234 F.3d 1133 (11th Cir. 2000), 00-15985, Touchston v McDermott

Docket Nº:00-15985.
Citation:234 F.3d 1133
Party Name:Robert C. TOUCHSTON, Deborah Shepperd, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Michael McDERMOTT, in his official capacity as a member of the County Canvassing Board of Volusia County, Ann McFall, in her official capacity as a member of the County Canvassing Board of Volusia County, et al., Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:December 06, 2000
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

Page 1133

234 F.3d 1133 (11th Cir. 2000)

Robert C. TOUCHSTON, Deborah Shepperd, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants,


Michael McDERMOTT, in his official capacity as a member of the County Canvassing Board of Volusia County, Ann McFall, in her official capacity as a member of the County Canvassing Board of Volusia County, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

No. 00-15985.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

December 6, 2000

December 18, 2000

Page 1134

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida (No. 00-01510-CV-ORL-28C); John Antoon, II, Judge.



The district court's denial of a preliminary injunction is affirmed for the reasons set forth in Siegel v. Lepore, --- F.3d ---- (11th Cir.2000).


TJOFLAT, Circuit Judge, dissenting, in which BIRCH and DUBINA, Circuit Judges, join, and in which CARNES, Circuit Judge, joins as to Part V:

Following the November 7, 2000 general election, the Florida Supreme Court handed down a decision in Palm Beach County Canvassing Bd. v. Harris, --- So.2d ---- (Fla.), vacated by Bush v. Palm Beach County Canvassing Bd., --- U.S. ----, 121 S.Ct. 471, --- L.Ed.2d ---- (2000), that changed the standards for counting votes and certifying vote totals in the race for President and Vice President of the United States. Specifically, the supreme court gave its imprimatur to a scheme under which a political party could obtain a manual recount of votes in select counties. By changing the "rules of the game" after it was played, the supreme court debased the votes of thousands of Florida voters and denied them the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.

In this case, brought by voters of Brevard County, Florida, a United States district judge refused to enter a preliminary injunction enjoining the manual counting of votes in four counties selected by the Florida Democratic Party. The voters appealed. Now, three weeks later, this court affirms the district judge's ruling.

Plaintiffs may return to the district court tomorrow and ask for a ruling on the merits of their claims. If they do so and the district court rules, which is likely given the obvious need for immediate and decisive action, the case will return to this court and the decision that some are reluctant to make today will have to be made.

I dissent because, in my view, plaintiffs have established a case of serious constitutional deprivation. Contrary to the majority's view that the record needs further factual development, the pertinent facts are well known and uncontested. "We cannot as judges be ignorant of that which is common knowledge to all men." Sherrer v. Sherrer, 334 U.S. 343, 366, 68 S.Ct. 1097, 1102, 92 L.Ed. 1429 (1948). The "man on the street" is well aware of the mischief the Florida Supreme Court's Harris decision has wrought. As I explain below, further proceedings in the district court are unnecessary. Plaintiffs' constitutional injuries are real; they increase in magnitude daily. We should delay no further.

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The outcome of the national presidential election, conducted November 7, 2000, turns upon the results in Florida, for neither the Republican ticket of Governor George W. Bush and his running-mate Secretary Dick Cheney nor the Democratic ticket of Vice President Al Gore and his running-mate Senator Joseph Lieberman has enough electoral votes to win the election without the twenty-five electoral votes from Florida.1 The outcome of the Florida election has been hotly contested because the results are so close.

The initial count of the November 7 vote, as reported by the Division of Elections of the State of Florida, revealed that the votes for the Republican ticket totaled 2,909,135 and that the votes for the Democratic ticket totaled 2,907,351.2 Other candidates on the presidential ballot received a combined total of 133,583 votes. The margin of difference between the Republican and Democratic tickets was 1784 votes, or 0.0299% of the total votes cast in Florida.

Florida law requires an automatic recount in all races where, as here, the final differential between two candidates is 0.5% or less. Fla. Stat. § 102.141(4). This recount was conducted in all 67 Florida counties beginning on November 8, 2000; certifications to the Department of State were completed by November 14.3 The results of this automatic recount altered the margin between the Republican ticket and the Democratic ticket. The difference between the parties after the automatic recount (but still before the overseas absentee votes were counted) was a mere 300 votes; the Republican ticket received 2,910,492 votes and the Democratic ticket received 2,910,192 votes.

