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Election 2000: Florida Recount Spurs Legal Action and Protests; Official Press Conference to Be Held at 5:00 Tonight

Aired November 9, 2000 - 1:01 p.m. ET


NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: The world is still waiting for the Sunshine State to shed some light on the U.S. presidential race, but the final answer may be up to a judge, or even the House of Representatives.

Lest we get ahead of ourselves, we should tell you several Florida counties are still recounting Tuesday's ballots. At the moment, George W. Bush's lead is down just a little bit, around 795 votes from almost 1,800 votes yesterday. But the recount is only half the story.

There's also the case of the baffling ballots, or allegedly baffling ballots, in Palm Beach county. A federal judge will weigh in on that matter later this afternoon. We'll get a live report on that in just a moment.

But first, let's go to Tallahassee, where vote totals from every corner of the state are being funneled.

CNN's Mike Boettcher is there. with the latest for us -- Mike.

MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we have the latest numbers from the Division of Elections. There are 39 counties reporting, 1,773 is the vote difference between Governor Bush and Vice President Gore. That number has risen from last time we had a count. That was around 900; now it's 1,773, with 39 counties reporting.

That's 28 counties remaining to be listed on the sheet from the Division of Elections. But I'm told by sources in the capital that there are more counties up there. It's just a matter of getting them into the pipeline onto their Web site.

And they've been rather slow today in terms of releasing those figures. We thought we would have more figures earlier. But, the state tells us, the secretary of state's office and the division of election office, that they want to make sure they're absolutely right. But in this building, it's more of a matter of mathematics than anything. They're taking the results from the counties as they're called in and faxed in and then posting them. So we think there are later figures, and we're going to try to get those for you.

They expect to be done by this afternoon around 5:00. In fact, they've already set up a press conference room for an announcement between 5:00 and 5:30 this afternoon. They say, though, however, if they do run late, they will take as long as they need. Although. initially, two days ago, they said 7:00 p.m. was the time they would like to be through, and again, as I said, 5:00-5:30 is when this press conference has been scheduled.

Now, surrogates for the various parties are here. For the Democrats and Republicans it was former secretary of state James Baker for Governor Bush. He met with the secretary of state of Florida and other state officials. He's here to supervise, or rather monitor, the election process in Florida. And he said this count should be an accurate count, everything should be done to make sure that happen, and it should be quick and conclusive count.


JAMES BAKER, OBSERVER FOR BUSH CAMPAIGN: ... position of Governor George W. Bush that we would like to see this process carried out in a very transparent, open, deliberate way, as expeditiously as possible, of course, given the national interest, but in keeping, fully in keeping, with the requirements of the law of Florida. We feel quite confident that that's the way the process has been conducted so far. And we're hopeful, of course, that that's the way it's going to be concluded sometime during the course of the day.


BOETTCHER: We're standing by here for more results. Mike Boettcher, CNN live, from Tallahassee, Florida.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: And now to Palm Beach county, where an emergency hearing is set in federal court in about 90 minutes. At issue: this ballot. In Palm Beach county, unlike everywhere else in Florida, the candidates' names were listed on either side of a center line. The Democratic ticket was listed second in the left-hand column, but if voters punched a second hole, they were voting for Pat Buchanan, whose name appears on the right. Plenty of voters are claiming that's exactly what they did, making a mistake, and Buchanan's vote count appears to be bearing them out. The Reform Party candidate got 3,400 votes in Palm Beach county, far more than in any other county in Florida.

But we're not done yet. More than 19,000 Palm Beach ballots have been disqualified because they were double-punched. CNN's John Zarrella is keeping track of everything, joining us now from West Palm Beach with the latest.

John, can we make a judgment on whether this double punching and the design of the ballot are connected in some way?

JOHN ZARRELLA. CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's what they are, the people here, certainly the Democrats, are alleging: that it was certainly confusing. And if you take a look at a bar graph of the numbers of votes that Pat Buchanan got here in Palm Beach county -- 3407 -- that's five times the number of votes that he got in -- that he got in Broward county, which had twice the number of registered voters. So, certainly, that was skewed.

And that's pretty much of the heart of what the argument is, that and the 19,000 votes that were disqualified. Of the federal court hearing taking place now in about an hour and a half just a few blocks in federal court, Judge Kenneth Ryskamp has agreed to an emergency hearing where he will hear arguments by Palm County residents, a couple of them, who have filed a suit claiming that the ballot was misleading.

You showed the ballot, pointing it out, how it was interpreted. And that is what the people here in Palm Beach county are claiming. They say that they want a new election.

And here at the government center about 500 protesters -- that's our estimate -- gathered here already, outside the government center chanting "We want a fair vote," that we voted for Gore and not for Buchanan. And it was loud, it was intense. There were confrontations between the people who -- mostly, predominantly the Gore-Lieberman supporters. Confrontations with the folks who showed up here to support Bush and Cheney.

Now most of the protesters have left the street where they had the street block, and they are in an open atrium area in the government center where they are awaiting Jesse Jackson to speak. And we understand that the reverend Jesse Jackson has just arrived. This is a rally that is being sponsored by the NAACP here and other coalition groups here in the Palm Beach area.

Now, a phone bank run by Democrats is saying now that -- they have two phone banks going here, not far from us, that since yesterday morning they have taken 5,000 calls from people here in Palm Beach county saying they believe they may have voted for the wrong person. They are not -- not clear on who they voted for because of the way the ballot was handled.

So many major developments yet to come here. There are still some civil lawsuits in state court to be handled, the federal court action, and this call here.

One major point, Lou, that we haven't talked about yet is that a U.S. Representative is saying that, under Florida law, that a local judge, a state judge, is mandated to take a look into a statistical analysis of the vote. And If he finds through statistical analysis that the votes are skewed, he is bound by law, in Florida, to adjust the vote.

It happened in Dade county, Florida, in a mayoral election in which one of the candidates, the man who claimed victory, was then told "uh-uh," you're not the mayor of Miami, this other gentleman is the mayor of Miami. So there is precedent for that to possibly happen here. A lot of, lot of things still to develop and unfold here in Palm Beach county, Florida -- Lou.

WATERS: That would be a state court decision, right, John?

ZARRELLA: That's correct, state court. That's correct, Lou. WATERS: It's going to be a busy afternoon. John Zarrella will be keeping watch down there in West Palm Beach, John Zarrella.



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