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Special Event

Election 2000: The Florida Recount

Aired November 9, 2000 - 8:00 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight: the Florida recount. George W. Bush clings to a lead, but the Gore campaign shows no signs of accepting defeat.

JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: Among the complaints from Democrats, votes left uncounted, they say, because the ballot itself caused voter confusion.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM DALEY, GORE CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: A party official of either party doesn't have the right to disenfranchise thousands and thousands of voters in a county in Florida.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES BAKER, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: It's a ballot that's been used before. It was approved by an elected Democratic official, and there were no complaints.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHEN: The Gore team looks to the courts with talk of lawsuits and potential delays. The Bush team counters with options of its own, including a second look at states currently in the Gore column.

BLITZER: The latest numbers from all across Florida and the next steps to electing the next president straight ahead on this special edition of THE WORLD TODAY.

Good evening. I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting tonight live from outside the state capitol in Tallahassee.

CHEN: And I'm Joie Chen at CNN Center in Atlanta. Florida recounts trickle in throughout this day, but even with those new results, the bottom line, even at this hour, is it could be days from now, maybe even longer, before we know who won the White House.

BLITZER: With 65 of the state's 67 counties now reporting, the Associated Press is estimating that the official state count is high. They're saying their unofficial estimate is that George W. Bush has the smallest of leads. According to the Associated Press, just 225 votes ahead of Al Gore out of almost 6 million votes cast.

But the story does not end there. As the recount continues, the Gore campaign today asked for a second recount, this one by hand in four specific counties of the state of Florida.

For the latest on the recount, we go to a man who has been covering the story since Tuesday, CNN's Mike Boettcher. He joins me now live here in Tallahassee.

Mike, this has really been an incredible story and you've been in the scene since day one. What is going on?

MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm still trying to figure that out, Wolf. I mean, it is crazy. When we first got here, we thought we'd be out of here in a couple of days. But now it looks like this could continue on for several days. We thought it would be quick, but now we know it's not going to be.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BOETTCHER (voice-over): Resolution. Closure. To Election 2000, it's still out of reach for Florida and thus the rest of the nation. The recount continues, coordinated from the bureaucratically bland 18th floor office of Florida's Division of Elections.

KATHERINE HARRIS, FLORIDA SECRETARY OF STATE: As of 5:00 p.m., today, the unofficial certified results of the recount are as follows: Governor George W. Bush, 2,909,661; Vice President Al Gore, 2,907,877. A difference of 1,784 votes.

BOETTCHER: However, an unofficial count tabulated by the Associate Press, which includes recount total of several more counties than the Florida government tally, shows the margin between Governor Bush and Vice President Gore hovering between 3 and 400 votes.

One member of the state election board that must eventually certify the election urged patience.

ROBERT CRAWFORD, FLORIDA AGRICULTURAL COMMISSIONER: Nobody ever said that democracy was simple or efficient. But this is democracy in action.

BOETTCHER: The Gore campaign however, was pursuing their own strategy of action, attacking what they consider to be irregularities in the Florida vote.

What I've learned has left us deeply troubled. Most notably it appears more than 20,000 vote in Palm Beach County, who in all likelihood thought they were voting for Gore, had their votes counted for Pat Buchanan or not counted at all.

BOETTCHER: The Democrats' charge was rejected by former Secretary of State James Baker, who Governor Bush has sent to Florida to keep an eye on the recount process.

BAKER: There's not a jurisdiction in this democracy of ours that does not discard ballots where a voter votes twice for two different candidates for the same office. That's what happens in our democracy. If that's what happened here, I don't see how you can count those ballots.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BOETTCHER: Frankly, the process of the state of Florida will not end for another eight days, a week from tomorrow. That's when the absentee ballots will be counted. The ballots that were count were sent in from overseas. They can be counted by Florida law for 10 days after the election, and because this is so close, we're not going to know until then, Wolf. It's going to be -- it's just down the to the wire.

BLITZER: And there's no way of knowing how many of those absentee ballots actually were put forward, is there, Mike?

BOETTCHER: You know, I've been trying to find out that figure. It's a very difficult figure to get. There are figures out there, but the people in the state say we don't know exactly because they're sent out from the counties to the, say, military personnel overseas. So they really do not know how many are out there. They can go by historical precedent, and four years ago they had 2300 returned after the election. That's what you can go by, right now.

BLITZER: Now explain to our viewers why the Associated Press number is so much smaller than official state estimate, which we heard at a news conference here in Tallahassee about an hour or so ago of about 1,700 the vote differential between Bush and Gore.

BOETTCHER: I've been living the nightmare of the two vote tallies all day long. This is what's going on. This is bureaucratic process upstairs, basically adding up the figures. They can only add up what's sent to them. The Associated Press, which is keeping the other figures, can go to the counties and collect their own figures. They can go out there and do that. And so we have an Associated Press figure that has many more counties in it than the state figure. And so there's a discrepancy. If every figure we're getting from both sides is correct, in the end, maybe by tomorrow, we'll have figures that match from both the Associated Press and the state. That's what's going on.

