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Why the FL SC was right in overturning Sec. Harris

In this article, I argue that the Florida Supreme Court was correct in ruling that a hand recount should happen. The alternative, letting the 7-day limit stand, implies that the Florida Secretary of State should have kingmaking powers, a power that is not likely to be in job description of this position.
The Florida Supreme Court (FLSC) was faced with a difficult decision -- the conflict between the "recount" law and the "7 day" law. In fact, if they had not intervened, then no matter what Secretary Harris had done, somebody could have claimed that the laws were changed after the election.

Let's consider the grounds by which one may consider how to rectify these seemingly contradictory laws.

First, a minor point: is the need to complete a hand recount a valid reason for extending the 7 day deadline. Clearly, completing a hand recount within 7 days is impossible, especially considering that it took about 5 days to get to the point where a hand recount could even start. Hence, the fact that it was not explicitily listed as a reason NOT to suspend the deadline suggests that the FL Leg implicitily considered it to be a valid reason. For if they had not, then the hand recount provision would be absurd.

Given that allowing a hand recount is reason to suspend the 7 day deadline, then it is either a mandatory reason (the 7 day law is trumped by the hand recount law), or it is up to the discretion of the Fl Sec State. Let's consider the latter.

If it's up to the discretion of Fl Sec State, then she can choose to enforce or suspend the deadline at whim, This gives her kingmaker power (in rare circumstances). In particular, she can choose whether to suspend the deadline based on partisan considerations -- will it help or hurt my candidate.

This is quite a power, and one that is almost certainly not stated in the description of the rights and responsibilities of the Fl Sec State.

Now ask the question: did the Fl Leg intend to give this power to the Sec State?

If the former, then how to explain the manner that this power is granted -- as a indirect effect of the juxtaposition of two laws, an effect that flies counter to the weight of precedent -- a precedent that says "when in doubt, count the votes carefully". Wouldn't such a granting of power, involving an overruling of precedent, require an explicit action on the part of the Fl Leg?

In contrast, consider the alternative: the Fl leg neglected to specify this situation, but assumed that precedent would hold. Again, the precedent was clear, and one must assume that the Fl leg was sufficiently aware of it to understand it's power.

So the question is: did the Fl leg intend to implicitily grant kingmaking power to the Sec of State, or did they assume that precedent would hold in cases where the two laws may conflict. The latter seems more likely, which is essentially what the FL SC found.

Therefore, no laws were overturned.

First written in November 2000. Minor editing, March 2004.