... edited by Tony Sutin, Dean and Assoc. Professor, Appalachian School of Law

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A timeline of major legal events in the 2000 Florida recount...
November 7: Election Day, as designated by Congress in Title 3, U.S. Code, Section 1.

November 8: About 3 a.m. EST, Vice President and Democratic Party candidate Al Gore telephones Texas Gov. and Republican Party candidate George W. Bush to concede. About an hour later, Gore retracts the concession because Bush's margin of victory in Florida is slim enough to trigger an automatic recount under 102.141(4) of the Florida Election Code (the Florida Division of Elections reported that the Republican Party presidential ticket received 2,909,135 (48.8%) votes and the Democratic Party presidential ticket received 2,907,351 (48.8%) votes; other candidates on the presidential ballot in Florida received a total of 139,616 votes). The automatic recount further reduces the vote margin. The first lawsuit is filed challenging Palm Beach's "butterfly ballot."

November 9: Manual recounts are requested by or on behalf of the Gore campaign under 102.166 in Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade, and Volusia counties. JURIST begins expanded coverage of the Florida recount.

November 11: Bush and several voters commence federal lawsuit (Siegel v. LePore) to halt manual recounts because of alleged equal protection and other constitutional violations.

November 12: Palm Beach County manual recount begins.

November 13: U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks rejects Bush's plea in Siegel for an order barring hand recounts of ballots. Volusia County sues to complete manual recount notwithstanding the November 14 "deadline" for county Canvassing Boards to file election returns (one week after general election) set in 102.112(1).

November 14: Circuit Judge Terry Lewis rules in McDermott v. Harris that Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris may enforce a statutory 5 p.m. deadline for county reporting of returns, but that she may not arbitrarily refuse to include late-filed returns

November 15: After considering submissions from counties still conducting recounts, Secretary of State Harris indicates that she will not consider further returns from those counties.

November 17: Deadline for receipt of overseas absentee ballots under Florida Administrative Code, Chapter 1S-2.013(7). Judge Terry Lewis refuses to compel Secretary Harris to consider late returns. On appeal, Florida Supreme Court prohibits Secretary Harris from certifying the election results - as she had planned to do November 18 - until further notice from the court. In Seminole County, local Democrats sue the Seminole County Canvassing Board for including certain absentee ballots in the vote totals that did not satisfy the provisions of 101.62(1)(b) of the Florida Election Code, requiring that a person requesting an absentee ballot provide the elector's registration number on their application. In Siegel and an associated case (Touchston v. Sheppard), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit refuses to block manual recounts in Broward and Palm Beach counties.

November 19: Miami-Dade County begins manual recount.

November 20: Oral argument before Florida Supreme Court in Palm Beach Canvassing Board v. Harris. In Palm Beach County, Judge Jorge Labarga rules that he has no constitutional authority to order a re-vote due to use of the butterfly ballot.

November 21: Florida Supreme Court rules that manual recounts may continue and that the totals must be included in the final results. Court sets November 26-27 as deadline for certifying the election.

November 22: Bush files petition for certiorari in United States Supreme Court, asking for review of Florida Supreme Court ruling. Judge Jorge Labarga rules that so-called "dimpled chads" cannot be summarily excluded from the Palm Beach manual recount.

November 23: Miami-Dade County suspends its manual recount; Florida Supreme Court rejects Gore request to require resumption.

November 24: U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear Bush's appeal on the legality of the Florida Supreme Court's decision to allow recounts and extend state deadline for certification.

November 26: Secretary Harris certifies election results, giving Bush a 537-vote victory over Gore. Governor Jeb Bush signs Certificate of Ascertainment designating 25 Florida electors pledged to George W. Bush and transmits to National Archives as required by Title 3, U.S. Code, Section 6.

November 27: Gore files election contest action under Election Code section 102.168, challenging vote counts in Palm Beach, Miami-Dade, and Nassau counties; case is assigned to Judge Sanders Sauls.

November 28: Judge Sanders Sauls orders about 14,000 disputed ballots from Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties brought to him in Tallahassee.

November 30: A Florida legislative committee recommends a special session to name the state's 25 representatives to the Electoral College, which elects the president.

