WMU News

Florida Secretary of State's decisions are rash

Nov. 16, 2000

KALAMAZOO -- When Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris last night (Nov. 15) denied the requests of three counties seeking to extend the certification deadline for Florida votes, she set herself up for a host of legal challenges, according to a Western Michigan University legal expert.

"Kathleen Harris seems to be a Heisman trophy winner in rushing to judgment in her areas of discretion," says Dr. Norman W. Hawker, an associate professor of finance and commercial law in WMU's Haworth College of Business. "Circuit Judge Terry Lewis ruled Tuesday that she may ignore the adjusted returns, but that she cannot do so in an arbitrary manner. Therefore, the burden rests with the Democrats to prove that Harris acted arbitrarily and capriciously. By making these snap judgments, however, she's gone a long way toward proving that she is indeed behaving arbitrarily."

According to Hawker, who teaches and has worked on election law cases, the judge's ruling that Harris may use her own discretion but may not do so arbitrarily is a fairly typical legal ruling. What is unusual, though, is that Harris has since required the counties to justify the manual tabulations and made her decision not to accept those results -- all before the outcome of the manual recounts is known.

"In order for her not to be arbitrary, in a legal sense, she must take into account all of the facts," Hawker contends. "One of the most crucial facts is whether the outcome of the manual count is significantly different from the automated count.

"To make a decision without that information is questionable, to say the least."

Hawker, a former assistant attorney general for Michigan, predicts that although the Florida election challenges have the potential to be dragged through the courts for months or even years, they are likely to be resolved within the next few weeks.

Media contact: Jessica English, 616 387-8400, jessica.english@wmich.edu

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