by Michael Hammerschlag Dec 4, 2000
When we first met Kathleen 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 FL legislature gave her a standing ovation. Strange heroes for strange times. But Ms. Harris deserves a second + 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 Chas. Burton of the famous Palm Beach butterfly and the other 3 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 Sec. of State and become only Bush campaign co-chair. She had to knock out those 22,000 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 Co.(Daytona) managed through able managership 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 Co. 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 more seriously.
Harris also failed to issue any standards on how to count votes- 1,2, or 3 corner, 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. Lowe complained, “I was telling the division director that you need to talk to all the counties and get something uniform on how we’re going to count the votes. He said, ‘No, that’s up to the individual canvassing boards.’ ” The best and fastest technique, seeing light through the hole (how the tallying machines actually work), 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 Harris for cause- an outrageous conflict of interest, ordered hand counts in all FL counties to be completed in 10-14 days, and defined a countable vote. That could have led to a fair settlement. When they issued the impossible 5 day extension over the 2nd biggest holiday of the year, they condemned the process to incremental escalating partisan legal struggles, where neither side could reach an honest victory and justice was forever denied.
Ever functioning as Bush’s agent, she proudly denied the 215 Palm Beach Gore votes that came 2 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 9000-12,000 voters (disproportionately black) off the rolls for supposedly being felons 5 months before the election – only 8000 were reinstated. Against 2 court rulings she removed out-of-state felons who had had their rights restored (only felons from Florida crimes were supposed to be permanently removed). 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 (p 60). In phone calls to voters, “They were told he was not a hero, but a Manchurian candidate: brainwashed + broken in captivity. that he had sex with his jailers, that he had married a drug addict, that he had arranged a murder, that he’d fathered a child with a black hooker (the girl was adopted from Mother Teresa’s orphanage in Bangladesh), that he had to adopt because he’d infected his wife with VD.” This is the man the Supreme Court has decided should be our President, without counting the votes.
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 + comfort. The true winner.. is the rule of law.” Really?
Copyright © 2001 Michael Hammerschlag
NOTE: On appeal are the absentee ballot request fixing cases in Seminole (south of Daytona), where Repub officials camped out for 10 days in the supervisors office adding voter numbers to 4800 forms, and Martin Co., where they let Repub officials 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), FL 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 3rd degree felony – only the voter or relatives can touch them. There are several Fl precedents for throwing out diddled ballots- thousands of which (requests) were sent out under Jeb’s letterhead – another reason he’s been hiding.
Postscript 1/18/01: Some 40 suits are now pending against Harris and the Sec State office, including the blunderbuss suit from the ACLU,NAACP,PFAW. They’ve already spent $750,000 defending her.
Michael Hammerschlag has written commentaries for Seattle Times, Providence Journal, Honolulu Advertiser; Capital Times, Moscow News, Tribune, + Guardian. He has written the story of How the Networks Got It Wrong and interviewed many of the principals in this case. His website is http://mikehammer.tripod.com