The Associated Press
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Republican vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney said yesterday that "it's time" for Al Gore to concede the White House to George W. Bush, while lawyers for the rival tickets argued in a Florida courtroom over Democratic demands for a recount of disputed ballots.
A voting machine expert called as a witness for Bush testified under cross-examination by a Democratic lawyer that hand recounts are adviseable "in very close elections."
While the legal side of the case was disputed in the Tallahassee trial, the political side was argued on the television talk shows yesterday.
"I hope it can be resolved in the next few days ..." Cheney said on NBC. "I think we're rapidly approaching the stage where there will be damage to the nation," Cheney said.
The second day of a trial that may determine the nation's 43rd president got off to a contentious start, with Democratic lawyers urging the judge to limit Republican Bush's arguments and conclude the proceedings as soon as possible.
After two hours of statistical testimony, the GOP lawyers called John Ahmann of Napa, Calif., who designed some of the voting machines used in the contested Florida balloting. After describing their operations under Republican questioning, Ahmann said in cross-examination that there should be hand recounts in very close elections.
He repeated that view to a final question from the trial judge. Ahmann said that when election clerks fail to take hanging chad - partially punched ballot holes - off the ballots, something voters are instructed to do, the counting machine may not register an intended vote.
"You need either reinspection or manual recounts where you have that situation, yes, you do, where you have a very close election," said the lanky Ahmann, now a Napa rancher.
The court day began with two hours of statistical testimony that led to one lawyers' flareup.
Bush lawyer Phil Beck accused Gore's attorney of "grandstanding" when David Boies cross-examined the expert witness retained by the GOP. Boies tried to ask him about expert testimony in a lead-based paint case; Beck said it was an attempt to score political points by identifying the statistician with an unpopular cause.
"Your honor, I am not grandstanding," Boies said. But Beck's objection was upheld and he had to drop the question.
Republican attorneys said they had seven potential witnesses, and would decide over lunch how many to call.
"Discuss it over lunch? We want to try to complete your case this morning if we can," said Leon County Circuit Judge N. Sanders Sauls.
But that didn't happen. He took a half hour lunch recess shortly before 1 p.m. EST.
As for the candidates, Bush stayed on his Texas ranch, while Gore attended church in Washington, attending a sermon aptly titled, "A Time of Waiting."
Cheney, asked if Gore was a poor loser, said he sympathized with Gore's position, but urged him to bow out. "I do think that it's time for him to concede," Cheney said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "So far he's chosen not to do that, to pursue other avenues, and clearly that's his prerogative. But clearly, long-term, history would regard him in a better light if he were to bring this to a close in the near future."
Democrats, however, rallied behind their vice president.
Former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, appearing on "Fox News Sunday" said, "Gore is getting stronger every day" and his lead in the national popular vote keeps expanding. "Our country is built on the principle that the ultimate authority is the court," he said.
Appearing on NBC, Florida House Speaker Tom Feeney said the state Legislature was prepared to intervene in the contested election by calling a special session to appoint its own slate of 25 electors - though Senate leaders have said no decision has been made.
"State legislatures must be prepared to be involved," said Feeney, a Republican Bush ally. A special session could come as soon as this week.
Cheney said the GOP campaign does not control the Florida Legislature, but added: "They do have constitutional obligations and responsibilities that I think speaker Feeney articulated very clearly."
In court, statistician Laurentius Marais of Novato, Ca., taking he stand for Bush, called a "false premise" the Gore sides' claim that they could project from 20 percent of Miami-Dade County's precincts that the vice president would gain 600 votes among 9,000 ballots that weren't counted by hand. Marais said the theory isn't valid because the recounted sample precincts were heavily Democratic, not typical of the rest.
Even as the Florida hearing continued, both candidates awaited a U.S. Supreme Court decision that could determine the fate of earlier recounts that narrowed Bush's lead to 537 votes. All nine Supreme Court justices were at work Saturday, a day after hearing arguments in the case.
Amid the legal wrangling, Bush met at his Texas ranch Saturday with House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott to discuss priorities for the new Congress.