BLITZER: All right, Mike Boettcher, I know you've been on top of this story. You'll be on top for several more days.

And joining me now is the speaker of the House of Representatives here in Florida, John Thrasher. You've been obviously deeply involved in all of this as well.

Do you have any reason to believe, and you are a Republican, that the Associated Press estimate of under 300 votes the differential based on what they say 65 of the 67 counties of Florida is inaccurate?

JOHN THRASHER (R), FLORIDA HOUSE SPEAKER: Well, we don't know for sure until they're certified to the secretary of state. And that's what the secretary of state's being very cautious about in terms of looking at those numbers and making sure the actual numbers are certified by the local supervisors of elections, who are elected officials in their county. So until we get those numbers in from them, I think it's premature to say what the vote is.

BLITZER: And the Florida secretary of state, in citing the 1,700 vote differential, she said that they've only received the estimates, the numbers from 53 of the 67 counties.

THRASHER: What we're doing and what the press doing is doing is doing the same thing they did on Tuesday night, they're speculating as to what numbers are. Until we get those numbers from the secretary of state and they're certified, we don't know. But clearly George Bush is still ahead. And I believe he's going to continue to be ahead and we all fell very comfortable about that.

BLITZER: Either by 300 or 1,700, but we have to count those numbers. Let me ask you about those absentee ballots. It's such a close race, the state of Florida and you're the speaking of the House of Representatives, I take it will not be able to certify that this election in Florida is over with until all of those absentee ballots are counted and that will happen only by next Thursday, November 17th?

THRASHER: Again, each local supervisor sends that out. Until they come back and they actually count them themselves and certify them to the state, we won't know the numbers. They could have an impact ultimately on the final count.

BLITZER: So what you're saying is we won't know who won the state of Florida definitively at least until next Thursday, a week from today?

THRASHER: Well, we have every reason to believe, though, I will tell you this, based upon past history and based upon the kind of people who request those ballots overseas, that they're going to come back heavily in favor of Governor Bush and he's going to be the next president.

BLITZER: But in this particular case, believing is not enough. You have to actually physically count those ballots in order to make it official.

THRASHER: You do.

BLITZER: And as a result, George W. Bush will not know whether he or Al Gore has won the presidency until then?

THRASHER: I will tell you this. After the certification of the counties come in, I believe George Bush will continue to lead and will be the elected person from Florida. The other votes that come in from those overseas votes I do not think, and I don't think any reasonable person thinks, will change the outcome of that.

BLITZER: All right, John Thrasher, the speaker of the House of Representative for Florida, thanks for joining us -- Joie.

CHEN: As the wrangling over individual votes unfolded in Tallahassee, 500 miles away in Nashville, Democrat Al Gore was laying out his postelection plan of attack.

For that, we go to CNN's John King in the Tennessee capital.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're having a great run here.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The vice president took a jog in Nashville, as his strategy turned more aggressive on two fronts: a stepped-up legal challenge in Florida and angry criticism of Governor Bush for acting as if he is already the president-elect.

DALEY: I believe that their actions to try to presumptively crown themselves the victors, to try to put in place a transition, run the risk of dividing the American people and creating a sense of confusion.

KING: The Democrats demanded that the votes in four Florida counties be recounted by hand. Nearly 1.8 million votes were cast in the four counties: Palm Beach, Dade, Broward and Volusia.

DALEY: If the will of the people is to prevail, Al Gore should be awarded a victory in Florida and be our next president.

KING: And the Democrats want a new election or some other remedy taken in Palm Beach County, saying this confusing ballot may have cost the vice president perhaps as many as 20,000 votes.

KENDALL COFFEY, DEMOCRATIC PARTY ATTORNEY: That ballot was completely illegal. It confused voters. It led to an unprecedented number of voters, many of whom were elderly, who waited for hours, who had their votes disqualified because it was very hard, looking at it, to figure out exactly what to do.

KING: Republicans believe the law is on their side: that any objections to the ballot needed to be raised before the election. But a senior Bush legal adviser tells CNN -- quote -- "If they somehow revisit the Palm Beach County vote, then Gore wins the election." The vice president leads in the popular vote, and at least, for now, in the Electoral College count. So talk out of Austin about naming Cabinet members has soured already poor relations between the two camps.

The Gore team sees it as a deliberate strategy to steer attention away from the Florida recount, and as an attempt by Republicans to paint the vice president as a sore loser, and to turn public opinion in favor of a quick resolution.

DALEY: All we are seeking is this: that the candidate who the voters preferred become our president. That is what our constitutional principles demand. That is what true fidelity to our Constitution suggests.

