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Florida's slanted secretary of state

By Michael Hammerschlag

 

December 14, 2000 | When we first met Katherine Harris, she was giving the wrong vote numbers to the press: the 700-odd, not the 327, vote difference, but something was obviously churning below the surface.

"We will do our duty," she proclaimed, meaning of course, her office's duty to hold a fair and honest election. But there was another duty, her duty as W's FL campaign chairman to deliver Florida for the Texas governor. Only one would be met. First cruelly lampooned for her makeup choices, the press backed off after the Florida legislature gave her a standing ovation. Strange heroes for strange times. But Ms. Harris deserves a second and third look—in fact, if she remains in America, she will likely spend years in court and even jail.

Her legal mistake, as opposed to continual unfair partisan outrages, was her ordering the various election boards to STOP HAND COUNTING ballots. "Therefore, unless the discrepancy . . . is caused by incorrect election parameters or software errors, the county board is not authorized to manually recount ballots for the entire county." This was rendered in writing Mon Nov 13 as an "advisory" opinion to ever-cautious Judge Charles. Burton of the famous Palm Beach butterfly ballot and the other hand-counting counties, and communicated before in statements from her. Trouble is, this is wrong- totally completely wrong: a hand recount needs no misconduct, no errors, no machine problems, no fraud- the only thing it requires is a candidate's or campaign manager's request within 72 hours of the election. That's what the law on manual recounts says—not a word about any problems—it's only subject to a candidate's request and the county canvassing board's agreement.

When Harris sent that off, she lost the title of Secretary of State and became only Bush campaign co-chair. She had to knock out those 55,000 uncounted votes for Bush to win, and she succeeded in Palm Beach and Dade—the doubt and confusion delayed things enough.

Once the Bush forces recovered from the election shocks, that's been their tactic: delay, block, obfuscate; slander the counters, canvassers, courts—anyone that rules against them. Scream fraud, demagogue the military ballots, encourage the legislature to overrule the people. Not the tactics of a unifier, but a di-VI-der.

Only Volusia County (Daytona Beach) managed through able management and Herculean effort to hand-count all the ballots before Iron Kathy's first deadline (Nov 14). "That was the determination of the canvassing board . . . and they have every right to do that (agree to a hand count)," said Volusia Election Supervisor Deannie Lowe. Lowe was savagely criticized by the Repubs and press for several mistakes and wild rumors (a 25,000 vote computer memory error there caused the networks to call the presidency for Bush); just into the hand recount, her stepfather died and she couldn't even mourn or plan the funeral. Some took their duty very seriously.

Harris also failed to issue any standards on how to count votes—chad hanging by one, two, or three corners, indented, etc.—though that was her job, and that became a huge arguing point for the Bushmen: that there were no standards. She was too busy suing to stop people's vote from being counted. The best and fastest technique, seeing light through the hole, was quickly ridiculed and discredited by the Bushmen. It would have worked, too fast (using large slide light-trays). The Florida Supreme Court should have removed her for cause—an outrageous conflict of interest—ordered hand counts in all Florida counties to be completed in two weeks, and defined a countable vote. That could have led to a fair settlement.

Ever functioning as Bush's agent, she proudly denied the 215 Palm Beach Gore votes that came two hours after the deadline. She even denied the 155 additional votes that were sent in time. Against state law, she accepted the first count from Nassau County (which had a discrepancy) not the machine recount (+52 Gore). The Miami-Dade board, co-opted by Miami's murky political stew, didn't even send in the 157 votes they found for Gore in the small portion they did count before they were "shut down" by Tom DeLay's Cong. rioters.

According to the London Guardian, Harris erroneously booted 9,000-12,000 voters (disproportionately black) off the rolls for supposedly being felons five months before the election -–only 8000 were reinstated, including an election supervisor. Given all that's happened—huge numbers of motor voters (license added) never added to the roles, blacks allegedly issued pre-punched ballots—I'm reluctantly beginning to consider that there was something beyond incompetence working here. The Bushes play dirty—read the Newsweek election issue account of what they did to John McCain in South Carolina.

Harris's actions weren't just partisan, they were incredibly corrupt, and may yet be viewed as election or constitutional crimes. If Bush becomes president and makes her ambassador to Chad, she may find her citizenship revoked by the coming Democratic Congress. She was simply willing to do anything for the Governors Bush. Her sanctimonious comments on certifying these rotten totals were a final thumb in the eye, "Our American democracy has triumphed . . . this is a victory in which we can take.. pride and comfort. The true winner.. is the rule of law." Really?

NOTE: On appeal are the absentee ballot request fixing cases in Seminole County, where Repub officials camped out for 10 days in the supervisor's office adding voter registration numbers to 4,800 application forms, and Martin County, where they let Repub operatives take them home. Because of the exploits of GOP Miami Mayor Suarez, who was removed from office in '97 for absentee ballot fraud (14 of his henchmen were sentenced to up to a year in jail), Florida has a very strict absentee law. The Repub campaigns' altering of the requests wasn't a technicality, as the party's been saying, but a third degree felony—only the voter, an immediate member of his family or his legal guardian can touch them. There are several Florida precedents for throwing out diddled ballots—thousands of which (requests) were sent out under Jeb's letterhead—another reason he's been hiding.


Michael Hammerschlag has written commentaries for Seattle Times, Providence Journal, Honolulu Advertiser; Capital Times, Moscow News, Tribune, and Guardian. He has written the story of "How the Networks Got It Wrong" and interviewed many principles in this case. His web site is http://mikehammer.tripod.com

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