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The Florida Recount

Aired November 10, 2000 - 4:30 p.m. ET



JAMES BAKER, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: The campaigning should end and the business of an orderly transition should begin.



WILLIAM DALEY, GORE CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: The way to get these results is frustrating. Frustrating to all of us in both campaigns and to the American people, obviously, as well. But calls for a declaration a victor before all of the votes are accurately tabulated are inappropriate.


NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Two sets of advisers, two very different takes on where the Florida recount should go.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: The weekend approaches with the country's future leadership still very much in limbo.

Hello. I'm Lou Waters.

ALLEN: And thanks for being with us. I'm Natalie Allen. And we have the latest developments in Election 2000 for you.

Unofficial results from Florida's ballot recount show George W. Bush leading Al Gore by 327 votes in that state. Official results will not be announced before Tuesday. Absentee ballots from Florida voters overseas won't be completely tabulated until one week from today. Some Palm Beach County ballots will be counted a third time by hand this weekend.

WATERS: In addition to the new recount in Palm Beach County, there's a court hearing set for Tuesday on one of several lawsuits there.

Joining us now with the latest from West Palm Beach, CNN's Martin Savidge. What's happening, Marty?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, there's a lot of activity down here today. Let start with the recount. That's where a lot of people are focusing their attention. It starts at 9:00 tomorrow morning. There actually will be two recounts. One of them will be a partial recount conducted by hand of about 1 percent of the votes that were cast in this county. Following that, there will be a machine recount of all the votes that were cast in the presidential race. The results of that machine count should be known in a matter of hours. The results of both recounts are not told to be to the public until sometime on Tuesday.

Meanwhile here today, Democratic Party officials have been busily trying to gather affidavits from people who say that they may have misproperly cast their votes for the wrong presidential candidate. That, they claim, they may have been done due to a confusing ballot that they say was used in this particular county. By the end of the day today, Democratic Party officials say that they have affidavits that number in the thousands.

Meanwhile, cries for a revote continue to be heard on the streets of West Palm Beach. That is something that former state Florida officials say has never happened before.


JIM SMITH, FRM. FLORIDA ATTORNEY GENERAL: There's never been a revote in a election in Florida. The standard is high. There has to be a showing of fraud, of willful intent to break of avoid the election laws in this state and I think clearly here, while people may not like the setup of the ballot in Palm Beach County and may be concerned that the ballots were thrown out, clearly, the process was followed.


SAVIDGE: Meanwhile, you are looking here at a relatively small crowd of protesters that are gathered outside of the Board of Elections here in Palm Beach County. They're pretty much split along party lines, showing and reflecting the same sort of political split that still lies in this nation two days after. And as if things were not confusing enough, last night a West Palm Beach judge granted a temporary preliminary injunction that prevent the state of Florida from certifying as final the state's election. That injunction was granted at the request of two attorneys that represent two residents here in Palm Beach County who say that their right to vote was denied because of that confusing ballot.

Reporting live, Martin Savidge, CNN, West Palm Beach, Florida.

ALLEN: George W. Bush told reporters today he and his team will be prepared to take office once Florida's vote is the official. But Al Gore is not conceding.

CNN's John King is with the Gore camp in Washington, and Jeanne Meserve is with the Bush folks in Austin, Texas. And first to John King, what have we heard from Al Gore today, John?

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We've heard absolutely nothing from the vice president today, Natalie, although we did get to see the vice president. A family outing here, the vice president tossing a football around. This all part of a Gore effort to show an image of calm and to send the unspoken message to country, relax. Don't worry. This is an orderly process under way in Florida. There's nothing to worry about.

Now the vice president leaving the talking to his lawyers and his campaign chairman. They're making the case that all they want here is to see the Florida recounted finished, the process Marty Savidge just outline, finished in the next several days.

One obvious change in strategy from the Gore camp today, much less talk of going into court and suing to overturn the results. That had alarmed many Democrats, angered many Republicans that the Gore team was talking about a protracted lawsuit to challenge the election results.