KING: While this increasingly bitter drama plays out, the vice president is heading back to Washington. And his legal and political teams will relocate with him.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Indeed, the vice president at this moment on his way to the airport in Nashville to fly back to Washington, D.C. tonight. The view of the Gore camp is that this could take several weeks, maybe even longer to resolve, and they say there should be no rush and no worry about that. After all, the Gore campaign line is the next president isn't inaugurated until January 20th. There's plenty of time to sort this out -- Joie.

CHEN: John, you refer to that time line maybe taking quite a bit of time. How far is the Gore camp really willing to go? How far do they want to go to thrash this out?

KING: Well, they think this could be resolved in a week or two, maybe even less depending. But they want a hand count in those four counties. They believe that will swing the numbers in their favor. They also are prepared to file a legal challenge of their own or participate in a legal challenge to the vote in Palm Beach County.

They believe they will stick with that as long as it takes. Now, they said today that if after that, Governor Bush is still ahead in Florida, the vice president would be quick to concede the election. But they also say when they look at those numbers in Palm Beach County, that they are positive -- this is their line -- the Gore campaign line, they are "positive" those votes would have gone to the vice president, and if Palm Beach is reopened that they will win.

And I should say, I spoke to a senior Republican lawyer who agrees with them, but he thinks the law is on the Republican side and that the Republicans will be able to successfully block any challenges.

How long will this go? The Gore campaign says as long as it takes.

CHEN: John King for us in Nashville.

The harsh words from the Gore camp were met with equally harsh rhetoric from the Bush campaign.

CNN senior political correspondent Candy Crowley is in Austin, Texas for us -- Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Joie, George Bush was out of public sight today. We are told that he was conducting some state business as well as meeting with his campaign staff and vice presidential nominee Dick Cheney. However, his top staffers were out front and very vocal. They were again expressing confidence that George Bush, when the recount is over, will be declared the winner in Florida. They were defending their decision to begin preliminary transition plans and they were lashing out at the Gore team.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DON EVANS, CHAIRMAN, BUSH CAMPAIGN: Democrats who are politicizing and distorting these events risk doing so at the expense of our democracy. One of the options that they seem to be looking at is new elections. Our democratic process calls for a vote on election day. It does not call for us to continue voting until someone likes the outcome.

Throughout this process, it's important that no party to this election act in a precipitous manner or distort an existing voting pattern in an effort to misinform the public.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Among other things, the Bush camp believes the Gore team and Democrats are fomenting the perception that there was somehow widespread fraud or widespread confusion about the ballots in Florida. Beyond that, communications director Karen Hughes is not happy about the tone in the Gore camp.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KAREN HUGHES, BUSH CAMPAIGN COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Some of the comments made at the news conference earlier today were somewhat shrill. I think that it's troubling that Chairman Daley is making an issue without giving you all, all the facts about the ballots, which Karl just explained,

I mean, I think it's -- it's certainly interesting that they're talking about double counting. Under our laws, if someone votes twice for the same office, that is an invalid ballot, and that not only in this election, but it occurred in the 1996 election in comparable numbers in the same county which they are talking about. And I think that is an important fact that the American people need to know that unfortunately chairman Daley omitted from his news conference.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Chief political strategist Karl Rove came equipped with a ballot from the Chicago area, Chicago, of course, being where Gore campaign manager Bill Daley is from. He noted that that ballot is very similar to the one that was in Palm Beach.

Now, right now, the Bush campaign is pretty much in the same situation as everyone else. They are staying still and watching those counts come in. They have, of course, charged James Baker, who is in Florida for the Bush campaign, with watching over things. But again, they are very confident that when it is over, George Bush will be the winner in Florida -- Joie.

CHEN: Candy, you heard in John King's report some of the criticism from the Gore camp that Mr. Bush is maybe trying a little bit too hard to look a little too presidential in this context. Is there any rethinking of that in terms of talking to transition-type aides?

CROWLEY: Well, here's what they say. They say, look, you know, even before the election was held on Tuesday, both the Gore and the Bush camps were looking at transition. They say these are preliminary transitional plans, and that, you know, they have to move ahead with them. Assuming that it will go the way they want, they want to be in place and moving.

They did stress, however, that of the business Bush was doing today, that just a small part of it was transitional and the rest of it was state business and meeting with campaign staffers. But they think that the need to put together a transition team, should this go the way they think it is going to, is very strong and that they are well-justified in starting to do that now.

CHEN: Candy Crowley for us in Austin, Texas tonight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Joie, by all accounts, most of the American public seems to be riveted by what's been going on over these past 48 hours. Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, who's been trying to understand, as all of us have been trying to understand, what is going on.

Bill, first of all, the American electorate, how are they responding to these extraordinary developments?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think they're mystified and they're a little bit confused, and I think they're dismayed also by the politization of the vote-counting process.

