Reno Vows Election Complaint Review

Thursday, November 9th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — Attorney General Janet Reno pledged Thursday to review any complaint brought to her in the decisive presidential ballot count in Florida but said so far she has no reason to ``jump in.''

``We are not here to generate controversy,'' Reno said at her weekly news conference. ``We are here to do what's right, to make sure the voice of the American people is heard, and that is basically a matter of state law.''

Reno did say her office has received numerous calls and letters in the wake of the stalemate in the presidential vote-counting.

``I'm going to try to do everything I can to move fairly, carefully, thoughtfully, and look to see whether there is any basis for federal action before I jump in,'' Reno said.

The Justice Department plays a substantial role in enforcing Americans' voting rights, often sending federal observers to election sites when given notice of potential problems. And the department's civil rights division plays a role whenever there are questions of possible racial bias in connection with balloting.

The agency also has primary responsibility for enforcing the Civil Rights Act of 1965, which was aimed particularly at several Southern states where voting-law violations were commonplace.

``I want to be very careful that we don't do anything that politicizes what is a very important moment in American history when we want to see to it that the voice of the American people is heard,'' Reno said.

She also said that among the complaints her office has heard is one from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People raising potential civil rights challenges to the conduct of balloting in Florida.

``We would have to look to see if there is a basis for a federal violation,'' she said. ``In the system we have, state law governs ... the form of the ballot. We should recognize the principle of federalism.''

Reno, herself a Florida native and former state's attorney, said she wants to be ``careful that we don't interject ourselves where it's not right.''

``I think that everybody recognizes that it's an important, vital time in this nation's history, and that we should do it right.''

Although Al Gore won the national popular vote, George W. Bush was ahead in the electoral votes that will determine the winner in Tuesday's election. Florida's 25 electoral votes will determine who becomes president and a recount is under way there.

Apart from the recount, which is mandatory under state law because of the close outcome, there are a variety of potential court challenges and complaints of voting irregularities.

Reno said that like many Americans she was riveted by the nightlong cliffhanger Tuesday.

``The first time I stayed up all night was 1948,'' another cliffhanger, when Harry Truman defeated Thomas Dewey. ``I was 10 years old,'' Reno continued. ``At 62, I didn't stay up all night, but I followed it through most of the evening.''