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Susan Candiotti on the fallout in Tallahassee

Candiotti
CNN Correspondent Susan Candiotti  

The ball may currently be in the U.S. Supreme Court, but the Florida Supreme Court is still in the game. CNN Correspondent Susan Candiotti is on the scene in Tallahassee.

Q: Is any action expected on Sunday from the Florida Supreme Court?

CANDIOTTI: We are waiting to see whether the court will be ready with the clarification of its earlier ruling that extended the deadline to conduct those manual recounts. Florida Supreme Court spokesman Craig Waters says the justices have given no hint as to when they will issue the clarification requested by the U.S. Supreme Court. He says he does not expect the justices to be working at the court today.

Meantime, it's very quiet in the Florida capital this day after the manual count of those 9,000 undervotes from Miami-Dade County was abruptly stopped. Everything is in a holding pattern. It's a very foggy and misty day here in Tallahassee. It's creating a mysterious atmosphere.

Q: Was there any reaction from the Florida Supreme Court justices after the U.S. Supreme Court on Saturday ordered a stay on the counting of the undervotes?

CANDIOTTI: On Saturday, when Waters called (Florida) Chief Justice Charles Wells to inform him of the U.S. Supreme Court's stay, Judge Wells said: "I'll be right down." Wells then came into the Florida Supreme Court building and read the document himself. Waters declined to say whether Wells had any reaction. Wells had been among the dissenters in Friday's stunning reversal of the lower court ruling -- a reversal that allowed the recounts to begin Saturday.

Q: How did the nine Leon County judges who were conducting the manual counts of the undervotes from Miami-Dade County in the Leon County public library in Tallahassee find out about the U.S. Supreme Court stay?

CANDIOTTI: It was just before 3:00 in the afternoon and a county employee that had been at the library saw a news report on CNN and went in to inform a public information officer for the Leon County courts. That official notified a judge involved in the process, who in turn called the judge overseeing the count, Judge Terry Lewis. At that point, the judges who were counting got on the Internet to read the order and stopped work for the day. The 9,000 ballots that had been brought to the library were boxed back up into two sealed boxes. The ballots already counted were segregated from the rest, and then all the ballots were returned to a vault in the Leon County Courthouse by a sheriff's deputy. It was estimated they would need only five more hours to complete their work.

Q: Was there any indication from the judges about the difficulties of discerning the intent of voters on the ballots that registered as undervotes?

CANDIOTTI: The way the procedure was set up, the nine judges were doing the counting in teams. Five boxes were set up: One for Gore, one for Bush, one for other candidates, one for ballots that showed no votes and one for disputed ballots. The disputes were to be resolved by Judge Terry Lewis. Thousands of ballots were in the no-vote box, we were told by court officials. Ion Sancho, the Leon County supervisor of elections, defended the standards used by the judges. He said, "The standard is very clear. I know it's almost like magic to people not in the elections field, but the standard is not that hard to discern, and the judges had no difficulty in applying their own judgment and arriving at decisions."

Q: It seems the divisions in Florida on this issue are deep and bitter.

CANDIOTTI: The divisions that exist here are duplicated throughout the country. If you are a supporter of Vice President Gore you're willing to see the process through to the end. Those who support Gov. Bush say enough is enough: The ballots have been counted, let's end the process.


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Sunday, December 10, 2000

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