I mean, today, what we saw was a dangerous escalation of the rhetoric, a sense that people are trying to make politics out of what should be a orderly vote-counting process, threats of legal suits, recriminations, vote fraud, voter confusion. I think that's very dismaying to voters who want to see a process that is, at the very least, orderly.

BLITZER: Now, historically speaking, there are huge risks right now in how this plays out. Talk about those risks a bit.

SCHNEIDER: Well, you know, the risk, I think, for the two candidates is very simple. They have to decide how much is winning this election really worth. Is it worth creating a constitutional crisis? Is it worth undermining your ability as a leader to unite the country? Because those are the stakes if either candidate is seen as politicizing this process or as doing anything necessary to win the election -- then, I think, there will be a tainted leader and the country will be very divided over whoever wins the White House.

BLITZER: Joie, you have a question.

CHEN: Yes. Bill, is there a certain sense of the two, no matter what happens, whoever emerges the victor after everything is said and done, there's no way for everybody to be happy?

SCHNEIDER: No, there isn't. But you know, there's something kind of misleading in the election results. It looks like the country's deeply divided. It looks like, you know, we're in the verge of a civil war. We've got a Senate that's likely to be split 50/50 or very close to it. The House, the majority is extremely narrow. The electoral college is about as close as it's ever been. The popular vote is neck-and-neck. It looks like Bush -- we could have a president who wins the electoral vote and loses the electoral college. It looks like the country is deeply divided.

It's not. It's not. The country is not polarized. We have an electorate out there that just can't make up their minds, and that's why the election was so close. They had problems with Bush; they had problems with Gore. Basically, they wanted a change of leadership but a continuity of direction in the country. And that's why they veered back and forth between the two candidates, and that's why the election was so close.

This electorate is not polarized. There's not deep ideological animosity, and they don't want a president who reflects that.

They want a president who reflects that ambiguity that most voters felt about this election.

CHEN: That flip-of-a-coin psychology.

SCHNEIDER: That's right.

CHEN: Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill, one final question: Almost a hundred million Americans voted. In the national poll, Bill Clinton -- excuse me, Al Gore came out ahead by about 150-, almost 200-thousand votes over George W. Bush.

If this vote, though, in Florida is decided, as the Associated Press is now estimating, by only 225 votes, is that something that the country can live with and that the next president, presumably if this holds, George W. Bush could lead with?

SCHNEIDER: That's a very good question, Wolf, and we don't know. We're going to be trying to find out how the voters respond to that.

So far, it appears as if people understand, or at least they have a general understanding of the rules and they're willing to abide by a fair conclusion to the process. If Florida is declared winner and it goes to George Bush, and he seems to have won the electoral college vote, once all the ballots are counted, and you know, the legal challenges are resolved, I think people are going to live with those results.

But Bush will forever be regarded as a minority president, and he'll have to be very, very careful in how -- how he tries to govern, which is why his presumptuousness in talking about transitions and victory rallies I think is very dangerous, just as dangerous as Gore's talk about every legal challenge and technicality. Both candidates are making bad mistakes, and for bush to claim he has a mandate, that this result in not in dispute, that too would be a very serious problem.

BLITZER: All right, Bill Schneider, our senior political analyst, thanks of course, for joining us.

Back to you, Joie.

CHEN: And next up here, well, ground zero for much of Florida's vote controversy, Palm Beach County, where those butterfly ballots are creating all the flutter.

Later here, correspondent Jeanne Moos takes those ballots to the streets of New York for a the ultimate test. This is a special edition of THE WORLD TODAY.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a lot of good debate going on about some of the things that went wrong with this election and hopefully it's going to be resolved here, shortly. I can't stand the suspense.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHEN: On Florida's southern Atlantic coast, Palm Beach County sits at the center of what Democrats claim were the worst examples of problems at the polls.

CNN's Mark Potter reports Democratic Party officials have wasted no time in mobilizing their public relations offensive.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Several hundred protesters gathered outside the Palm Beach County elections office demanding a new countywide vote in the presidential race.

Their argument is that Vice President Gore was deprived of thousands of votes because of a confusing ballot form. The protesters were joined by the Reverend Jesse Jackson.

JESSE JACKSON: This ballot is fuzzy. It is deceptive. While there is over and over again, a call for a recount in West Palm, there must be a first count.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Democratic Party, may I help you?

Do you feel that your vote was either incorrect, or you are unsure of who you voted for yesterday?

POTTER: A block from the protest, a law firm working with the Democratic Party set up a phone bank to document complaints from angry voters. Attorneys say since Wednesday morning they have received more than 5,000 calls.

The complaint? The ballots were set up in such a way that it was not clear which holes to punch to register a vote correctly. The ballot, a so-called butterfly design mixed the left and right sides, so the second punch hole did not represent the second name on the ballot, Al Gore, but instead represented the Reform candidate, Pat Buchanan.

