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DECISION 2000 / AMERICA WAITS

Agitation and Joy Felt on Capitol Hill

Reaction: Republicans question the guidelines for continuing a recount as well as the motives of the Florida justices. Democrats see a right and fair decision.

November 22, 2000|NICK ANDERSON and JANET HOOK | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — Initial reaction from Capitol Hill on Tuesday to the Florida Supreme Court ruling in the presidential election dispute broke along predictable party lines: Republicans seethed, Democrats cheered.

As the court declared unanimously that Florida election officials must include hand recounts in the statewide final total, senior Republican lawmakers immediately raised questions about the guidelines for the continued counting as Democrat Al Gore seeks to overtake Republican George W. Bush in the state that will decide the White House.

"I wonder how they're going to handle all these dimpled chads and hanging chads and pregnant chads and so forth," said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah). Hatch said he was "very concerned" by the ruling--and that local election boards making key decisions are controlled by Democrats.

Two Republican leaders questioned the motives of a state Supreme Court composed entirely of Democratic appointees.

Rep. Dick Armey of Texas, the House majority leader, said he believes Bush should appeal to federal courts. "This clearly can't be the last resort. I don't think the country will accept a clearly partisan decision by a partisan court."

And Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas, the House majority whip, called the ruling "a blatant and extraordinary abuse of judicial power." He added: "With this decision, a collection of liberal activists has arbitrarily swept away thoughtfully designed statutes to ensure free and fair elections and replaced them with their own political opinion."

Both of California's Democratic senators said the court had reached the right and fair conclusion.

"The most important thing of what we know about the court's ruling so far is that there be the widest opportunity for a fair count of the vote," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein. "Once the court had allowed the recounts to continue, which it did previously, it's no surprise that the court now ruled that they should be included in the final vote."

Sen. Barbara Boxer said the ruling was "right on point. . . . I think they did the right thing."

Some Democrats said that, while the ruling extends the life of Gore's candidacy, it does not necessarily guarantee him victory. While clearly pleased, they also voiced concern about the ticking postelection clock. The Florida court set a 5 p.m. Sunday deadline for the hand counts to be filed with the secretary of state. If the secretary of state's office is closed over the holiday weekend, the deadline is extended to 9 a.m. Monday.

"I'm pleased that the court has recognized the importance of counting all the votes, and I hope the counties can complete their count in time," said Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic whip, said the ruling should help clear the way for the public to accept the winner as legitimate. "No matter who wins now, it will be fair," Reid said. "What [the court] has done is allowed all the votes to be counted, but there's no dilly-dallying allowed."

Reid said he hopes all sides will drop their litigation after the new Sunday deadline passes. And he said he thinks "dimpled" ballots--those in which punch-holes are dented but not punched through--should be counted. "Any mark on the chad indicates that somebody wanted to vote, and I think that vote should be counted."

Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) said the decision followed expectations. He said he remains open to recounting the votes in all of the state's counties. "Floridians are committed to conducting a fair and open election."

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Times staff writer Richard Simon contributed to this story.

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