New York Times Editorial
November 16, 2000


A Positive Step From Mr. Gore


Missed Opportunity in Florida

Vice President Al Gore offered a sensible way out of the legal and electoral quagmire in Florida yesterday when he pledged to abide by the results and not to sue if a complete hand recount is carried out in three critical Florida counties. Mr. Gore also said he would abide by a statewide hand count if his opponent, Gov. George W. Bush, preferred that approach. Mr. Bush's swift rejection of the proposal was a disappointment on civic grounds, a political mistake and unsound as to his reasoning that a manual recount would be "arbitrary and chaotic."

It is the continued lack of agreement that is producing chaos, all the more so given Mr. Bush's inflexibility and Secretary of State Katherine Harris's defiant insistence on certifying a vote that is still incomplete. Mr. Gore's proposal was right on the substance and also tactically smart. One thing that has been missing during the weeklong drama over Florida's vote has been signs of presidential- scale leadership from either candidate. The public has been hungry both for resolution of the election and for Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush to quit hiding behind lawyers and spokesmen.

Mr. Gore has now responded creatively to the situation while Mr. Bush emerged form the seclusion of his ranch only to turn down a real opportunity to negotiate a procedural agreement that the public would trust.

In his statement last night, Mr Bush declared that he wanted the electiion counting to be fair, accurate and final, but his stubborness will prevent that result. So far, the Bush campaign's attempts to block the manual recount have failed to win favor in both state and federal court. Moreover, Mr. Gore's proposal for a binding resolution put in a bad light Governor Bush's insistence on blocking an authoritative recount. The governor is depending on Ms. Harris, a Bush campaign official, to pre-emptively certify the results in Mr. Bush's favor once all the overseas votes are counted on Saturday. Ms. Harris, who served as co-chairwoman of the Bush campaign in Florida this year, announced last evening that she would accept no further manual vote counts. That is an abuse of her public duty and an irresponsible act at this sensitive moment in the nation's politiical life. She is doing grievous damage to Mr. Bush's reputation, and potentially to his presidency. Already trailing in the national popular vote, Mr. Bush should take every effort to avoid being the beneficiary of a hasty, incomplete vote count in Florida.

So the vice president seized one of those moments when it is possible for a candidate to appear statesmanlike and also gain a political advantage. But Mr. Bush failed to respond in kind.

Mr. Gore's offer has weight because he proposed giving up something of value the right to sue in return for the fair count he needs and the country desires. Mr. Gore, who has been privately combative throughout this period, was also smart to put on a magnanimous public face. However calculated, his offer to meet with Mr. Bush to raise the the tone of the battle is likely to win widespread approval. Also, Mr. Gore's proposal that the two men form a compact of mutual support once a winner is determined represents a sound step toward an orderly transition. Mr. Bush was unwise to dismiss Mr. Gore's proposals, though he did agree to meet with the vice president after the outcome of the election is determined.

In arguing against the hand count, Mr. Bush was asking the nation to decide its most important election on something other than the best available count in the admittedly flawed situation at hand. He was also ignoring Florida law and Texas law that regard hand counts as a just recourse in contested elections. Under Mr. Gore's plan The votes can be counted in a week and a winner in the long presidential race can be declared without further delay. Victory is important to both Mr. Bush and Mr. Gore, and for a few hours Wednesday night, a plan was on the table that would have given them both a fair chance at that victory. Today, there is still time for good judgment to prevail in putting the principles Mr. Gore described into place in Florida. But whatever happens, neither side should take this disagreement as an excuse to go to all-out litigation over a problem that still needs to be settled in the political arena.

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