KENDALL COFFEY, DEMOCRATIC PARTY ATTORNEY: That ballot was completely illegal. It confused voters. It led to an unprecedented number of voters, many who were elderly, who waited for hours, who had their votes disqualified because it was very hard, looking at it, to figure exactly what to do.

WILLIAM DALEY, GORE The party official of either party doesn't have the right to disenfranchise thousands and thousands of voters in a county in Florida. I don't think anyone would believe that.

POTTER: From Austin, Texas, that brought a harsh response from the Bush campaign. Blasting the complaints raised by Gore spokesman who's family has a long political history in Chicago.

KARL ROVE, BUSH CAMPAIGN CHIEF STRATEGIST: I really thought it was ironic that Chairman Daley went to great lengths to decry the butterfly ballot as confusing and undemocratic because I have here the copy of the Cook County, Illinois, judicial ballot which is a butterfly ballot. Maybe Mr. Daley is in a better place to decry democracy and confusion in Cook County than he is in Florida.

POTTER: Several lawsuits have been filed in Florida state court asking for a new Palm Beach County presidential vote. Andre Fladell, a chiropractor and political activist, is one of the plaintiffs who says he was disenfranchised.

ANDRE FLADELL, LAWSUIT PLAINTIFF: I went into a place expecting a simple, fair ballot. I got a crossword puzzle with some configuration no one had ever told me about.

POTTER: The official responsible for designing the ballot, Palm Beach County election supervisor Theresa LePore has said she was just trying to make the ballot easier for elderly people to read and her attorney says she did her job properly.

BRUCE ROGOW, ATTORNEY: Teresa LePore put the ballot together. The ballot was approved in Tallahassee. There was nothing wrong with anything that Teresa LePore did.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

POTTER: Now, while the design of the ballot remains at issue, there are no allegation here of voter fraud. The county has completed its recount and it shows that Al Gore is ahead in this county by 116,000 votes, but the county at the request of both parties has agreed to do another recount, a manual count of some of the vote, about one percent, a machine count of all the votes. We expect those results on Monday -- Joie?

CHEN: Mark, before the election, did voters actually get sample ballots and did those show exactly where the holes would be.

POTTER: I couldn't hear your question. Say that again.

CHEN: I'm sorry, Mark. Before the election, did the voters get sample ballots, could they see where the holes would be?

POTTER: Yes, there were sample ballots, but what we're hearing from some of the voters is that when they got in the booth and the ballot was actually placed in the machine, the holes were not exactly lined up with the arrows, and they were looking at them not straight on like we're looking at them on a TV screen, but at an angle. And many of the voters have said that added to the confusion.

And there is a situation here in that thousands of people are calling in to complain. Now, whether that's politically driven, whether or not, there is definitely a situation that's going to probably be fought out in the courts for some time to come.

CHEN: Mark Potter with us from West Palm Beach. Florida, where the loud protests are still going on at this hour -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Joie, officials of the Bush campaign in Austin, Texas, are, of course, monitoring this situation here in Tallahassee very, very closely. Among them, the Bush campaign's press secretary Ari Fleischer. He joins us now live from Austin.

Mr. Fleischer, thank you for joining us. And let me ask you about this 225-vote differential that the Associated Press is now estimated based on what they say are the returns from 65 of the 67 counties in Florida. If, in the end, it shows that Al Gore carried the state, perhaps by 10 or 15 or 200 votes, is the Bush campaign ready to drop it and to -- ready to accept defeat and not seek some sort of other recounts in other states?

ARI FLEISCHER, BUSH CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: Well, Wolf, that's just an eventuality that we don't even contemplate. So I'm not going to answer that question because it's not something that we think is going to happen. In fact, just the opposite.

We all have seen close elections in America before. And when the voters speak, even in a close election, it's important for the politicians to listen.

And of course, on top of the vote margin, whatever it ends up for Governor Bush, we have the overseas ballots, which will be added to it. And of course, in Florida, the overseas ballots, being mostly military, have a history of breaking Republican.

BLITZER: I asked the question because earlier today Karl Rove, the chief political strategist for Governor Bush, spoke about recounts, perhaps in Iowa, Wisconsin, some states that Al Gore carried, suggesting the margin of difference in those states was very, very small as well, and potentially setting the stage for tit for tat.

FLEISCHER: Right. Well, Wolf, that's...

BLITZER: You want a recount in Florida, let's go to some states that Al Gore carried narrowly.

FLEISCHER: Well, Wolf, what Karl was talking about was separate and apart from Florida. Those are the facts that are on the ground in those states. There is currently a recount under way in Bernalillo County. If the vote in Iowa gets close enough, it automatically triggers a recount. That would be happening no matter what the result is in Florida.

