November 24, 2000
Mob Rule Wins for W
Texas Gov. George W. Bush appears to have sealed his claim to the White House through a premeditated mob action that influenced the Dade County decision to halt a crucial recount.
Egged on by Republican phone banks and heated rhetoric over Cuban-American radio, a pro-Bush mob of about 150 people descended on the Dade County canvassing board Wednesday as it was preparing to evaluate 10,750 disputed ballots.
"Republican volunteers shouted into megaphones urging protest," The New York Times reported in today's editions. "A lawyer for the Republican Party helped stir ethnic passions by contending that the recount was biased against Hispanic voters."
The protestors carried anti-Gore signs, including one that read: "Rotten to the Gore." The demonstration then turned violent as the canvassing board sought to go into closed session to begin examining the ballots.
Dade County's Democratic chairman, Joe Geller, was chased by the crowd and required police protection. The mob also charged the offices of the supervisor of elections and began pounding on the doors. Several people were roughed up before sheriff deputies blocked the demonstrators' path and restored some order.
The shaken three-member canvassing board promptly reversed its decision to count the ballots that many observers believed contained a large number of uncounted votes for Vice President Al Gore.
One canvassing board member, David Leahy, admitted that the board's decision to bail out on the recount was affected by the presence of the angry demonstrators. "This was perceived as not being an open and fair process," Leahy said. "That weighed heavy on our minds."
When the canvassing board halted the recount, the Bush supporters cheered.
The Gore camp saw no recourse but to appeal again to the courts. On Thursday, however, the Florida Supreme Court rejected a motion to compel Dade County to resume the recount, although the canvassing board previously had judged the recount necessary to correct errors in the voting-machine tabulations.
By stopping the Dade County recount, the Republicans appear to have guaranteed that Bush's 930-vote lead will survive any Gore gains in Broward and Palm Beach counties. That, in turn, means that on Sunday night, Bush almost certainly will be declared the winner of Florida's 25 electoral votes and thus the presidency.
Gore's lawyers indicated that they might contest the Dade County results after the certification of a Bush victory on Sunday. But pressure already is mounting on Gore to drop any further legal challenges and accept Bush's "victory."
Gore is coming under that pressure despite having won the national popular vote and apparently having been the choice of a plurality of Florida voters, though many of their ballots apparently were discarded for a variety of reasons.
Typical of this Democratic desire to submit to angry Republicans, The Washington Post's liberal columnist Richard Cohen wrote today that "Given the present bitterness, given the angry irresponsible charges being hurled by both camps, the nation will be in dire need of a conciliator, a likable guy who will make things better and not worse. That man is not Al Gore. That man is George W. Bush."
Cohen reached his conclusion although Gore has been the one to temper his rhetoric while Bush and the Republicans have escalated their public denunciations of Gore and the Florida Supreme Court.
The mob assault on the Dade County canvassing board came amid this angry Republican rhetoric. Bush's top recount adviser, James Baker, denounced the Supreme Court on Tuesday night and threatened to seek redress from the Republican-controlled Florida legislature.
Bush blasted the Supreme Court on Wednesday as the Miami mob action was in motion. Bush accused the court of using "the bench to change Florida's election laws and usurp the authority of Florida's election officials."
In lockstep with the Bush campaign's verbal assaults, Republicans in Miami unleashed the violent assault on the Dade County canvassing board. Rather than a state Supreme Court order "usurping" the authority of election officials, the Republicans opted for mob action.
The strong-arm tactics carried the day.
Bush now appears likely to ascend to the presidency not only as the first popular-vote loser to do so in more than a century, but as the first presidential candidate in modern U.S. history to benefit from a mob intimidating an election board, which then threw away thousands of ballots cast by American citizens.