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© St. Petersburg Times, published December 13, 2000
WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Supreme Court's complex decision, and the many dissents from it, are not easy for the average person to sort out. Here are some questions and answers about the ruling and its impact:
Q. Is it over now?
A. Almost. Vice President Al Gore and his legal team met late Tuesday to go over the court's ruling, which they called "complex." His running mate, Joe Lieberman, said Monday that a U.S. Supreme Court defeat would force them to pack it in, and growing numbers of elected Democrats want him to. Gore's team said he would have no statement before Wednesday.
Q. What did the court find?
A. Basically, that the way Florida's vote was counted was unfair to Gore, but the Florida Supreme Court's attempt to fix the problem was seriously flawed, too. The biggest difficulty, the majority of the U.S. Supreme Court said, was that in conducting various county-level recounts, Florida election officials and courts adopted no consistent standard for appraising a voter's intent. In its majority opinion, the court ruled: "Having once granted the right to vote on equal terms, the state may not, by later arbitrary and disparate treatment, value one person's vote over that of another."
The U.S. Supreme Court sent the case back to the Florida Supreme Court to fix the problem, but declared as it did so that time for recounts had run out.
Q. What was it about the recounts already undertaken that concerned the U.S. Supreme Court?
A. One big problem was the Florida Supreme Court's failure to specify who should recount the ballots, or set uniform standards for counting them. Some canvassers, the U.S. court's majority noted, had "no previous training in handling and interpreting ballots," and interpreted them differently. That random variance, the majority wrote, "is inconsistent with the minimum procedures necessary to protect the fundamental right of each voter."
Q. Why did the U.S. Supreme Court blame the Florida Supreme Court for the breakdowns?
A. It blamed the Florida justices for not setting recount standards. "When a court orders a statewide remedy," the majority wrote, "there must be at least some assurance that the rudimentary requirements of equal treatment and fundamental fairness are satisfied."