So even if we go over the top in Florida, when we go over, that will still happen in those states if it's triggered. So what you were hearing from Karl is separate and apart from what's happening in Florida.

BLITZER: So he wasn't hinting that he's ready to go and ask for recounts and prolong this process beyond Florida?

FLEISCHER: Wolf, what's happening in those states is independent of what's happening in Florida. And it's a factual statement that Karl made about it. I think everybody in New Mexico knows that there's a count under way in Bernalillo, the biggest county, where Albuquerque is. People in the rest of the country don't know that. Karl just gave that information to everybody else today at a news conference, appropriately so.

BLITZER: If the -- if the situation were completely reversed, if Al Gore had carried Florida by 225 or 1,000 votes yet had lost the popular vote nationwide by 150,000 votes, would Governor Bush be doing anything differently than the Gore campaign is now doing?

FLEISCHER: Wolf, I'm here to talk to you and to your viewers about the facts as we know them. I think any question that begins with the word "if" is obviously something that is speculative and therefore is not in the realm of what we can talk about.

There is a million ifs out there. We're focused on what's happening in Florida. And once again, as soon as we know those results, I think we're going to have a clear result, it'll be a small one. But again, Wolf, the tradition in America is a close election is still a decided election.

And once the determination is made that Governor Bush has won in Florida, I think at that point it's very important for all people to move forward and to do so together. That's why I thought it was very inappropriate today for Chairman Daley to engage in the type of language he engaged in.

Apparently, the vice president's campaign did not like the results of the election on Tuesday night. And now they do not like the results of the recount that we're all witnessing.

BLITZER: The other point that they're trying to make -- the Gore campaign, is that all of this talk we're hearing from Austin about transition, the next White House chief of staff, the next Cabinet members, is inappropriate since it's going to be at least another week, according to state officials here in Tallahassee, before they can certify 100 percent what the outcome of this race is.

FLEISCHER: Well, Wolf, you're a very good reporter and so I know you'll ask the follow-up question, what talk from Austin? Mr. Daley asserted that. Nobody in Austin has been engaged in such talk. And of course, both campaigns prior to the election had begun behind the scenes work for a transition. That is under way in both camps. It was under way prior to the election. But that's an assertion made by Mr. Daley.

We're focused right now on what's happening in Florida. We're going to do first things first. And after the results are in, then we will make anything that -- make anything appropriate public.

BLITZER: Ari Fleischer, always good to speak with you. Thank you so much for joining us on what are, of course, extraordinary, hours in the aftermath of Tuesday's election.

BLITZER: And when we come back, we'll hear from the Gore campaign standpoint. We'll talk to Ron Klain, one of the lawyers working for the Gore campaign here in Florida.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think a revote is just ridiculous. These people are gathering out here because 19,000 some votes were thrown away. Well, that's because they double-punched. I mean, whose fault is that?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our special edition of THE WORLD TODAY. I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting live from Tallahassee, Florida. Joining me now is Ron Klain. He's a former Gore chief of staff at the White House, now a lawyer. You've come down to make sure that this ballot recount is legal and authoritative.

What is the latest that you're hearing? How long is this going to take?

RON KLAIN, GORE CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Well, we don't know how long it's going to take, Wolf. It shouldn't be a long process. What we want is a count of the ballots here that's full, fair and complete. That means making sure all the ballots are counted, that they're counted accurately, that the overseas ballots are included, and that something is done about the situation in Palm Beach County, where thousands of Floridians went to the polls thinking they were voting for Al Gore and wound up with their votes counting for either Pat Buchanan or not counting at all.

BLITZER: What happens if next Thursday, in this building here, the state capital in Tallahassee, officials of the Florida government certify the election is over with and George W. Bush won, whether by one vote or 1,000 votes? Is that the end of it as far as the Gore campaign is concerned?

KLAIN: No, because what will happen next Thursday is not a certification as to who won, but a certification as to how the ballots have been counted up. That still doesn't solve the question of what we do about the fact that thousands of people in Palm Beach County went to the polls, thought they had voted for Al Gore and wound up with their votes counting for Pat Buchanan or not counting at all. And those Floridians have a right to have their votes counted.

This should be about, not politics, but about doing the will of the people.

BLITZER: Well, what do you say to the assertions from Karl Rove, other Bush campaign officials, a similar kind of so-called butterfly ballot is in Cook County, elsewhere around the country. They didn't have those problems, and that people in Palm Beach County had a chance to examine the ballot, including Democrats, including the Democrat who came up with the ballot, long before election day on Tuesday.

KLAIN: Well, let's take apart those political charges. First of all, the ballot used in Cook County is not a butterfly ballot in a vote for president. The only butterfly ballot used in Cook County is for unopposed elections, judicial retention elections. So, that claim by Mr. Rove is spurious.

