A Giant Win for Gore

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Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles T. Wells questions lawyers

The tide has turned once again in Tallahassee.

Friday afternoon, Florida's Supreme Court stunned the nation, ruling 4-3 in favor of an immediate recount of all "undervotes" across the state and reversing Judge N. Sanders Sauls' rejection of Gore's contest of the Florida election results. The court also ordered that 383 Gore votes collected in Palm Beach County and Miami-Dade county hand recounts be included in the official tally. Those additions whittle Bush's lead down to 154 from the previous tally of 537. If the court's ruling stands — and there are bound to be appeals — Gore stands a good chance of picking up enough votes to win.

The Florida court's decision rendered many pundits briefly speechless — particularly over one aspect of the ruling: "The circuit court shall order a manual recount of all undervotes [or votes that did not register one way or another in the vote counting machines] in any Florida county where such a recount has not yet occurred. Because time is of the essence, a recount shall begin immediately."

This presumably means that every "undervote" will be counted — in every one of Florida's 67 counties, a parity of counting that could potentially help George W. Bush, although not as much as it will probably help Gore. (Historically, undervotes tend to favor Democrats.)

Uncertainty lingers
And how, exactly, will all these ballots be scoured for votes? Any vote that shows, in the words of the court, "clear indication of the intent of the voters" shall be included. Politically, the message in this directive was clear: The Florida Justices used language approved by the Florida State Legislature. What are the practical implications of the instructions? Is there to be a set statewide standard? Nobody seems to know.

Not content with surprising the country with their ruling alone, the Florida high court also stymied many prognosticators by forming unlikely camps of opinion: The judges ruling in favor of Gore were Anstead, Quince, Pariente and Lewis, while Justices Harding, Wells and Shaw dissented. Shaw's inclusion in Harding's dissent was most startling to those familiar with the Justices; he is considered one of the court's most liberal members.

Will the U.S. Supreme Court get involved?
If Bush appeals to the United States Supreme Court, it's possible those justices will issue a stay, halting the recount until they consider the case. Gore's hands would be tied.

If, however, SCOTUS agrees to take the case but refuses to issue a stay, or if the high court declines to hear the case at all, the manual count will continue. And that scenario, of course, presents a potential public relations disaster for Bush: If the hand counts go on, and more votes are continually added to Gore's column, it could be increasingly difficult for the governor to convince people he did, in fact, win Florida.

Read the Florida Supreme Court Opinion