Counting time in Tallahassee 

TALLAHASSEE -- Not three minutes after the Florida Supreme Court announced its order that actual humans must examine ballots the machines failed to read, an irritated U.S. News and World Report correspondent shouted into his cell phone: "They're going to recount the entire fucking state!"

The same frustration welled up, four hours later, on the Washington Week in Review panel of talking heads. They tut-tutted George W. Bush's reversal of fortune. How inconvenient that the Florida Supreme Court and possibly even the people had failed to hasten the anointing of the president chosen by The Wall Street Journal, Katherine Harris and the state of Tennessee.

But then the Florida Supreme Court's Friday-afternoon feat wasn't the first journalistic discomfiture of the week. Pretty anchor people spent days portraying Leon County Circuit Court Judge N. Sanders Sauls as "down-home" and "folksy," completely missing his opposition in the last election and his absurd feud with the former court administrator (He at one point barred his door with a bicycle lock.). Equally appalling, those same news anchors -- oblivious of double standards -- had openly questioned whether Leon County Circuit Court Judge Nikki Clark, who is black, was "biased" because Gov. Jeb Bush failed to appoint her to the district Court of Appeal.

Eventually the wind-chapped corporate media became aware that Sauls wasn't known as the sharpest crayon in the box. Maybe they still haven't realized that asking whether Clark was capable of impartiality bordered on racial affront.

Who's counting?

The Democrats' expert witnesses tried to jump-start the count. But they imploded on the stand. Meanwhile, away from the news cameras, author and political scientist Lance deHaven-Smith shared his analysis with the local chapter of the American Society for Public Administration. DeHaven-Smith's calculations show that, in a manual recount, Al Gore would win -- decisively.

"If I've figured out the margins, you know the Republicans have," the deputy director of the Florida Institute of Government said. That's why the GOP never wavered from its message: "Manual recounts are bad, the Florida Supreme Court sucks, and Carol Roberts (of the Palm Beach canvassing board) is a communist."

Who's counting?

Between court decisions, in the afternoon sun, the Rev. Jesse Jackson prayed between Florida's House and Senate office buildings. Losing an election was bearable, he said. Forfeiting the franchise was not. Democrats want a win by "the count, not the court."

Slowly, it seemed to be dawning on people that in a state with a high machine-error rate, maybe the exit polls had been right. Maybe Florida had gone to Gore.

Speaking of counting, here's how numbers tell the story:

10 -- number of hours it would take a four- to five-person team to count just the 12,500 contested ballots, said Gore attorney David Boies, cheerily interrupted during drinks with Bush lawyers near the Capitol Thursday night.

16 -- number of satellite news trucks parked and idling along the city block between the Florida Supreme Court and the Capitol.

1.1 million -- number of imported ballots locked in a vault on the third floor of the Leon County Courthouse.

0 -- number of those ballots Judge Sauls personally inspected. (This was, the Florida Supreme Court said, "the ultimate Catch-22, acceptance of the only evidence that will resolve the issue but a refusal to examine such evidence.")

11 -- number of years that have passed since the Florida Legislature enacted the law providing for manual recounts.

10 -- percent of Florida's population that was registered Republican in 1950.

43 -- percent of Florida's population that was registered Republican at the peak of GOP registration (1994).

3:1 -- the greater likelihood an African-American's vote in Jacksonville would be discarded than a white voter's.

In Florida, with a strong public records law, the seven justices knew "an accurate count would come out at some point," said Ion Sancho, Leon County's supervisor of elections. "We have known for years that the punch card is not accurate."

Defying any accurate count is the number of Tallahassee lawyers who've signed punditry contracts with the networks and cable outlets. Board of Regents Chairman Steve Uhlfelder is an ABC adviser. Long linked with Democratic causes as a prominent lawyer with Holland & Knight, he's in the Bush camp now. He explained during a break in the action in Judge Sauls' court: "Due process and elections don't co-exist."

Glorious as it is to watch slow, messy democracy in action, some people nevertheless long for statesmanship. Hypocrisy is off the charts. Win-focused lawyers make an argument in one court, then run to the next with the opposite argument.

Both campaigns became Hypocrisy Central. Gore pledged fealty to the every-vote-counts mantra while covertly supporting the discount of military absentee votes. And the Bush camp condemned manual recounts while seeking them in New Mexico.

Time to admit: The Republicans stole it, fair and square.

Andrea Brunais is editor of Weekly Planet in Sarasota. You can reach her via e-mail at andreab@weeklyplanet.com.

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