As to the broader question of who examined the ballot or whatnot, what we know is this: The ballot clearly was confusing to thousands of voters. Many complained on election day. The complaints were so bad, the supervisor had to put out a flyer on election day about it. And what we know is even Mr. Buchanan himself says he doesn't believe those votes were actually votes for him.

So when you take away the legal technicalities and the arguments and the politics, what you're left with is a simple question: Should the person who most voters thought they were voting for be elected our president? And that -- the answer to that question just has to be yes.

BLITZER: But the Electoral College determines that that doesn't necessarily mean the person who got the most popular votes nationwide.

KLAIN: Fair enough.

BLITZER: It's the person who won the most electoral votes.

KLAIN: Yes, and what I was referring to was the people who got the most votes here in Florida. There's no question that when you take into account what happened in Palm Beach County, Al Gore had more Floridians coming to the polls thinking that they were voting for him than voted for George Bush.

The will of the people of Florida is that Al Gore get those electors. And with those electors, he would prevail in the Electoral College.

BLITZER: So at what point, assuming the state of Florida certifies officially that George W. Bush got more votes in this state than Al Gore, at what point does Al Gore concede defeat?

KLAIN: Well, first of all, I don't think that's going to happen. I think what's going to happen is there'll be a process here to fix what went wrong in Palm Beach County. And I think once that process is completed, if -- as the vice president himself has said, as Secretary Daley said today, if at the end of a process that determines what really was the will of the voters of Florida, if that will was for George Bush, then of course, we'll concede defeat and move on.

But on the other hand, I hope the Bush campaign would say something they haven't said yet. That if it comes out the other way, they're also prepared to work together to move forward and move on. Ari is right. A close election is still an election. But it has to be a fair election and an accurate count. And that's what we're looking for here in Florida.

BLITZER: I hear you saying what your colleague Jack Quinn said on THE WORLD TODAY last night, namely that you're prepared to drag this out in litigation for weeks and weeks, if necessary, until you get to the bottom of what happened in Palm Beach County.

KLAIN: There's no reason why it should take weeks and weeks, Wolf. We've made it clear that we're going to work with citizens of Florida to bring these challenges quickly. The Constitution provides that the electors don't meet until the third week in December anyway. So there's not going to be any Electoral College vote until late in December in any event.

So, the most important thing here -- look, we're not seeking delay. What we're seeking is a vindication of democracy. Let the will of the people be done. Let the candidate with the most votes here in Florida prevail here in Florida. We suspect that's going to be Al Gore.

BLITZER: All right. Ron Klain, an attorney representing the Gore campaign here in Tallahassee Florida, former White House chief of staff for Al Gore, the vice president, chief of staff. Thank you so much for joining us.

Back to you, Joie.

CHEN: Wolf, as part of the ongoing celebration of the 200th celebration of anniversary of the White House, presidents of past and present tonight are gathering at the executive mansion for a black-tie dinner. Among the guests: former presidents George Bush, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and their wives, as well as former first lady, Ladybird Johnson.

Earlier today, Mr. Bush spoke to reporters about his son's battle for the presidency.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Are you confident your son is the next president of the United States?

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think he's doing the right thing and doing it with dignity and respect and we are very, very proud of him and I'm very pleased he has Jim Baker helping down there. And I'm very proud of Jeb. I tell you, as a dad, some of what's been said about him, questioning him just, just kills me.

QUESTION: Do you support the recount?

GEORGE H.W. BUSH: I'll leave that to the pros. I'm a father, a very proud father, proud of the way my son has conducted himself and is conducting himself, and it's very hard, Sam, to describe it to people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHEN: Former President Ronald Reagan, who suffers from Alzheimer's disease, was unable to attend tonight's White House celebration. We will have more in this special edition of THE WORLD TODAY right after a break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In Palm Beach County there should be a revote of all those who voted before, so that they should have the opportunity to vote correctly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOIE: As we continue to watch the developing situation in Florida, there are also allegations tonight of election fraud in Missouri. Republican Senator Christopher Bond has requested a federal probe into efforts to extend voting hours in traditionally Democratic St. Louis. A court order gave voters there an extra 40 minutes before it was overturned. While George W. Bush did take the state, Republicans lost the governorship and U.S. Senate races. Republican Senator John Ashcroft says he will not contest results which gave his seat to the late Governor Mel Carnahan -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Joie, over the past 48 hours, dozens, perhaps scores of lawyers have descended on Tallahassee, trying to get to the bottom of these extraordinary developments. One of those lawyers is CNN's own Greta Van Susteren, our legal analyst.

Greta, what recourse does the Gore campaign have after next Thursday, when all the absentee ballots are counted. And let's say, let's assume the state of Florida certifies that Bush won the election.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: First of all, I'm not sure the Gore campaign has any recourse. Under Florida law, Wolf, it's the voters who have been wronged if there is an irregular election. It's actually the voters would bring the cause of action. That's why we've seen that some of the cases that have been filed have been actually brought by voters.

