Today's Papers

Timeout on the Court

Everybody leads with the latest developments in Florida. The state Supreme Court ruled unanimously in the afternoon that Secretary of State Katherine Harris could not certify the election results until the court was able to hear arguments about whether she must accept hand recounts. The hearing will take place on Monday afternoon. The decision reversed an earlier lower court ruling that would have allowed Harris to certify the results on Saturday. The papers also note that overseas absentee ballots have given George W. Bush a 760-vote lead over Al Gore, with 65 of 67 counties reporting. They also report that a federal Circuit Court denied a Republican attempt to block hand counts and that Miami-Dade County voted to join Broward and Palm Beach counties in conducting hand recounts, both Democratic victories.

The leads report that Gore was prepared to make an afternoon statement criticizing the lower court ruling but changed his remarks to reflect the Supreme Court decision. The statement was designed to show his resolve on what had been a disheartening day for Democrats until the certification was put on hold. Gore said: “I want to be clear. Neither Gov. Bush, nor the Florida secretary of state, nor I will be the arbiter of this election. This election is a matter that must be decided by the will of the people as expressed under the rule of law.” Bush representative James Baker stressed that the Supreme Court had only upheld the status quo and had yet to rule on the merits of including the hand recounts in the final tally.

The Washington Post analysis argues that Gore won the day. The Supreme Court ruling undermines the Bush strategy, which had been to get Bush certified as the winner in Florida and give the race an air of finality that would be hard for Gore to counteract. Moreover, the court did nothing to stop the hand recounts taking place in several Democratic counties, which is the crux of the Gore strategy. The weekend will be quiet, but two tests remain for the Gore camp. First, it must convince the Supreme Court to force the secretary of state to accept the results of the hand recounts. Second, the hand recounts must give Gore enough extra votes to turn the election, hardly a certain proposition. Gore will pick up votes (and already has in early results from Broward County), but he might not pick up enough votes to win. The Los Angeles Times analysis argues that the progress of the hand counts over the weekend is crucial. If Gore appears to be making real strides, it will be harder for the secretary of state to certify the results without the hand count even if the court allows her to. If Gore makes few gains, then he will be under extreme pressure to concede quickly.

LAT and New York Times front-pagers capture the chaos involved in counting overseas absentee ballots. Secretary of State Harris ordered earlier in the week that all ballots dated on or before Nov. 7 be counted, even if they were postmarked afterward. But a number of election officials openly defied the order because they had never before used such a standard. In a few counties, counts were delayed for hours while officials debated the proper procedures. In Miami-Dade Country, the canvassing board rejected 209 out of 312 votes because they were postmarked after Election Day or not postmarked at all. But in Escambia County, 50 ballots bearing no postmarks were counted. The different standards employed by different counties could lead to more lawsuits to sort out the absentee votes.

The WP reports on the chaos of hand recounts in Broward and Palm Beach counties. The process is painstakingly slow because lawyers from both sides are objecting to huge numbers of ballots. Republicans in Broward County claim they found roughly 275 chad on the floor of the building where the recount is taking place, indicating that the recount is unreliable because the ballots are altered in the process. After a Republican lawyer objected to a ballot in Palm Beach, the exasperated chairman of the canvassing board said, “We’ll file a protest and arrange for violins.”

The NYT fronts a story about the intense lobbying efforts underway in Florida. The secretary of state and the members of the canvassing boards in the four counties in which hand recounts are a possibility have received phone calls, e-mails, and even flowers from party devotees trying to influence their decisions. A lawyer for the Palm Beach County canvassing board termed a phone call he received from Democratic aide Warren Christopher earlier in the week “improper.” Christopher had called to question the decision to hold off on a hand recount until a number of legal questions were ironed out.

Everybody fronts news of President Clinton’s visit to Vietnam, the first by a U.S. president since 1969 when President Nixon traveled to the country to rally American troops. Clinton was received by surprisingly enthusiastic crowds, and his remarks were televised on national television. He urged both countries to get past the war and focus on the future, and he asked Vietnamese leaders to consider economic liberalization and the extension of individual rights. Vietnamese leaders in turn asked Clinton for assistance in removing some 3.5 million land mines still buried in Vietnamese jungles and with health care costs for those Vietnamese born with Agent Orange-related birth defects.