December 4, 2000
TALLAHASSEE, Florida (CNN) -- Florida Circuit Judge N. Sanders Sauls on Monday afternoon ruled against Democrat Al Gore's contest of Florida's election results that certified George W. Bush as the winner.
Gore's legal team is expected to quickly file an appeal with the Florida Supreme Court. Both sides had promised to appeal if they did not get a ruling in their favor.
Sauls' decision came less than 24 hours after he heard closing arguments following two days of testimony. He had promised a Monday morning ruling, but delayed it to review the U.S. Supreme Court opinion issued earlier in the day.
Gore requested a hand recount of some 14,000 disputed ballots from South Florida. Bush's battery of lawyers said the Florida Legislature made no provisions for manual recounts, especially since there has been no allegation of voting equipment failure. Also involved in the case were lawyers for voters and for Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who has declared Bush the winner by 537 votes.
Earlier Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the Florida Supreme Court to take another look at a vote recount decision that benefited Gore. But Republicans say they're not celebrating. "We don't want to jump to any conclusions," a Bush campaign official told CNN.
Florida Supreme Court spokesman Craig Waters said the seven justices would meet Monday to determine how to proceed.
"They have been requested by the U.S. Supreme Court to respond," said Waters, adding that he didn't know if more briefs or oral arguments would be presented to the justices. When asked if the court could decide to do nothing, Waters said, "The U.S. Supreme Court is the highest court in the land. We do not ignore what they tell us."
The Florida high court decision extended a state deadline for certifying the election results by 12 days until November 26 so that hand-counted votes could be included in the final tally.
After the recounts allowed under the Florida Supreme Court ruling, Bush was certified the state victor by 537 votes. Bush wanted to reinstate his original 930-vote lead over the vice president under the original November 14 deadline. Gore is contesting the certified results.
James Baker III, point man for the Bush campaign in the Florida dispute, said the Republicans believe they won, and he added that "any future action by the Florida court "will be subject to U.S. Supreme Court review."
He declined to assess the precise effect of the ruling on the vote totals certified in Florida. "If there is a new total, it moves up, it doesn't move down, and we're ahead," Baker said. "... From our standpoint, at least, it was a win."
But Gore's legal team does not view the decision as a blow to their side. "The Florida Supreme Court decision has not been reversed," attorney David Boies said, "it has been sent back to have them explain it." Gore's attorneys also said the U.S. Supreme Court wanted assurances the state Supreme Court decision was based on Florida law and not the Florida Constitution.
Monday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling did what Bush wanted, but only temporarily. The nation's highest court set aside -- but did not overturn -- a Florida Supreme Court decision Bush had opposed. The Florida ruling had allowed selective manual recounts to continue past the state's November 14 deadline. That helped Gore pick up more votes, but the U.S. Supreme Court found "considerable uncertainty" about the legal basis for the Florida ruling. Bottom line: The Florida high court was told to review its decision and explain how it was reached.
Bush said he was grateful for the U.S. Supreme Court decision. But despite the fact that Bush believes he won the election, he said he was not prepared to say Gore should concede the presidential race.
Bush spoke to reporters at the governor's mansion in Austin, Texas, while meeting with Andrew Card, his choice for chief of staff.
Judge Sauls is to rule on Gore's request for a hand recount of some 14,000 disputed ballots from South Florida. Whichever side loses is expected to appeal. Lawyers argued their cases until just before 11 p.m. Sunday before Sauls. Bush's lawyers say the Florida Legislature made no provisions for manual recounts, especially since there has been no allegation of voting equipment failure. Also in the case are lawyers for voters and for Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who has declared Bush the winner by 537 votes.
Bush's father, former President George Bush, 76, will undergo hip replacement surgery Tuesday at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. The clinic, which made the announcement on Monday, provided no details.
Gov. Bush, who is at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, participated in a conference call Monday with members of his transition team, including running mate Dick Cheney, who is in Washington.
A U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee is hearing testimony Monday on whether the federal law governing presidential transitions needs to be changed so that both candidates in a disputed election can prepare to assume the presidency. The General Services Administration refuses to release $5.3 million in transition funds to either Bush or Gore because it's still uncertain which candidate will be sworn in as president. Republicans on the panel believe the money should be given immediately to Bush, and that failure to do so could impede a smooth handover of power from the Clinton administration. For now, Bush's transition is being funded privately.
Gore is in Washington, where he met Monday with his transition team.
Florida's Republican-majority Legislature prepared for a yet-to-be-called special session to name presidential electors who would vote for Bush in the federal Electoral College, which meets December 18. Florida House Speaker Tom Feeney plans to declare the session Monday, but Senate President John McKay says he won't follow suit until reviewing a legislative committee report recommending the session. December 12 is the deadline by which Florida must submit its 25 presidential electors to the Electoral College.
A majority of Americans want disputed ballots in Florida counted by hand and the state's Republican-controlled Legislature to stay out of the presidential election, a survey published Monday found. But the Washington Post-ABC News poll also found that 57 percent of those surveyed believe Gore should concede the election and let Bush assume the presidency.
Sen. John Breaux, D-Louisiana, said Monday on NBC's "Today" show that both candidates will have to find "an appropriate time" to conclude the election battle. "The most important speech of this election is ... going to be given by the loser when they concede because it will set the tone for the next four years," said Breaux, who is among a number of Democrats who Bush advisers have suggested for a slot in a Republican administration.
A trial begins Wednesday in a case brought by a Democratic activist who is challenging absentee ballots cast in Seminole County. The suit, which is being heard in Leon County Circuit Court, seeks to throw out up to 15,000 absentee votes, most of them for Bush, on the grounds that Republicans were improperly allowed to fill in missing data on absentee ballot applications.
A similar suit was filed by a Democratic voter seeking to disqualify 9,800 absentee ballots cast in Republican-leaning Martin County, which would give the vice president a net gain of more than 2,800 votes.
The would-be Bush-Cheney administration has set up a Web site that includes transition news and an application form for job seekers. The address is http://www.bushcheneytransition.com/. A Bush aide said Sunday that campaign staffers are "still working out kinks" on the site.
What's At Stake
Florida's 25 electoral votes are the balance that will determine who wins the presidential contest still in dispute nearly four weeks after the November 7 election that gave Gore a 337,576-vote lead in the popular vote.
Presidents are chosen by electoral votes, and the states officially select their elector slates on December 12, the first deadline that worries the Gore camp. The Electoral College casts its votes -- 270 are needed to win -- on December 18, in the state capitols. The outcome will be reported to the new Congress by January 6.