Mark Potter: Legal maneuvering in Palm Beach County
CNN Correspondent Mark Potter is in Palm Beach County, where a judge earlier in the day said he will issue his decision next week on whether a revote for the county is constitutional.
Q: What did the judge say about his pending decision?
POTTER: The judge said he wants the weekend to think over this complicated and emotional argument. He will not be ruling from the bench, instead he said he would be issuing a written ruling. He said it would likely happen early in the week; the lawyers are predicting it will happen Monday.
The lawyers in this case say that no matter what happens they will continue with this suit. Even if the Florida secretary of state certifies the election and declares George W. Bush the winner, they will continue on. The only thing that will stop the lawsuits in Palm Beach County is if Al Gore is certified the winner. Then, the point of their lawsuits would be moot. They're asking for a new election in the county, and are convinced that a new election would bring Al Gore to office.
There were a couple emotional moments in the court. The judge at the outset made it very clear that he personally understands very clear the sanctity of voting rights. He's a Cuban American, and said he has a deep appreciation of voting rights in this country, knowing that his parents brought him here to this country so that he could have that right. He said, 'It's a very precious right to me.'
At the end of the hearing, a man came to court, telling a story of seeing an old man crying for miscasting his vote. And that man said that's why he filed the lawsuit and he asked the judge to take that into consideration.
The judge told him, 'If I rule the Constitution does not allow for a new election, it will be the hardest decision I will ever make.'
But he also raised serious questions about whether he would be able to order a new election, noting that may be simply within the purview of Congress, not a local judge.
A constitutional scholar from California described this as a historic decision, and said this is something we will be reading about in the law books for years to come.
Q: Is an appeal likely no matter what the judge rules?
POTTER: You can bet this ruling will be appealed by the losing side. That's been the way it's gone through all of these court activities in this case, so this may not be the final decision.
The big question here: Does the court have the power to order a new presidential election in one county, because the voters say they were confused by the ballot?
The plaintiffs who filed lawsuits asking for a revote have said the court does have that power under law. The Republicans argued the court does not.
Q: If the judge were to rule that a revote could take place, would it mean that a revote would definitely happen, or what would be the next step?
POTTER: The importance of this decision is that it will determine whether the lawsuits filed in Palm Beach County by the residents here will actually go forward. Most of the residents have asked for a new presidential election; they say that's the remedy they need. If the judge rules that there cannot be a new election and the appeals court upheld him, then most of those lawsuits would go by the wayside.
The residents who filed these lawsuits are the ones who say that they will not be assisted by the current manual recount, because their votes were thrown out because their ballots were double-punched or they punched the holes for the wrong candidate. The manual revote will not help them, they argue, so they went to the courts to seek redress for what they say is the loss of their vote due to confusion over the ballots. Their lawyers claim that Al Gore may have lost nearly 14,000 votes because of the ballot confusion.