they are interested less in winning than in making every vote count. But the right way to determine the winner in Florida is to complete the manual counting to be certain any ballots that were mistakenly not counted or miscounted by machine are properly tallied. The logic of Mr. Bush's last-minute attempt to stop the hand count in parts of Florida was soundly and correctly rejected yesterday by a federal judge, Donald Middlebrooks. He ruled that Mr. Bush's team had not demonstrated a "constitutional injury" or "fundamental unfairness" in Florida's manual recount provisions and that it was up to the states and their authorities to interpret state law in running the vote-counting.

Ms. Harris's transparently political effort to curtail the counting of valid votes in Florida and not allow some adjustment for these extraordinary circumstances is a twisted exercise of her responsibility as an elected official. Some Florida legal scholars regard the law as ambiguous on the enforcement of today's deadline. A neutral public servant would not try to take advantage of that ambiguity to cut short the manual count, which is allowed under Florida law. Last week Florida's governor, Jeb Bush, properly recused himself from overseeing the election count because of his obvious conflict of interest as the Republican candidate's brother. Ms. Harris served as a co-chairwoman of George W. Bush's campaign in Florida. She should have recused herself as well.

We continue to believe that if the count is allowed to proceed unimpeded by litigation, it will not only provide the most accurate result but also the swiftest. It should be possible to complete the final tabulation of votes in Florida by the end of the week, if the Republicans quickly drop their attempts to stop the hand counting. There is no telling who would win if that were done.

The Gore campaign can meanwhile also do more to reassure the nation about its own conduct and intentions. When Senator Joseph Lieberman was asked on the "Today" program yesterday whether the Gore campaign would accept the results in Florida after the manual counting is completed and the absentee ballots are tabulated, he missed a great opportunity to say yes. Instead he waffled, saying "We have a wait-and-see attitude about that." Mr. Gore and Mr. Lieberman should be reassuring the nation that they will abide by the final vote count in Florida. George W. Bush, who has presented himself as a decisive leader, should reject Ms. Harris's intervention and not appeal Judge Middlebrooks's ruling. That would help clear the way for the manual count to continue through the end of the week, when the absentee ballots are due.

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