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DECISION 2000 / AMERICA WAITS

On Airwaves, Bush Rejects Gore's Pitch

Dispute: Plan involving a partial or full Florida hand count in exchange for ending the suits is spurned.

November 16, 2000|JAMES GERSTENZANG and MARIA L. La GANGA | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — After eight largely silent days of resting in the political wings, Al Gore on Wednesday offered a broad proposal to end the seemingly interminable presidential election--an offer that George W. Bush quickly and sharply rejected.

As the recount in Florida ground on, the vice president offered to drop all lawsuits and accept the contested Florida results on one condition: If Bush will accede to a hand count of ballots in heavily Democratic precincts or a manual recount of all 6 million votes cast in the state.

Speaking from the foyer of his official residence here, the Democrat also proposed a "one-on-one" meeting with Bush "as soon as possible, before the vote is finished . . . not to negotiate but to improve the tone of our dialogue in America."

Bush hurried back to the Governor's Mansion in Austin, Texas, from his ranch about 90 miles away to respond to Gore on national television, less than four hours after the vice president made his own proposal in the same fashion. The Republican slapped down both Gore's compromise and his offer to meet in the near future.

"At this unique moment in our nation's history . . . we have a responsibility to respect the law and not seek to undermine it when we do not like its outcome," Bush said. "The outcome of this election will not be the result of deals or efforts to mold public opinion."

The election's outcome, he said, "will be determined by the votes and by the law."

Bush and Gore have remained in virtual seclusion since election day, when Gore won the popular vote but the electoral college results were thrown into disarray by the tight race in Florida. Whoever gets that state's 25 electoral votes will be the next president.

Gore Speaks of 'Finality, Justice'

Gore said his proposals were intended to conclude the election with "finality and justice in a period of days, not weeks." But his statement offered something else in addition: an effort to present himself as trying to protect the integrity of the election process while seeking a speedy solution.

Specifically, he proposed that the hand counts already begun in Palm Beach, Miami-Dade and Broward counties be completed "to determine the true intentions of the voters based on an objective evaluation of their ballots."

Observers from both parties would take part, as required by Florida law, he said, and once the counting is done, the results would be added to the already established totals and the results of absentee balloting from overseas.

At that point, Gore said, "I will abide by the result, I will take no legal action to challenge the result, and I will not support any legal action to challenge the result." But, he said, he would agree to expanding the recount to cover the entire state if Bush prefers.

Bush, however, derided the proposal that any more hand counting be done, stating flatly that "selective hand counts" are "neither fair nor accurate" and that the offer of a full state recount would only be "compounding the error by extending a flawed process statewide."

"The votes of Florida have been counted," Bush declared somberly. "They have been recounted and tonight they have been certified, and we do not know yet who has won.

"The way to conclude this election in a fair and accurate and final way is for the state of Florida to count the remaining overseas ballots, add them to the certified vote and announce the results as required by Florida law."

As the increasingly messy legal and political process in Florida sped along Wednesday, Gore's staff summoned several reporters, photographers and a television camera--ready for live broadcast--shortly before 3 p.m. PST

Thousands of miles away in Austin, reporters were gathering at Bush campaign headquarters for what was expected to be a rebuttal by Bush communications director Karen Hughes. The governor was relaxing at his ranch.

As Gore spoke, Bush's inner circle could be seen huddled in a conference room with a television set on, then later talking animatedly during a conference call, all waving hands and nodding sharply.

But instead of Hughes, a press aide announced that Bush would be returning from the ranch and making his own televised remarks at 7:15 PST.

Speaking at the Governor's Mansion to a small pool of journalists, Bush first thanked the "many thousands of Americans who have written or called or e-mailed to offer prayers and encouragement as we all await the outcome of the election."

Calling for a "fair and accurate count that measures up the highest standards and principles outlined in our Constitution and our laws," Bush declared that Gore's proposal did not meet such a requirement.

During a manual recount such as Gore is requesting, "each time these voting cards are handled, the potential for error is multiplied," Bush said. "Additional manual counts of votes that have been counted and recounted will make the process less accurate, not more so."

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