Arguments heard on hand recounts

By Chad Roedemeier, Associated Press, 12/6/2000

TLANTA - Lawyers for George W. Bush asked a federal appeals court yesterday to throw out manual recounts of ballots in three Florida counties saying they were ''utterly standardless.''

''This case was brought to restore consistency and equality to voting rights,'' said Bush attorney Theodore Olson. ''Under our Constitution, every person's vote must be weighed equally.''

The 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals heard related appeals in separate cases - one initiated by the Bush campaign and another from three pro-Bush voters in Brevard County, Fla.

Both argue that hand recounts in selected counties made those votes more important than ballots cast elsewhere in Florida. They also argue that unclear and changing standards on how to count disputed ballots are unfair.

The Florida Democratic Party, a defendant in both cases, has argued there is no need for the appeals court to act since the recounts are finished and Bush has been certified the winner of the state by 537 votes.

The political divisions on the 12-judge court were clear. The seven Republican appointees peppered Democrats with pointed questions, and the judges appointed by President Clinton aggressively questioned Bush's lawyer.

''Why isn't this case moot? Why isn't this appeal moot?'' Judge Charles Wilson, appointed by President Clinton, asked Olson.

Olson noted that Gore is still contesting the election in court. ''No one has won this election, as far as I know,'' he said. ''It's still very much up in the air.''

Judge Ed Carnes, who was appointed by Bush's father, President Bush, asked why it was constitutional to do hand recounts only in Florida's three largest counties - all of which are predominantly Democratic.

If the court rules that Florida's manual recount law is unconstitutional, it could hurt Gore's effort. Without further hand recounts of ballots, he cannot surpass Bush's tally.

But the Bush appeals in federal court become more important for Republicans if Gore is granted the hand recount of thousands of disputed ballots that he seeks.

Judge R. Lanier Anderson III, chief judge of the 11th Circuit, said the court recognized the ''urgent time frame'' and promised a quick decision in both cases.

In the second case, brought by Bush supporters in Brevard County, Fla., attorney James Bopp Jr. of the James Madison Center for Free Speech in Indiana argued that Florida's process disenfranchised some voters by allowing ''a two-tiered system to recount some and not other'' votes.