Today's Papers

Political Machines

Everybody leads with yesterday’s main presidential election development: The Florida Supreme Court ruled that manual recounts in two predominantly Democratic counties may proceed. The papers also note that a lower state court is expected to rule today on the issue of whether Secretary of State Katherine Harris can ignore the results of such manual recounts in figuring Florida’s final presidential vote total. Now more than ever, Florida is the whole ball of wax, as the papers also report that George W. Bush has decided not to contest Al Gore’s narrow Iowa margin.

Everybody has Bush advocate James Baker’s reaction to the Florida Supreme Court’s decision, suggestive of the flood of legal action yet to come–he characterized it as “not a decision on the merits” but only “an interim order.” The Washington Post quotes both Bush campaign official Donald Evans and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush saying that the final Florida result will be known Saturday; however, the coverage also provides much evidence that it won’t. USA Today says that the Broward County recount won’t be completed before Monday and that the Palm Beach recount could take up to six days. And all the leads report that the Democrats will now try to get a Miami-Dade County recount going, too. The WP says flatly that “both sides anticipate that the legal and political arguments will continue well past the weekend.”

The WP also says that both election camps now anticipate that Florida’s overseas absentee ballots will add some votes to Bush’s margin.

Both the Los Angeles Times lead and the Florida story topping the Wall Street Journal front-page worldwide news index report a new controversy relating to Broward County: the discovery of 78 chads that have fallen out of ballots during the recount there. The Journal says that local Republicans are charging that these chads could represent “newly manufactured” votes for Gore. Sheriff’s deputies impounded them.

The WP and USAT leads quote Dick Cheney’s description of manual recounts as “manipulation.” All the leads cover Al Gore’s phone-in interview on a radio talk show–his first interview since votes were cast. Gore told the hosts that he “would do everything I can to bring our country together” and also that the issue right now is “whether the voters are going to decide this election by having every vote count or whether that process is going to be short-circuited without all the votes being examined.” USAT and the New York Times have the short-circuit quote but not the bring-together quote. The LAT and WP have both.

The NYT fronts a story saying that even if the sort of voting machines that were used in Florida operated at their optimal accuracy rate of 99.99, given the number of votes cast, that would still mean that they could have misread 345 votes–less than Bush’s current edge. Now, that’s a rather important point, which impugns the Bush campaign’s insistence on the wonders of mechanical voting. But the Times puts it under the vanilla headline “ALAS, VOTE-COUNT MACHINES ARE ONLY HUMAN.” Far better would be something like: “NEAR-PERFECT MACHINES COULD STILL OBSTRUCT FLORIDA VOTE.” The WP similarly hides similar news when it saves for Page 27 a story stating that Gore would probably benefit from a hand recount in Florida because the state’s more error-prone voting software system is the one used in urban, Democratic strongholds.

The WP, NYT, and LAT front Coca-Cola’s settlement Thursday of the largest racial discrimination lawsuit in U.S. history, under which the company will pay $192.5 million. The suit had been brought on behalf of some 2,200 current and former black employees who contended they were paid less with fewer opportunities for advancement than white counterparts. The deal also mandates the establishment of an outside watchdog group with enforcement power to monitor the firm’s treatment of employees.

The NYT lead mentions that the radio show Gore called, which has two black hosts, has a primarily black audience. The LAT lead does not. The WP lead doesn’t either, but the paper runs a separate story inside about the call that makes the point, adding that black turnout, which was strongly pro-Gore, was higher than overall turnout in Florida and Missouri. But none of the papers report that at one point in the interview, Gore punctuates his remarks to the hosts by adding (subliminible-level transcription to follow), “You know what ahm sayin’?”