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Broward Recount Battle Marked by Drama, Comedy

Strategy: As GOP pleads its case to halt a hand tally, one judge wants to know: 'Why is this an emergency?' Democrats seek tabulation standard like Palm Beach's.


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The high purpose of picking a president descended into black comedy Friday in Broward County.

And that was before lunch.

By midafternoon, Democrats and Republicans were barking at one another in a courtroom in such high dudgeon and at such a dizzying pace, it felt like Saturday morning cartoons had preempted the Friday evening news.

The presiding judge--who was hunkered down so low behind his bench it was hard to see if he had a chin--seemed increasingly confused by the proceedings.

For the umpteenth time, Republicans were trying to stop a hand recount of 588,000 ballots taking place at the county's disaster center. And Democrats were trying to keep it going.

This time, the Republicans were demanding an emergency full-blown trial with witnesses, testimony and arguments all the way around.

"Why is this an emergency? Why do we have to do this right now?" Broward County Circuit Court Judge Leonard I. Stafford asked the lawyers three times.

"Is there anything more important happening in this world than what is going on here, today, in this room, in Broward County?" responded William Scherer, the lawyer for the Republicans.

Several times, a hyped-up Scherer demanded that the attorney for the Democrats, Leonard Samuels, move away from the lectern they were supposed to be sharing.

"May I have the lectern now?" Scherer said as if being that close to a Democrat could be bad for his health.

"Yes, yes, you may," Samuels said, casting a stage smirk toward the audience.

Twice, Scherer and Samuels quarreled directly with each other, and the judge had to intervene: "Hey, hey. Don't you be addressing him," the judge scolded.

A Point for the Democrats

At one point, Samuels became overwrought.

"Delay, delay, delay, delay. . . . It's all just obstructionist legal tactics!" he said.

Scherer called his opponent's arguments "silly" and objected when Samuels said the GOP had "sandbagged" one of the election officials.

A couple of times, a low-key county attorney representing local canvassing board members overseeing the hand count tried to run interference.

He got nowhere.

Finally, after 70 minutes of back-and-forth, the judge showed signs of buying the Democrats' argument that the state Supreme Court in Tallahassee had made it clear that Republicans should knock it off and let the hand counting continue.

Stafford said that if the GOP really wanted a trial, they could have one--later.

"We have 1,400 cases and [the Republicans] sort of have to get in line," the judge said.

"You don't have 1,400 cases like that," Scherer said. "Let's get started now!"

Take a Shot With a Different Judge

Stafford sat up and cut him off:

"Premature!" he barked, and the hearing broke up.

This round it was Samuels' turn to be ecstatic. As a grinning Samuels gave interviews, Scherer turned suddenly existential.

When asked by a reporter whether he was disappointed that the judge hadn't agreed with his vigorous pleadings, Scherer said: "Win some, lose some."

No sooner had that proceeding ended when Democrats dragged everybody back to the court before a different judge.

The Democrats asked Circuit Court Judge John Miller to allow a broader standard--one that would allow election officials to consider dimpled ballots, on which a voter had punched a hole but the small slip of paper, or chad, had not been completely removed. They want a standard similar to the one being used in Palm Beach County.

Supporters of Vice President Al Gore were reasoning that if they could change the standard, the Democrat could pick up as many as 500 new votes here. (By the end of Friday, with 122 of 604 precincts recounted, Gore had netted 38 new votes.)

The judge didn't say yes, but he didn't say no. He told the Democrats to wait until Monday to hear whether the high court had more to say about these standards, and then come back to him.

But Miller raised their hopes: "If I find that the board isn't counting the pregnant chads and all the other stuff that's supposed to show . . . the intent of the voter, I will tell them to do it all again."


Back at the disaster center, the election that won't end was wearing thin on dozens of recounters and on their minders (one Democrat and one Republican at each of the 50 tables). Fatigue was taking over, and the soda machines were empty.

Arguments erupted at the tables, which one Republican compared to Las Vegas. ("All this shuffling of cards and numbers," GOP county chairman Ed Pozzuoli said. "Are we in Vegas yet?")

With a mind toward future litigation, the Republicans had requested copies of hundreds of hours of video from county security cameras across the vast disaster center. As the hand count continued, they also were employing a court reporter to record exchanges between canvassing board members.

Jane Carroll, a Republican member of the canvassing board and Broward County's election supervisor, predicted the recount would take at least until Monday night.

"If the coffee holds up," she said, laughing.

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