Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris has shown unusual courage for an elected Republican. She announced today that Florida law will be enforced, and that the 67 counties that comprise her state have until 5:00 PM, November 14, 2000, to deliver their certified vote totals to her office.
Indeed, Secretary Harris is right. She has no discretion to extend or waive the deadline imposed by Florida law, as demanded by Gore and his fellow Democrats. Florida Title IX, Chapter 102, Section 111 provides, in relevant part, that:
“…If the county returns are not received by the Department of State by 5 P.M. of the seventh day following an election, all missing counties shall be ignored, and the results shown by the returns on file shall be certified.” (Emphasis added, so even Al Gore and his lawyers can understand.)
The purpose of this statute, and its strict adherence to a specific date and time, is to ensure that counties don’t manipulate vote returns after electoral winners and losers are announced publicly. In other words, its purpose is to prevent the kind of endless vote counting now occurring in heavily Democratic counties, which is intended to either find additional votes for the loser, Al Gore, or subtract votes from the winner, George Bush.
But the statute is unambiguous. Secretary Harris is performing a ministerial task for which she has no discretion. Gore’s legal team and the Democratic controlled counties are preparing what must be frivolous legal challenges. If the state courts in Florida, which are populated largely by Democrats, apply the law, they will lose. Unfortunately for Gore, there is, in fact, “controlling legal authority.”