Today, the Gore campaigning stepping back a bit. Saying, look, let's focus first on the recount. Let's see what happens when all this vote is tabulated, then we'll see whether or not to go forward. Now, they're not ruling out the possibility of filing a lawsuit in the future. But for now, again, this is a public relations war as well as a legal battle.

Mr. Bill Daley, the Gore campaign chairman, saying he can't see why the Gore Campaign -- the Bush campaign, excuse me, would be opposed to just letting the recount run its course.


WILLIAM DALEY, GORE CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: All we're trying to do is see this election be completed according to the laws, obviously. And the people of Florida, not us, are the ones who want to see this election completed according to the laws of Florida.


KING: Now, the Gore campaign voicing hope that, if you have this recount in Palm Beach County, several other counties also saying they will go back and look at the vote, that there will be a new, an adjusted tally, that shows the vice president ahead. They also make the case those overseas absentee ballots won't be counted for another week or so, so that everyone should calm down.

They're particularly angry -- they think the Bush campaign is overstepping by saying it is going about the business of transition planning. So the Gore campaign here, trying to make the case, all it wants here is a fair and accurate recount; and, again, they're sharply critical of the Bush campaign, believing that it's distasteful to be talking publicly about a transition when vice president still leads in the national popular vote and still leads in the Electoral College as we await the official results from Florida -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Do they have any doubts about the final outcome of that final outcome of that popular vote, since now we hear that New Mexico may be in question as they continue to count, and we know Oregon is still up in the air? KING: New Mexico, Oregon still up in the air; millions, perhaps, of absentee ballots being counted in states where the margin was not in question, so there was no rush to count the absentee ballots. It is possible, in the end, the Gore campaign concedes, that Governor Bush will end up on top in the popular vote; but right now when you look at the tally, the vice president is ahead, that is something they are using now. They believe it helps them politically make the case that they have every right to seek every possible recourse in the state of Florida.

ALLEN: All right; John King with the Gore campaign.

WATERS: A couple of hours ago we did hear from George W. Bush at the Texas governor's mansion.

CNN's Jeanne Meserve is with the Bush campaign in Austin -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, when cameras were ushered into the governor's mansion, Governor Bush was meeting with some of his top domestic and international policy advisers, many of whom have been touted as possible cabinet picks. They were discussing the transition and Bush said it was appropriate, not presumptuous, as some in the Gore camp have charged.


GOV. GEORGE BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There was a count on election night and there's been a recount in Florida and I understand there are still votes to be counted; but I'm in the process of planning in a responsible way, a potential administration. There has been a series of ongoing meeting that the secretary and I have had on a variety of subjects so that, should the verdict that has been announced thus far be confirmed, we'll be ready. And I think that's what the country needs to know, that this administration will be ready to assume office and be prepared to lead.


MESERVE: Former secretary of state James Baker, in Florida to oversee the recount for the Bush campaign, spoke today in very dramatic terms about the necessity of preserving a constitutional process. But he also made it clear that if the Gore campaign pursues legal challenges, the Bush campaign will respond in kind.


JAMES BAKER, OBSERVER FOR BUSH CAMPAIGN: It appears that the Gore campaign is attempting to unduly prolong the country's national presidential election through endless challenges to the results of the vote here in Florida.


MESERVE: One possibility is a call for recounts in other states, and there are a number of states where the race remains excruciating close: in Iowa, Wisconsin, New Mexico, and Oregon; and the Republicans are keeping an eye on all of those.

But the hope is, within the Bush campaign, that the Florida vote will settle this and all will be over at the end of next week -- Lou.

WATERS: Jeanne Meserve in Austin.

And New Mexico, indeed, now has joined Florida and Oregon in the undecided column in this presidential race. Democrat Al Gore's lead in that state has narrowed to just 164 votes over the Republican Bush. The latest of totals come after most of 38,000 votes in one county were tallied and released today. As many as 1,600 ballots in the same county still need to be hand-counted and added to this total. There also are 252 ballots unaccounted for; workers are trying to find them. Five electoral votes are at stake in New Mexico.

