New York Times Editorial
November 28, 2000


A Plea for Patience


With his legal options narrowing and Gov. George W. Bush moving aggressively to claim the presidency, Vice President Al Gore last night essentially asked the American people to give him time to challenge the official vote count in Florida. As a matter of law and fairness, he deserves that right. Whether or not Mr. Gore is able to reverse the official result in Florida, the nation will be best served if all the votes that were cast in that state are counted and the winner enters the White House with as definitive a victory as is possible in these difficult circumstances.

Seeking to counter polls that show a growing public appetite for a quick conclusion, Mr. Gore argued in a speech on national television that "ignoring votes means ignoring democracy itself." That is the heart of the case that could not be fully elaborated in a hurried five-minute address that was more earnest than eloquent. But the vice president's message and his legal case should not be assessed on the basis of a single speech or the public-relations contest between Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush, the certified winner in Florida. There is strong evidence that Florida's vote has not been fully and fairly counted. The public should use the period between now and the United States Supreme Court hearing on Friday to study that evidence before forming a final judgment about how long the contest can continue.

The certification of the Florida vote in Mr. Bush's favor on Sunday evening unquestionably altered the political landscape in ways that will be hard for Mr. Gore to overcome. That was evident yesterday as Dick Cheney, the Republican vice- presidential candidate and transition director for the Texas governor, publicly pressed ahead with planning for a Bush administration. The Clinton administration is properly withholding money and office space for the transition until the election dispute is resolved. But the Bush camp clearly believes it now has a powerful advantage in the battle for public sympathy, and will try to create a sense of inevitability about Mr. Bush's ascension to the presidency. Mr. Bush moved quickly on Sunday evening to present himself as president-elect.

Mr. Gore tried to puncture that perception in his address last night. Americans treasure their democratic rights, none more than the right to elect their leaders. In contesting the election outcome in Florida, and asking the state courts to require additional recounts, Mr. Gore is defending the principle that every vote should be fairly and accurately counted before the winner is declared. He coupled his plea for a complete count with a responsible pledge to abide by the verdict if the count goes against him. He should have added that he would also be guided by the decisions of the courts.

The Florida vote total certified by Secretary of State Katherine Harris, a Bush partisan, was transparently incomplete. Mr. Bush's narrow margin of victory just 537 votes out of nearly six million excluded a net gain of 215 votes for Mr. Gore in the Palm Beach County manual count that ended just after the Sunday deadline of 5 p.m. The official tally also did not include a net gain of 157 votes for Mr. Gore during the hand count in Miami-Dade County that was cut short last week.

Under Florida law, Mr. Gore has a right to contest the certified results. According to the law, if his lawyers can demonstrate that state officials rejected a number of legal votes "sufficient to change or place in doubt the result of the election," the courts can intervene. The evidence in the presidential vote would seem to justify court action. Even at this late date, there should be a full manual recount in Miami-Dade County. If that is not possible, some 10,700 votes in the county that were discarded by tallying machines as unmarked should be reviewed by hand. These may provide hundreds of additional votes for both candidates.

The pivotal issues raised by the election dispute are now headed toward final resolution in the Florida courts and the United States Supreme Court. As a citizen as well as a candidate, Mr. Gore is entitled to make his case. The country, and the presidency, will be the stronger for it.

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