SARASOTA, Fla. -- Former Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris knows all about an election recount.
Throwback to the year 2000: Harris was at the center of the controversial presidential election between then-candidates George W. Bush and Al Gore.
Fast-forward 18 years later, and Florida again is under the national spotlight for three major recounts. Votes are being recounted in the state's governor, agriculture and U.S. Senate races.
“It feels like it were yesterday,” Harris said.
In addition to being secretary of state at the time, she also co-chaired Bush's election campaign in Florida. He went on to become the nation's 43rd president with a 537-vote win in the Sunshine State.
In a Thursday night news conference, Gov. Rick Scott, who holds a narrow lead over Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, railed against election officials in Broward and Palm Beach counties. Votes there still were being counted, and his lead shrinking.
Although the Florida recount of 2018 is different from the 2000 election -- namely, everyone wanted to know which way Florida swung to decide a president-elect -- there is one similarity.
“It does zero in on some of the issues that we’ve had with Palm Beach and Broward counties," Harris said. "One thing that people aren’t familiar with is the Supervisor of Elections office is a constitutional office -- [a candidate is] elected.
"They get to design own ballots. Some issues we can see come forward same issues also seen in 2000 like butterfly ballots and other issues.”
Harris says following the law is a secretary of state's only option.
“When I was secretary of state, my only safe harbor was to follow the law as it was written. We even hired Democratic constitutional lawyers to come in make sure we got it right," Harris said. "My only council to those in office in Broward and Palm Beach is to follow the law exactly as it’s written not the way they wish they were. … We do have election laws that are sufficient to see this through.
"People have to be patient with the process. But those who are elected are expected to have courage and integrity and must follow the law.”
Is it a surprise that two of the counties that had problems in 2000 are having problems again with this election?
“The supervisors of elections have complete control over their ballots, how they are laid out to each local election, " Harris said. "So it’s unfortunate it’s the same two counties.”
As the rest of the country says "Florida, Florida, Florida," much as it did back then, Harris is confident in how the process is playing out to determine winners.
“I would say our laws are sufficient to handle this," Harris said. "They’ll just have to be patient in the process. … It’s not a crisis of the constitution it’s a close race, we have those in Florida.”
Looking at 2000 to now, Harris alluded to a more efficient recounting this time around.
"One of the parts of this election that I’m most pleased with is that we are having a statewide election recount," Harris said. " When I was secretary of state just after the vote came in, I had to petition the Florida Supreme Court for a statewide recount and they refused consequently we got turned into this crazy time frame that went on for weeks.
"Now that we’re being counted on the same bases across all 67 counties, it's really critical so we can get the results much more quickly.”
Harris says she relied on the law in 2000. She says: “My only safe harbor as secretary of state was to follow the letter of the law and not politicize. Sometimes we get concerned about all the media hype and political hype on the other side.
"It’s so disconcerting for our nation, it hurts our soul. I’m hoping the results will be reported correctly.”
Does Florida need to make changes to its election laws so this does not happen again? Perhaps not, Harris thinks.
“This is a close race, races will be close in Florida," Harris said. "There aren’t laws that can change that. After election 2000, we were the model state for election reform. I don’t think it’s our laws that need to be addressed they have been overhauled many times afterwards. ... I'm confident we will see this through.
"Should there be those who choose not to follow the law, that should be addressed swiftly."
As long as the rules are written are as followed, Harris said, “Florida voters should be confident in the final say as long as the rules have been followed.”
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