ALLEN: Coming up this evening on CNN: hear what some Florida voters have to say about the controversial presidential election. Join us at 10:00 p.m. Eastern, 7:00 Pacific for a special report: "THE FLORIDA VOTE: A CNN TOWN MEETING," with Jeff Greenfield. And you know the town is West Palm Beach.

WATERS: And in a moment, more on the options facing the two presidential candidates.

ALLEN: We'll pose a few questions to both our legal analyst Greta Van Susteren and our senior political analyst Bill Schneider. Stay right there, please.


WATERS: There are many legal ramifications involved in this unsettled presidential election. We are going to check in now with CNN legal analyst Greta Van Susteren, who is following developments in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Greta, we had a Yale law professor on here just a few moments ago saying, essentially we are on a slippery slope here with threatened legal challenges in this presidential contest. He is saying: Step back, take a deep breath, and think about what you are doing. Do you get a sense that people are doing that down there in West Palm Beach?

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, it's hard to say, Lou.

I am not so sure what it means to step back and take a deep breath. If you feel wronged about voting, of course I would think that you would want to be aggressive in getting that right -- or that wrong corrected. You know, people do have a right to vote. Now, of course, you should not run into court hastily. You should examine all the facts in evidence to see whether or not you have a legitimate claim.

This is exceedingly important, because it happens to be who is going to be the next president of the United States. But I'm not so sure that I would agree with the Yale professor. I think these people have a right to contest the election if they feel they have been wronged. It may turn out that they were not wronged.

WATERS: By step back, he's referring to, I believe, what William Brady (ph) was saying earlier today, saying essentially, that if, no, -- it was former secretary of state for the Gore campaign, saying if the Gore campaign goes legal, we'll go legal. And there is the slippery slope. You challenge. We'll challenge there. And then you're into muck and mire.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, perhaps. Now, both candidates have a right to challenge votes in almost every state. Probably every state, they can challenge votes. But what you have here is not the candidates challenging the election. You have people who claim they have been wronged. And people who have been wronged by voting irregularities have a right to challenge an election.

It may get tossed out of the court on day one. But they certainly have a right to go to court and say: Please, I would like to have my one vote recognized. But there are two different issues here. It's candidates going to court to challenge the elections. And it's the people going to court who claimed to have been wronged.

WATERS: Understood. Now, say -- say the Florida vote is certified. Say one or the other candidate concedes, does that legal process -- that state legal process you are talking about hold up anything?

VAN SUSTEREN: Probably not. Hard to say. You know, this is all uncharted waters. You know, there are so many interesting hypotheticals. It sounds like a good question for a bar examine as to whether or not it would hold up. If a candidate does concede, that generally is the end of it. But it may seem like an unlikely scenario in light of the fact that this race is so close, like the races in several other states are so close. So it's unlikely that one is going to concede until the candidate who is the losing side is confident that the vote was free of irregularities and that every vote was counted.

WATERS: Of course, we have one legal injunction, do we not, already holding up a certification of this vote until the judge has a chance to look things over.

VAN SUSTEREN: Yes, but you know, that's sort of a meaningless injunction. I don't quite get that injunction. That holds up until Tuesday when the court is going to review it. But remember in the state of Florida, they have 10 days after the election. The election was just Tuesday. They have 10 days after the election to count votes from overseas.

So really there's not going to be any certification on Tuesday, since that would only be one week of the national election. So I'm not really sure whether or not that injunction really means anything, because there's going to be no certification before Tuesday.

Now, it will make a big difference if the judge on Tuesday extends the injunction and extends it beyond the 10-day period for which -- for which Florida must count the overseas ballots. Then, it becomes very interesting.

WATERS: All right. Greta Van Susteren in West Palm Beach, we are indeed in unchartered waters -- Natalie.

VAN SUSTEREN: We sure are.

ALLEN: And Bill Schneider is going to swim with us for a while now. He's keeping a close watch on all the developments of this intriguing election.

