Siegel v. LePore, No. 00-15981

Decision Date06 December 2000
Docket NumberDocket No. 00-9009,No. 00-15981
Parties(11th Cir. 2000) NED L. SIEGEL, GEORGETTE SOSA DOUGLAS, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. THERESA LEPORE, CHARLES E. BURTON, et al., Defendants-Appellees. D. C
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit

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234 F.3d 1163 (11th Cir. 2000)
NED L. SIEGEL, GEORGETTE SOSA DOUGLAS, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants,
THERESA LEPORE, CHARLES E. BURTON, et al., Defendants-Appellees.
No. 00-15981
D. C. Docket No. 00-9009
December 6, 2000
December 18, 2000

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Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida



This is an appeal from the denial of a preliminary injunction.

The Republican candidates for the offices of President and Vice President of the United States, along with several registered Florida voters, filed suit in federal court in Miami, seeking to enjoin four Florida counties from conducting manual recounts of ballots cast for President of the United States in the November 7, 2000, election. The district court denied Plaintiffs' request for preliminary injunctive relief, and Plaintiffs appeal. For the reasons stated below, we affirm.


On November 7, 2000, Florida voters cast ballots for several offices, including votes for the twenty-five electors for President and Vice-President of the United States. The following day, the Division of Elections for the State of Florida reported that the Republican Party presidential ticket received 2,909,135 votes, and the Democratic Party presidential ticket received 2,907,351 votes, for a margin of difference of 1,784, or 0.0299% of the total Florida vote.

Under Florida law, county canvassing boards are responsible for determining the number of votes cast for each candidate. See Fla. Stat. § 102.141. If a candidate for office is defeated by one-half of one percent or less of the votes cast for such office, the canvassing board must order a recount. See id. § 102.141(4). Pursuant to this statute, because the Presidential vote returns reflected that the Democratic ticket was defeated by less than one-half of one percent, the canvassing boards conducted automatic recounts of the votes. After the automatic recounts, the Republican ticket retained the majority of votes, although by a slimmer margin.

Under Florida law, a manual recount may be requested by any candidate whose name appeared on the ballot, a political committee that supports or opposes an issue that appeared on the ballot, or a political party whose candidates' names appeared on the ballot. See Fla. Stat. § 102.166(4)(a). Such a request must be filed with the canvassing board within 72 hours after midnight of the date the election was held, or before the canvassing board has certified the challenged results, whichever is later. See id. § 102.166(4)(b). The canvassing board may, but is not required to, grant the request. See id. § 102.166(4)(c); Broward County Canvassing Bd. v. Hogan, 607 So. 2d 508, 510 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 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."). The statutory manual recount provision applies to all Florida counties. Therefore, the procedure for requesting a manual recount is the same in all counties, although the decision of whether to conduct a manual recount would, of course, be made separately by each county's canvassing board.

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Once authorized by a county canvassing board, a manual recount must include "at least three precincts and at least 1 percent of the total votes cast for such candidate." Id. § 102.166(4)(d). The person requesting the recount chooses three precincts to be recounted, and, if other precincts are recounted, the canvassing board chooses the additional precincts. See id. If the results of the manual recount indicate "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." Id. § 102.166(5).

Florida law specifies the procedures for a manual recount. Section 102.166(7) of the Florida Statutes provides that:

(a) The county canvassing board shall appoint as many counting teams of at least two electors as is necessary to manually recount the ballots. A counting team must have, when possible, members of at least two political parties. A candidate involved in the race shall not be a member of the counting team.

(b) If a counting team is unable to determine a voter's intent in casting a ballot, the ballot shall be presented to the county canvassing board for it to determine the voter's intent.

In this case, the Florida Democratic Party filed requests for manual recounts in Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, and Volusia Counties on November 9, 2000, within the 72-hour statutory deadline. The stated reasons for the requests included the closeness of the statewide race and a concern that the vote totals might not reflect the true will of Florida voters. The apparent practical effect of a manual recount is that some ballots which were unreadable by machine due, for example, to voters' failure to mark or punch the ballots in a machine-legible fashion, might be read by human counters; and these votes could be added to the totals for each candidate.


On November 11, 2000, registered voters Ned L. Siegel from Palm Beach County, Georgette Sosa Douglas from Broward County, Gonzalo Dorta from Miami-Dade County, Carretta King Butler from Volusia County, Dalton Bray from Clay County, James S. Higgins from Martin County, and Roger D. Coverly from Seminole County, along with the Republican candidates for President and Vice-President, George W. Bush and Richard Cheney (collectively "Plaintiffs"), filed a Complaint and a Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction in the district court for the Southern District of Florida. Plaintiffs sued members of the county canvassing boards of Volusia, Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade Counties. 1 Plaintiffs' Complaint alleged that the manual recounts violate the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantees of due process and equal protection, and deny and burden the First Amendment's protection of votes and political speech.

Plaintiffs' prayer for relief in their Complaint included the following:

(a) Declaring that Defendants may not subject any vote totals to manual recounts;

(b) In the alternative, declaring that Florida Statute § 102.166(4) is unconstitutional to the extent it does not limit the discretion of Defendants to conduct manual recounts in this case;

(c) Declaring that Defendants should certify and release forthwith all vote

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totals that have been the subject of two vote counts since November 7, 2000;

(d) Declaring that the form of ballot used in Palm Beach County was valid;

(e) Declaring that any ballot punched or marked for two Presidential candidates not previously counted cannot now be counted;

(f) Consolidating or removing to this Court any and all actions filed across the State of Florida purporting to challenge the results of the November 7 statewide election or otherwise delay the certification and release of those results; and

(g) Granting such other and further relief as this Court shall deem just and proper.

(Complaint at 16-17.)

The Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction which Plaintiffs filed with their Complaint asked, inter alia, that the district court prohibit the county canvassing boards from proceeding with manual recounts of the November 7th election results. Like the Complaint, this motion contended that the manual recounts violate the First Amendment and the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The district court heard oral argument on the motion on November 13, 2000, and Plaintiffs' request for a preliminary injunction was denied. On November 14, 2000, Plaintiffs filed a notice of appeal.2

During the pendency of this appeal, several Florida cases were appealed to the Florida Supreme Court. In these cases, some plaintiffs challenged Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris's decision to refuse to accept the results of manual recounts submitted by county canvassing boards after the statutory deadline of 5:00 p.m. on November 14, 2000. On November 21, 2000, in the consolidated cases of Palm Beach County Canvassing Bd. v. Harris, Volusia County Canvassing Bd. v. Harris, and Florida Democratic Party v. Harris, the Supreme Court of Florida decided that Florida Secretary of State Harris must accept the late-reported results of manual recounts from these counties submitted by the evening of November 26, 2000. The Florida Supreme Court expressly stated that neither party had raised as an issue on appeal the constitutionality of Florida's election laws, and it did not address federal constitutional issues in its opinion.3

On appeal, Plaintiffs filed an Emergency Motion for an Injunction Pending Appeal, asking this Court to prohibit the county canvassing board Defendants from proceeding with manual ballot recounts. This motion was denied without prejudice on November 17, 2000. Among other things, we then said:

Both the Constitution of the United States and 3 U.S.C. § 5 indicate that states have the primary authority to determine the manner of appointing Presidential Electors and to resolve most controversies concerning the appointment of Electors. The case law is to the same effect, although, of course, federal courts may act to preserve and decide claims of violations of the Constitution of the United States in certain circumstances, especially where a state remedy is inadequate. In this case, the State of...

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