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Joint session of Congress expected to count electoral votes

Florida House members plan to object

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In the last official act of the 2000 presidential election process prior to the inauguration of George W. Bush, the House and Senate will meet in joint session Saturday afternoon to formally ratify last month's Electoral College vote.

Members of both chambers will meet in to sign off on the 'certificates of vote' submitted by all 50 states following the electors' December 18 vote. The certificates enumerate each state's electoral allocation for former Texas Gov. George W. Bush and his Democratic rival for the White House, current Vice President Al Gore.

Normally an obscure process, the Electoral College vote was thrust into the spotlight by this past year's protracted, post-presidential election legal wrangling.

Members of the Electoral College remained true to their party pledges when they gathered to vote in their state capitals last month following 36 days of near electoral chaos, as the presidential ballot tally in Florida was contested on a number of fronts.

On that day, 271 of the nation's 538 electors cast their votes for Bush, while Gore received 267 votes.

One District of Columbia elector left her ballot blank to protest Washington's lack of representation in the national legislature. Still, the District submitted all three of its votes for Gore when its certificate of vote was filled out.

Saturday's proceedings in the House, though symbolic, are almost certain to offer a fair amount of similarly symbolic drama.

For starters, this joint session of Congress will be presided over by Gore, who will be acting in his capacity as president of the Senate.

Gore won the November 7 popular vote by slightly more than 500,000 votes, but Bush amassed wins in a collection of states whose electoral allocations boosted him over the 270-vote margin required by the Constitution for a presidential victory.

The state that put Bush over the top was Florida, whose 25 votes were awarded on December 13 when the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that effectively ended ballot recounts in a number of Sunshine State counties.

Two Florida House members said Friday they planned to make an objection on the floor during Saturday's joint session, but that objection is unlikely to halt the process.

Rep. Peter Deutsch  

Democratic Reps. Peter Deutsch and Alcee Hastings said they would contest the procedure when the House and Senate meet at 1 p.m. EST on Saturday.

A spokeswoman for Deutsch, who was highly visible during the struggle over recounts, would rise to protest the lack of a quorum in the House. A "quorum" is defined as at least half the membership of a legislative body.

The chamber's Republican leaders did not tell their rank-and-file members that Saturday's session was mandatory, meaning a significant number of lawmakers might be out of town. Theoretically, if there is not a majority present, the affirmation of the certificates of vote cannot go forward, and would not be allowed to do so until itinerant members of the House flew back to Washington.

"The House would have to go into an immediate recess," said Deutsch spokeswoman Elizabeth Assey.

But there is a catch. In a joint session such as this one, a member of the Senate has to rise to support the House member's call for a quorum. If no member of the Senate rises, Deutsch's call can be ruled out of order, and the counting may proceed.

"There's more of a chance that we won't have a senator than we will," Assey said, adding, "But there is a lot of time between now and 1 o'clock tomorrow."

Assey said her office may have spoken with has many as 10 or 12 senators.

"The Republicans are trying to make this regular order, meaning just normal and routine business of the Congress," Deutsch said in a statement Friday. "But this is the final stage of the closest election in American history.

Rep. Alcee Hastings  

"Far too many bizarre things happened in Florida for this to be a regular and routine session of Congress. We need to show the Republicans in Congress that we do not consider this moment to be regular or routine at all."

Hastings, a former federal judge, said he would support Deutsch's move because of reports that African-American voters were mistreated in some areas of the state.

"It is our duty ... to publicly acknowledge our strong opposition to the acceptance of the presidential electors from Florida for Governor George W. Bush," he said.

"Beyond the court-sanctioned injustices that we experienced in Florida, let's face it: Vice President Al Gore won this election," Hastings continued. "The American people are looking to us not only for public outrage, but also for leadership. In this case, leadership calls for courage."

Other House Democratic lawmakers said to be on board with Deutsch are Corrine Brown and Carrie Meek of Florida; Eddie Bernice Johnson and Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas; Mel Watt of North Carolina; and Maxine Waters of California.


Friday, January 5, 2001



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