On November 18, the overseas absentee ballots were counted and certified to the Department of State by the counties. The inclusion of these ballots increased the lead for the Republican ticket to 930 votes.4 Finally, following an order by the Florida Supreme Court on November 21,5 all manual recounts that were completed and submitted to the Elections Canvassing

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Commission6 by 5:00 P.M. on November 26 were added to final vote totals. The evening of November 26, the Elections Canvassing Commission certified the vote total of Florida in the presidential race. That certification stated that Governor Bush received 2,912,790 votes and Vice President Gore received 2,912,253 votes-a difference of 537 votes.7


The Florida statutory election system contemplates mixed control between local and state officials. The Secretary of State is the chief election officer of the state, Fla. Stat. § 97.012(1), but the actual conducting of elections takes place in each of the various counties of Florida under the auspices of the county supervisor of elections.8 County canvassing boards are responsible for counting the votes given to each candidate, Fla. Stat. § 102.141, and they may, sua sponte, order mechanical recounts "[i]f there is a discrepancy which could affect the outcome of an election." Fla. Stat. § 102.166(3)(c). After the county canvassing board certifies the votes, the county results in any race involving a state or federal office are forwarded to the Department of State.9 Fla. Stat. § 102.111(1); Fla. Stat. § 102.112. After all the counties have certified election returns to the Department of State, the Elections Canvassing Commission has the power to "certify the returns of the election and determine and declare who has been elected for each office." Fla. Stat. § 102.111(1).

Florida Statute section 102.166(4)(a)-(b) authorizes a candidate or his political party-but not a voter-to request a county canvassing board to conduct a "manual recount," provided that the request is made "prior to the time the canvassing board certifies the [election] results ... or within 72 hours after midnight of the date the election was held, whichever occurs later." When presented with a manual recount request, the canvassing board has

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unrestricted discretion to grant or deny a sample manual recount of three precincts. Fla. Stat. § 102.166(4)(c)-(d); see Broward County Canvassing Bd. v. Hogan, 607 So.2d 508, 510 (Fla. 4th DCA 1992) ("The statute clearly leaves the decision whether or not to hold a manual recount of the votes as a matter to be decided within the discretion of the canvassing board."). If the board so authorizes, the candidate chooses the three precincts to sample. Then:

If the manual recount [of the three precincts] indicates an error in the vote tabulation which could affect the outcome of the election, the county canvassing board shall:

(a) Correct the error and recount the remaining precincts with the vote tabulation system;

(b) Request the Department of State to verify the tabulation software; or

(c) Manually recount all ballots.

Fla. Stat. § 102.166(5).


Unsatisfied with the results of the initial vote count, the Florida Democratic Party, pursuant to Fla. Stat. § 102.166(4)(a), requested manual recounts in four selected counties: Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, and Volusia. These requests were made on November 9. Voter registration in these four counties is heavily Democratic, and the Democratic ticket carried them by a substantial margin in both the initial vote counts and automatic recounts. No candidate or political party requested manual recounts of the presidential race in any of the other sixty-three counties. The decisions of the county canvassing boards to conduct full manual recounts in the four counties requested by candidate or political parties pursuant give rise to this lawsuit and other litigation concerning the Presidential election in Florida.



On November 13, 2000, Robert C. Touchston, Deborah Shepperd, and Diana L. Touchston commenced this action by filing a verified complaint and moving for a preliminary injunction in the District Court for the Middle District of Florida. Plaintiffs are registered voters in Brevard County, Florida, who voted in the general election on November 7; they attempted to cast their ballots for the Republican ticket of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney for President and Vice- President of the United States.10 Plaintiffs sued the Florida Secretary of State, members of the Elections Canvassing Commission, and the county canvassing boards of Volusia, Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade Counties.11

Plaintiffs brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming violations of the Fourteenth Amendment. Section 1983 provides a remedy for the deprivation of rights "secured by the Constitution and laws" of the United States by persons acting under color of state law. In their complaint, plaintiffs allege that the manual recounting of ballots in some counties but not others unconstitutionally debases the votes...

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