But assuming the matter gets certified by the state of Florida, the election, then the election, then the electors in Florida will go December 18th and vote for the person who they would like to see as president of the United States. The only way to prevent that by the voters of Florida is if they could convince a judge to de-certify the Florida election. If they de-certify the Florida election, it's conceivable that all the electors from all the other states would vote on December 18th. We just wouldn't have the 25 elector votes from Florida.

BLITZER: What happens if. as the Gore campaign alleges, there was massive fraud, massive problems in this state, and as a result, they would want to make sure that they get some recourse. At what point would the Justice Department, the federal government, get involved in an election process here in Florida?

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I think if there were massive fraud you would see the Justice Department get involved. But it isn't a question so much of fraud, but it's a question at this point of irregularity, which is a little bit different. And that really goes to the matter for the state to consider. And Florida law actually allows for some irregularity. Some incompetence in the voting process is actually tolerated.

It's only when it becomes what they say substantial, material, then what happens is the judge then takes the next step and tries to determine whether or not the will of the people has been thwarted by the level of irregularity. I don't think right now it's a question of fraud but rather. irregularity, which is a little bit different. But irregularity can result in an election being thrown out in the state of Florida.

BLITZER: Greta Van Susteren, our legal analyst, thanks for joining us. You'll be back at 10:00 on CNN's special report on this amazing turn of events in this Election 2000. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHEN: Look at other news now. Following up on the attack on the USS Cole, U.S. officials now tell CNN a similar attack was planned earlier this year in waters off Yemen but the small boat carrying explosives was overloaded and sank. The failed attack on the USS The Sullivans, a destroyer, was supposed to coincide with millennium festivities. Sources say the information comes from a suspect in the Cole attack, now in custody in Yemen.

In the West Bank today, Israeli helicopter gunships carried out a strike against a van which carried members of Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction. Smoke rising in the distance marked the spot where the van was hit. A Fatah commander and two female bystanders were killed in the airstrike. Israel described the commander as a terrorist mastermind responsible for the deaths of three Israeli soldiers. Israeli security forces are bracing for bloodshed.

This attack coincided with a White House meeting between Palestinian Chairman Arafat and President Clinton. It is a meeting seen by some as Mr. Clinton's last attempt to salvage the peace process. Arafat is expected to push for an international peacekeeping force for the Middle East.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CHEN: Finally a different sort of look at a controversy and some confusion facing voters in Florida. "Making the Moost of It," here's Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Have you ever been momentarily stumped by an ATM machine as you try to match up the right button to the right option?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sometimes there's the button here and there will be two other options next to it and you're kind of like, OK, where's the line pointing?

MOOS: That gives you some idea what punching holes in a Palm Beach County ballot is like.

(on camera): This is the Palm Beach County ballot that's caused all the confusion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, wow.

MOOS (voice-over): New Yorkers were eager to examine the much ballyhooed ballot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My mom, for instance, would probably totally screw that up.

MOOS: The problem is some folks say they are worried they mistakenly punched the number four hole for Pat Buchanan when they really meant to punch the number five hole for Al Gore. Every New Yorker we talked to unanimously agreed the ballot looks confusing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Gee, that's hard to find.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's tricky.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've seen this before, so I know it's there, but this line makes you want to go there.

MOOS: But when we asked them to pick the correct hole to vote for Al Gore...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That one.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would punch this one.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You'd punch five.

MOOS: ... practically everyone got it right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would pick this one...

MOOS (on camera): Correct.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... But if I was a little bit elderly, I could see that this is a little bit too close.

MOOS (voice-over): But even older folks we asked...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It looks like it. With my eyesight, it's poor.

MOOS: ... managed to pick the right circle.

(on camera): Which hole would you choose?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This one.

MOOS: There you go.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's very easy to make a mistake with this.

MOOS: Well, everyone's says that, but no one's made the mistake.

(voice-over): Well, almost no one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it says Democrat. I would vote for Al Gore right there.

MOOS (on camera): In the Pat Buchanan hole?

(voice-over): So, while some Floridians are protesting, chanting Gore got more...

CROWD: Gore got more! Revote!

MOOS: ... And demanding a revote, this New Yorker had her own solution.

(on camera): What do you think they ought to do down there to fix the mess?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They should get out of the sun.

MOOS: They should get out of the sun?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think they have sunstroke down there.

MOOS (voice-over): Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHEN: About out of time here. Coming up, don't miss a special report at 10:00 tonight, a town meeting with voters in Palm Beach, Florida.

Good night, Wolf.

BLITZER: Good night, Joie.

Tomorrow, I'll be back here in Tallahassee for another special edition of THE WORLD TODAY. "LARRY KING LIVE" is next. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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