Dec. 12, 2000 -- Florida’s Republican-controlled Legislature moved one step closer today to intervening in the presidential election dispute as the House of Representatives voted to name a slate of electors for George W. Bush.
Meeting in a special legislative session, the House voted 79-41 to pass a controversial measure that would appoint a slate of presidential electors pledged to cast ballots for Bush when the Electoral College votes next Monday.
During five hours of spirited debate, Republicans argued the Legislature has a constitutional responsibility to safeguard Florida’s 25 electoral votes, which they insisted are being placed in jeopardy by continued legal wrangling over the election.
“The 2000 election is spiraling out of control and we must stop it now,” said Rep. Paula Dockery. “It is time for us, the members of the Florida Legislature, to perform our solemn duty.”
But Democrats said it was Bush’s certified victory their rivals across the aisle were trying to protect — regardless of the will of the voters or the judgment of the courts.
“What we are about to do is unjust, it’s unnecessary, it’s illegal,” House Minority Leader Lois Frankel said minutes before the lopsided vote. “This is the ultimate partisan act because it’s a guaranteed win for only one candidate.”
Only two Democrats joined all 77 House Republicans in voting for the resolution. Earlier in the day, a House Democratic amendment calling on the Legislature to “take no action to interfere with the lawful ongoing election process” was defeated, also on a 79-41 vote.
Now the resolution will head to the state Senate, which is set to vote Wednesday. With the GOP holding a firm 25-15 majority in the Senate, even the most ardent opponents of the move concede there is little they can do to stop it.
GOP: ‘We Made Some History’
At issue is today’s midnight ET deadline set by federal law for states to certify their presidential electors. If the deadline is not met, the electors can be challenged in Congress if at least one U.S. representative and one U.S. senator decide to do so.
With Bush having been certified as the winner of Florida’s election, the state has already sent its slate of electors — a list that includes Feeney and Senate President John McKay — to the National Archives in Washington. But Republicans fear the validity of that slate will be at risk if the election results are still being contested in court when the so-called safe harbor deadline passes tonight.
The resolution passed by the House today would reappoint that same slate of electors — a move that, according to Republicans, would guarantee Florida’s participation in the Electoral College.
The Florida Supreme Court rejected appeals this afternoon from Democratic voters seeking to throw out thousands of absentee ballots because Republican election officials mishandled ballot applications. Those rulings left Al Gore’s contest case as the only major election-related case still pending in any court.
McKay suggested the Senate would not have to vote on the resolution if the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Bush and against the recounts sought by the vice president.
“If we have to act, we will, and if we don’t have to act, we won’t — because there are not going to be 6 million votes cast aside,” McKay said, referring to the number of ballots cast statewide on Election Day.
“I would hope that the U.S. Supreme Court may render moot what we did today,” Feeney remarked after the House vote. “I think a lot of people hope for that.”
If the Senate follows suit with the House and passes a concurrent resolution, the move could ultimately put the Legislature on a collision course with the judiciary. If the slate of Bush electors is appointed and the U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of the vice president — and a subsequent recount makes Gore the winner — then Florida could end up sending two competing slates to the Electoral College.
Under that scenario, the newly elected U.S. House and Senate would vote on which slate is valid. Republicans will hold a narrow majority in the House, but the Senate will be evenly divided with Gore, in his role as Senate president, able to cast a tie-breaking vote.
If the two houses of Congress did not agree, the valid slate, according to a federal election law statute, would be the one endorsed by the Florida governor, who is the brother of the Republican candidate. Gov. Jeb Bush, however, would be legally bound, under those circumstances, to approve the pro-Gore slate of electors.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.