December 1: U.S. Supreme Court hears oral argument on Bush's appeal of November 21 Florida Supreme Court ruling (Bush v. Palm Beach Canvassing Board). Florida Supreme Court refuses Gore's appeal to immediately start recounting ballots in his election contest. Florida Supreme Court upholds Judge Jorge Labarga's rejection of suits challenging Palm Beach "butterfly ballot". Texas federal District Court Judge Sidney Fitzwater rejects voter suit arguing that Dick Cheney is an inhabitant of Texas and thus ineligible to receive votes of Texas electors (Jones v. Bush).

December 2-3: Trial held in Gore's election contest [see transcript Part I, II, III, IV].

December 4: U.S. Supreme Court rules in Bush v. Palm Beach Canvassing Board, vacating order of Florida Supreme Court and remanding for clarification the Florida Supreme Court's November 21 decision on recount deadlines. Judge Sauls rejects Gore's election challenge.

December 6: Separate trials on the Seminole County [transcript Part I, II, III] and Martin County [transcript Part I, II, III] absentee ballot application cases begin in Leon County Circuit Court. Florida's Republican legislative leaders call for special session to consider whether to appoint Florida's 25 electors.

December 7: Florida Supreme Court hears Gore's appeal of Judge Sauls' rejection of election contest. U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit orally affirms dismissal of challenge to Cheney's residency (Jones v. Bush). A formal proclamation is issued calling the Florida Legislature for a special session commencing December 8.

December 8: In 4-3 split decision, Florida Supreme Court rules for Gore, ordering a statewide manual recount of undervotes to begin and adding 383 votes to his total. Bush seeks stays before the Florida Supreme Court, the 11th Circuit, and the U.S. Supreme Court and additionally petitions the U.S. Supreme Court for certiorari. Leon County Circuit Court Judges Terry Lewis and Nikki Clark refuse to throw out any of the 25,000 absentee ballots challenged in Martin and Seminole counties. In Bush v. Hillsborough County Canvassing Board, federal District Court Judge Lacey Collier rules that overseas absentee ballots can be counted even though they lack a postmark required by 101.62(7)(c) of the Florida Election Code. Florida Legislature meets in special session and adjourns with plans to convene again December 12.

December 9: The Florida Supreme Court denies Bush's application for stay. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta similarly denies Bush's emergency motion to stop the recount, but orders Florida officials not to change his previously certified 537-vote lead. Minutes later, the U.S. Supreme Court, divided 5-4, issues a stay in Gore v. Bush to stop the manual recounts. Federal District Court Judge Maurice Paul denies request to throw out overseas absentee ballots not received by Election Day (Harris, Medina v. Florida Elections Canvassing Commission).

December 11: U.S. Supreme Court hears oral argument in Gore v. Bush. Florida Supreme Court issues a 6-1 clarifying Opinion on remand from U.S. Supreme Court in Palm Beach Canvassing Board v. Harris. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit affirms dismissal of Harris, Medina case challenging inclusion of overseas absentee ballots. Committees in both houses of the Florida Legislature approve resolutions appointing 25 electors pledged to Bush.

December 12: Deadline for resolution of elector controversies to qualify for "conclusive" protection under Title 3, U.S. Code, Section 5. Florida House of Representatives passes resolution appointing 25 electors. Florida Supreme Court upholds dismissal of Seminole and Martin county absentee ballot application challenges. At about 10 p.m. EST, U.S. Supreme Court issues 5-4 decision in Gore v. Bush reversing Florida Supreme Court and ruling that manual recounts cannot be conducted in a constitutional manner in the time remaining.

December 13: Seeing no legal recourse from the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Gore concedes.

December 14: Florida Supreme Court dismisses Gore v. Harris on remand. JURIST concludes expanded coverage of the Florida recount.


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U. of Pgh. School of Law

Tony Sutin is Dean and Associate Professor of Law at the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Virginia. He previously practiced election law and litigated ballot access, voting rights and campaign finance issues at Hogan & Hartson L.L.P. in Washington, D.C., where he represented the Democratic National Committee, the Clinton/Gore92 campaign, the Tsongas for President Committee, the Presidential Inaugural Committee and others.  He has served on the Executive Committee of the Campaign Ethics Committee of the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division, and on the Executive Committee of the National Lawyers Council of the Democratic National Committee. He is a 1984 graduate of Harvard Law School.