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DECISION 2000 / AMERICA WAITS

Florida High Court 'Overreached' in Ruling, Bush Says

Reaction: Republican candidate contends justices changed state law. He calls the recounts an effort to 'change the legitimate result' of his victory.

November 23, 2000|EDWIN CHEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

AUSTIN, Texas — Still professing his belief that he won the presidential election, George W. Bush denounced the Florida Supreme Court on Wednesday, saying it had "overreached" its authority by allowing the recounts to continue.

"The court had cloaked its ruling in legalistic language," Bush said. "But make no mistake, the court rewrote the law."

The Republican Texas governor did not say how he would respond to the justices' unanimous decision, but a few hours later his legal team appealed the Florida court's decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

During a televised midday appearance before a small group of reporters inside the Governor's Mansion, Bush also did not directly respond to a proposal by Al Gore on Tuesday night that they meet to discuss the controversy.

Instead, Bush focused mostly on the court's ruling, portraying it as an ill-advised decision that will produce unfair and inaccurate results that could deprive him of the presidency.

"I believe Secretary [Dick] Cheney and I won the vote in Florida," Bush said. "I believe some are determined to keep counting in an effort to change the legitimate result."

Bush had even sterner words for the seven-member court.

"It changed the rules, and it did so after the election was over," he said. "Manual recounts will continue in three selective counties, with no uniform standards, no clear direction, and therefore no fair or accurate result."

Unlike Vice President Gore, Bush did not address the nation late Tuesday night after the Florida Supreme Court released its opinion. Instead, Bush sent his chief legal advisor, James A. Baker III, to speak on camera in Tallahassee, Fla.

Bush's comments Wednesday were his first substantive remarks on the electoral controversy in days. Until now, he has stayed largely out of sight--at his ranch about 90 miles from Austin and here in the Governor's Mansion.

In the last three days, Bush has made a show of motorcading back and forth between the mansion and his office in the nearby Texas Capitol. But he has studiously avoided speaking about the electoral standoff. The posture changed Wednesday.

"I'm disappointed with last night's ruling by the Florida Supreme Court. We believe the justices have used the bench to change Florida's election laws and usurp the authority of Florida's election officials," Bush said.

"We believe the court overreached. Writing laws is the duty of the legislature. Administering laws is the duty of the executive branch."

He added that the court had simply disregarded Florida's statutory deadline for counting and certifying all ballots.

"The court has decided that the selective recounting of votes that have already been recounted at least two times, and in some cases three or four times, will continue more than a week after the law says it should," Bush said.

He did not hide his concern about the outcome of the recounts.

"The effect of the court's opinion will be that voters' votes are being evaluated differently in different parts of Florida. Some votes that were cast legitimately may be offset by votes that were not. Voters who cast their ballots in accordance with the rules, in accordance with law, have rights. And voters who choose not to cast a vote for president have that right, and no one else has the right to make their choice for them."

Such voters, he said, "should not have their vote interpreted by local officials in a process that invites human error and mischief."

Bush added: "All Americans want a fair and accurate count of the votes in Florida. And I believe if there is a fair and accurate count of the votes in Florida, we will prevail."

Bush said he is "amazed" by the vote count procedures in Florida, which he described as "the changing of rules on a regular basis. Somebody doesn't like what's happening one day, they try to change the rules the next."

Referring to Democrat Gore's proposal for a tete-a-tete, Bush said: "I propose a good place to start. He should join me in calling upon all appropriate officials in Florida to make sure that overseas military ballots that were signed and received on time count in this election. Our men and women in uniform overseas should not lose their right to vote. I hope the vice president will personally support me in this call."

Republicans have complained that some overseas ballots were rejected after Democrats protested that they lacked postmarks. Bill Daley, Gore campaign chairman, responded indirectly to Bush's request, saying Gore agrees that "legally cast ballots, whether they're military ballots or civilian ballots, should be counted." But Daley did not explicitly say Democrats would not challenge ballots with questionable postmarks.

Bush, meanwhile, told reporters that, despite the raging dispute, he remained upbeat.

"I'm confident that when it's all said and done, the vote will stand in Florida. So I feel great."

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