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Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Urges Courts to Prepare for Post-Election Litigation

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Miami Herald
Former Florida Supreme Court Justice warns the courts could decide the 2020 Election

The retired Florida Supreme Court chief justice Charles Wells is urging Floridians to vote in next month’s elections. In a recent email to friends, Wells—who presided over the Florida recount between George W. Bush and Al Gore some 20 years ago—wrote that President Trump’s threat not to accept the outcome of the election is a grave and real threat to democracy.

Wells, who retired in 2009, was appointed to the state’s Supreme Court by Democratic governor Lawton Chiles. He dissented from the Florida Supreme Court majority that favored a recount, which eventually helped Bush secure victory.

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Justice Wells explained his views on the Florida Roundup to hosts Melissa Ross and Tom Hudson. Here’s an excerpt from the conversation.

Melissa Ross: You now are speaking out because you say you believe the president is a grave threat to democracy—because he has said he will not accept a peaceful transfer of power should he lose the election. You are also urging Florida residents, including Republicans, to vote for Joe Biden since Florida is a swing state and it could play a decisive role. I want to ask you: What's your response to Republicans listening right now who might disagree with you?

CHARLES WELLS: My response is that it is necessary for people to have confidence in the election. We have had no fraud in Florida. In fact, I wrote in my opinion in the 2000 election that we had no fraud. There were mistakes that were made by reason of the laws in existence at that time, which have now been changed. But the fact is, we have to have confidence in our vote.

And I feel like that it is contrary to having that confidence for the president, to be saying that there is fraud in our elections. There is not. Or that the election will be rigged—it will not be rigged. And Florida is an important state. People need to get out and vote and they need to vote early so that the votes will be counted and Florida will have its voice heard in the Electoral College.

Ross: You mentioned electors, judge. What are your concerns about a contested election here in Florida? If we were to see a very close result here, just as we did in 2000, and there might be a push among some Republicans in the state to call for a new slate of electors to certify the results for the president, the president has made indications he might ask states to do that—and that it could go once again to the Supreme Court, as in 2000, in 2020.

WELLS: There is a date in the federal election law that pertains to the Electoral College that would end all controversies in contest about Florida's vote. That date is December the 8th. And I believe our leaders need to be prepared to get that count to have any disagreements resolved by that December the 8th deadline. If it's not, then it goes over to Congress and the Congress on January the 6th would open the ballot.

If there's a disagreement and the House and Senate do not agree, then it would default to the governor.

That law has never been tested. And so there would be a chance that we would not have a president on January 20th. That is not an acceptable result.

I believe that everyone needs to understand the law and be prepared so that we will have a result that can be depended upon, in accordance with the law, and that we do not have further litigation. I think further litigation is detrimental to the future of this country as to the election of the president that would come into existence on January the 20th, 2021.

Tom Hudson: The president, even in the debate this week with former Vice President Biden, spoke about allegations, unproven allegations of fraud. Are you satisfied that local election officials here in Florida today—as vote-by-mail ballots are out, early voting is to begin in a few weeks—are doing enough to to reinforce the validity of the election?

WELLS: The most I can say is I have not heard from local officials negative comments.

I think that it really comes down to the leadership across the state to make sure that people understand that everything has been done. And I think those comments need to be done on a recurring basis by the county supervisors of election to make sure that this election is going to be efficiently run.

But I have no reason to doubt that that's happening right now.

Hudson: Justice Wells, part of your decision in 2000, you spoke about the calendar and the tight timeframe. Are courts equipped today to resolve any election dispute quickly?

WELLS: I know that the Florida Supreme Court has worked diligently to prepare for that. And I have written an article and tried to communicate broadly to the courts across the country that they need to be prepared for this very tight, short timeframe.

It is a short timeframe in which to resolve any contest and get within a safe harbor provision intended by each state. That, as I've said, is December the 8th.

I urge all courts to understand and to prepare for a very short timeframe.

Denise Royal produces The Florida Roundup. Her broadcast experience includes writing and producing for NBC’s The Today Show, Weekend Today, Weekend Nightly News, and MSNBC. She also worked as a Writer/Producer for ABC News and Nightly Business Report on PBS.