Rulings spur day of mood swings

By Michael Kranish, Globe Staff, 12/9/2000

ALLAHASSEE - Like hundreds of people from across the country, Bill Adams of Atlanta was standing outside the Florida Supreme Court yesterday, anxiously awaiting the announcement that could determine the presidency. A supporter of George W. Bush, Adams held a sign that said, ''Let's Come Together.''

But after the 4-3 ruling that gave new hope to the candidacy of Al Gore, Adams was the first to admit that the ''come together'' theme had been abruptly shredded. To the contrary, the court ruling angrily split the crowd, and perhaps supporters of both candidates across the country.

Standing on a sidewalk between the Supreme Court and Florida Legislature, Adams expressed concern that an even bigger political battle will now ensue, with the court allowing a count that could give Gore the state victory, and the Legislature preparing to select electors for Bush.

''It could put the Legislature against the court, it is going to divide people by sex and race, and it's just going to be a mess,'' Adams said, hoisting his sign above the crowd.

The city, and perhaps the nation, seemingly had been prepared for a different result. Tallahasseans were ready to reclaim their town from the hordes of lawyers and media, preferring to focus on the hometown Florida State University Seminoles' appearance in the Orange Bowl.

Instead, it's Groundhog Day.

Like the movie in which Bill Murray wakes up to relive the same day, Al Gore today finds himself once again placing his presidential hopes before ''chad'' counters.

Again, barring a federal court stay, hundreds of people will examine ballots to determine whether a vote is indicated.

Again, Bush will argue that the manual recounts are too subjective.

Again, there will be disputes about the legitimacy of hanging chads, dimpled chads, pregnant chads, all focusing on the intent of a voter who didn't fully punch out a presidential selection.

''I was stunned,'' Joan Ransom of Atlanta said, minutes after the Supreme Court decision was announced. Like most Bush supporters, she thought a victory celebration was on tap for last night. Instead, she stood in disbelief outside the courthouse, holding a sign that said, ''Righteousness exalts a nation.''

The day began with the anticipation of history in the making.

It was cloudy and cool at noon, when hundreds of reporters and television camera operators gathered at the Leon County Circuit Courthouse to hear the announcement of two verdicts. In similar cases, Democratic voters had alleged that Republican workers in Seminole and Martin counties had improperly been allowed to put voter-identification numbers on applications for absentee ballots. While about 3,000 applications were affected, the plaintiffs wanted more than 25,000 ballots thrown out.

If a judge in either case agreed to toss the ballots, it would have cost Bush enough votes so that Gore would have won Florida. Gore, however, said he did not join the suits because they ran counter to his argument that every vote should count.

After a delay of nearly 90 minutes, a court clerk read a brief statement that summarized the rulings in both cases.

''Despite irregularities in the requests for absentee ballots, neither the sanctity of the ballots nor the integrity of the elections has been compromised,'' said the statement, summarizing the ruling by Judge Nikki Ann Clark in the Seminole case and Judge Terry Lewis in the Martin case.

The elections ''reflect a full and fair expression of the will of the voters,'' said the statement, read by clerk Terre Cass before a press gathering of more than 100 members of the media.

As Bush supporters gathered at the courthouse cheered the result, Gore backers were subdued, hoping for better news at the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, a block away at an outdoor patio at Andrew's restaurant, the two main lawyers in the case, Bush attorney Barry Richard and Gore attorney David Boies, bumped into each other and chatted amiably. Boies marveled at the way Richard handled the Supreme Court case and the absentee ballot matter in the circuit courthouse. Richard, a Tallahassee Democrat hired by the Bush team to battle the more famous Boies, responded in kind, saying the ''admiration is mutual.''

Both men smiled as if anticipating victory, or at least in acknowledgment of the television camera operators who had spied the scene and were coming their way.

Another block away, security was tightened outside the Florida Supreme Court in anticipation of an announcement.

Television reporters from around the world conducted their broadcasts from a plaza across from the stately Supreme Court building. The plaza was filled with more than a dozen desert-style white tents, designed to shield reporters from the weather.

By 3:30 p.m., rumors were flying. There was a verdict. No, a statement.

Then, at precisely 4 p.m., the earnest-looking court spokesman Craig Waters, appeared.

''By a vote of 4-3, the majority of the court has reversed the decision of the trial court in part,'' Waters said, delivering part of a complicated ruling.

The Gore partisans cheered. The Bush people were stunned. Confusion reigned. Ten minutes after Waters went back inside the silver doors of the courthouse, spectators were still seeking out reporters, asking what it all meant. Reporters, some of whom have been here for weeks and were prepared for a dramatic conclusion, went off to write their stories, with no conclusion immediately in sight.