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Republican coup d'etat looms as Fla. Supremes affirm Gore

State legislature plotting a 'special session'

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The Florida Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling Tuesday night mandating that the results of manual re-counts in three counties, as requested by the Gore campaign, must be included in the state's final returns.

The Justices wisely set a final deadline of 27 November on concerns that if the counting were to continue too long, Florida's entire electoral vote might fail to make the Electoral College's 18 December deadline and that this would nullify the entire state's franchise in the national election.

"Courts must not lose sight of the fundamental purpose of election laws: the laws are intended to facilitate and safeguard the right of each voter to express his or her will in the context of our representative democracy," the court wrote. "Technical statutory requirements must not be exalted over the substance of this right."

The Gore camp took this as a significant step towards victory. "We will move forward now with a full, fair and accurate count of the ballots in question," a delighted Veep crooned from his official residnce in Washington Tuesday night.

"I don't know what those ballots will show; I don't know whether Governor Bush or I will prevail. But we do know that our democracy is the winner tonight. I firmly believe that the will of the people will prevail, and I'm gratified that the Court's decision will allow us to honour that simple Constitutional principle."

Gore clearly reckons he's going to win. "Now that we know the process will continue, I once again urge that Governor Bush and I meet to demonstrate the essential unity that keeps America strong and free. Together let us testify to the truth that our country is more important than victory," he said magnanimously -- in the patronising tones of a quasi-gracious winner, we thought.

Former US Secretary of State and Dubya mouthpiece James Baker fumed over the 'unfair' process of courts actually daring to interpret laws and settle legal disputes. "All of this is unfair and unacceptable," he snorted. "Today, Florida's Supreme Court rewrote the Legislature's statutory system, assumed the responsibilities of the executive branch and sidestepped the opinion of the trial court as the finder of fact."

"It's not fair to change the election laws of Florida by judicial fiat after the election has been held," he sputtered, adding that "one should not now be surprised if the Florida Legislature seeks to affirm the original rules," hinting at dark political machinations yet to come.

Indeed, Florida's heavily-Republican state Legislature is contemplating a special session to overturn the Supremes and, by legislative fiat, put Florida Secretary of State and Bush collaborator Katherine Harris back in the electoral driver's seat. If it were successful, and Harris were to cut off the manual re-counts in defiance of the Court, a Bush win would immediately take on the feel of a coup d'etat.

This would be an immensely unwise move, but Republicans are desperately determined to put their compliant little lad in the White House, so all bets are off. One hopes they would have the simple taste, if nothing else, to restrain themselves from fracturing a state government in their quest of control over the US federal bureaucracy, but no one should depend on it.

A less traumatic approach would be a Republican appeal to the US Supreme Court, a move which would do them less PR damage than the legislative manoeuvring now being contemplated, though it would still carry a price in light of the Florida Supreme Court's unanimity. If the decision had been decently split, a move up the judicial food chain would not be untoward. Under the circumstances, however, it will require a massive, and this time actually subtle, spin campaign to make it palatable to the man in the street.

Absent any further appeals or usurpations, the contest will now shift from whether to count, to what to count.

There remain several thousand contested ballots containing dimpled and pregnant chads (no, we can't keep the distinction, if there is one, straight either) which could put Gore over the top. The Court's ruling left it up to the county canvassing boards to decide which of those ballots should be included. It might behove the Republicans to focus their attack on the contested ballots, and try to get as many excluded as decency would permit.

But again the Republicans are at a rhetorical disadvantage, since, ironically, Bush's home state of Texas calls for the counting of ballots bearing chads which are indented but not perforated. The 'will of the voter' is embodied in these indentations, the Texas statute says.

It won't look entirely presidential for Dubya to protest the illegality of ballots in Florida which would be legal in Texas, though looking presidential, we must observe, is something the lad hasn't yet got around to learning. ®

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