Election Q&A

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Q&A Tuesday 12/12/00

Q: What's the latest news in the election morass?
A:The decisions are coming thick and fast these days: Tuesday, the Florida Supreme Court upheld the lower courts' decision to dismiss cases against Seminole and Martin County Republican election workers. The suit was brought by Democratic voters who alleged the GOP mishandled absentee ballot applications before sending them out to potential voters.

Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments from both Gore and Bush lawyers on the issue of recounts: The Gore team argued for the immediate reinstatement of the recount order, while the Bush tried to hang on to their slim majority rule.

The oral arguments came after a roller-coaster weekend for both camps: After the Florida Supreme Court threw the ailing Gore team a lifeline Friday afternoon, granting their request for recounts of undervotes, Gore thought he had a pretty good chance. Now his fate lies in the hands of the nine U.S. Supreme Court Justices who've already ruled against his cause once before. Bush is reportedly confident SCOTUS will hold firm in their support of his case.

Also on Monday, Florida's GOP-controlled legislature met again to set guidelines for a special session to approve a slate of Bush-friendly electors — and both houses approved the procedures suggested last week. This pending vote has sharply divided state Democrats and Republicans — the Democrats claim the GOP is "hijacking" the election, while Republican lawmakers argue they are only working out an "insurance policy" to be used in case legal challenges are still pending by the December 18 electoral vote deadline. Tuesday, the Florida House of Representatives voted to affirm the Bush slate of electors. The state Senate will vote Wednesday.

Q: What about the United States Supreme Court's ruling of a week or so ago? What did they decide?
A: Friday, December 1, lawyers for Bush, Katherine Harris and Gore appeared before the nine Justices of the United States Supreme Court to argue their case. Bush claimed the Florida State Supreme Court overstepped its bounds in ordering an extension of the certification deadline, while the Gore team argued the high court was operating within its jurisdiction. Last Monday, the Justices issued an unsigned brief "vacating" the Florida Supreme Court's decision and asking that court to clarify its reasoning. On December 11, the Court reissued a 6-1 opinion, with Chief Justice Wells dissenting.

Q: Why did SCOTUS send the case back?
A: How and why, the U.S. Justices are asking the Florida court, did you come to your decision? SCOTUS is particularly concerned as to whether the Florida high court based their ruling on the Florida constitution or on statutes authored by the state's legislature. (This distinction is critical because the current U.S. Supreme Court generally takes a very hands-off approach to state matters, particularly those within the jurisdiction of state lawmakers.)

Q: What's the status of Florida's overseas military ballots? Were they included in the certified tally?
A:Upon learning that some overseas ballots were excluded (because of late postmarks, no postmarks or no witness signature) the Bush legal team filed a suit in Leon County court (where Tallahassee is located) asking that those ballots be reintroduced into the hand count. Several days later, the suit was withdrawn, after Bush lawyers were satisfied that most counties had included many of the overseas ballots. The GOP legal team maintained, however, that it was prepared to refile a suit if they learn there are counties which decide definitively not to reexamine their overseas ballots — and Friday, December 1, they did just that, bringing suit against seven counties and charging that all overseas absentee ballots, regardless of postmark, should be counted. On December 11 a federal appeals court upheld that lawsuit.

Q: Who benefited most from the overseas vote?
A:Bush picked up more votes than Gore, but while the Bush team has painstakingly painted Saturday's count as an unmitigated victory for their candidate, members of the Gore camp are publicly patting themselves on the back, claiming Bush didn't pick up as many votes as they had initially feared.

Q: Who paid for the Florida recounts?
A:For the most part, local taxpayers are picking up the tab. In some counties, ballot counters are government employees who are racking up overtime pay, while others are temporary workers paid about $7.50 an hour. The counties also pitch in for counters' lunches and dinners, at a cost Broward County officials estimate at $1,450 a day. Some speculate the recounts could cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars by the time it's all over.
And let's not forget the attorneys! Lawyers who have been retained by local government officials are also billing right to the counties, while lawyers for the Bush and Gore camps are funded via campaign coffers. Both Bush and Gore hit the fund-raising circuits with renewed vengeance this past week, trying to collect enough money to cover the rising tide of legal and personnel expenses down in Florida.

Q: When is the deadline for Florida to choose its electors?
A:The state must officially select its slate of 25 electors by December 12. If, however, legal challenges are still pending at that time, the Florida Legislature, which is controlled by Republicans, has the right to choose the electors on their own. With one eye on that prerogative, the Gore team is stuck in a sort of legal Catch-22: They want to exhaust all of their legal options without extending the deadlock so far as to give the Florida legislature the right to independently appoint Bush-friendly electors.

Q: We've been hearing a lot about how Gore won the popular vote but could lose the electoral vote. Has a president ever been elected with the majority of the electoral votes and but without the majority of the popular vote?
A:Yes. Most recently in 1888, when Grover Cleveland, who won 5,540,050 popular votes, lost to Benjamin Harrison, who pulled down 5,444,337 popular vote. Harrison took 233 electoral votes to Cleveland's 168. (There were fewer electors back then.)

Q: So when will we know the identity of our next president?
A:Your guess is as good as ours — but we may see the light at the end of the tunnel.