Bill, now, we have New Mexico joining the undecided category. You've got Oregon there and Florida there. There are other states that are looking at their tallies. What -- could this be -- what could this mean in the big picture, if more states start to recount and look things up?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It could mean a lot of trouble, Natalie, because what you have is at least now three states that are unofficially decided. Oregon was never called. Florida was briefly called for Bush, then retracted. And now New Mexico, which was called for Gore, now has declared itself a state where the election is undecided.

And what it suggests -- Iowa and Wisconsin were very close votes. Those were votes for Gore. What it suggests is that if you start going down the legal road, bringing challenges, demanding recounts, talking about cases of confusion in the ballot, that road could be unending and the process could go on quite a long time. It just highlights the dangers involved in this.

ALLEN: What does it mean, too -- and look how close it is in so many states. Now, New Mexico -- what is it? Just 164 votes is what Al Gore has over George Bush. What does a voter -- what did the voters say in their message sent...


ALLEN: ... making this such a close race?

SCHNEIDER: Well, look, you know, you have a lead. Gore is leading in the national popular vote right now by less than one quarter of 1 percent. Nobody has a majority in the electoral college. The House is almost evenly divided. The Senate is just about 50/50. You have state after state either too close to call or a tiny majority.

What are the voters trying to say? Well, you know, you can look at those close divisions and you can say we have a deeply polarized electorate, we're on the verge of a political civil war. But that's not what they're trying to say, because when we looked at the exit poll, we asked people, "Who comes closer to your view of government?" A third said Gore, a third said Bush, and a third said it doesn't make any difference. They're both about the same.

What the voters were really saying in that close vote was that they couldn't make up their minds. They were saying that they were of two minds. There were things they liked about each candidate and things they didn't like about each candidate, and the same about the two parties in the race for Congress. They couldn't make up their minds, so it ended up being a very close race. It should not be misread as a deeply polarized electorate.

ALLEN: And let's talk about these absentee ballots now, that the focus is turning on these in Florida. Who gets these absentee ballots? Where would they all be coming from? How are they sent out?

SCHNEIDER: Well, they're not all coming from any one place. The absentee ballots go to people who are legal residents of Florida, registered to vote, who want to vote in the election. Many of them, historically, have come from military personnel stationed overseas, because there's usually an effort to encourage military personnel to vote. Some of them are from traveling business people, men and women. Some of them could be from Jewish citizens who are living in Israel. I mean, some of them have dual citizenship. They come from a variety of places.

The only generalization we can make is that absentee ballots, particularly those from overseas, tend to be disproportionately from men, because they do most of the business traveling, and there are more men than women in the military, and that men have historically, in the last 20 years, voted more Republican.

The evidence is in 1996 the absentee ballots in Florida went 55 to 45 for Bob Dole whereas the Florida vote went for Bill Clinton. So the suggestion is that Bush feels he ought to do well in that absentee ballot count, if it's like absentee ballots usually are.

ALLEN: And finally, "The Washington Post" is saying that it's -- the margin is so tiny that it's absolutely certain that the vote -- an accurate vote count is impossible at this point. Whoever steps into the White House, perhaps it's good what you say about the exit poll, that people just aren't certain what they feel about what the candidates are offering, that the country will stand behind whoever's in there, because there's been a lot of doubts about the ability to govern at this point.

SCHNEIDER: That's right. They just want someone elected, someone who can bring country together. The voters do not want to be divided, and they're finding the politicization of the vote-counting process is dangerously dividing the country.

The candidates should not be involved. The voters, they can complain, they can protest, they can bring legal action, as Greta said. But the problem is the campaigns should not get involved in encouraging these efforts.

ALLEN: Bill Schneider, thanks, Bill. We'll hear more from you. Now over to Lou.

WATERS: And coming up, this we know. Someone new will be moving into the White House, and despite what you may think, the transition from one administration to another has not always gone smoothly. More about that ahead. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ALLEN: Well, believe it or not, you can believe this, the Bush- Gore election controversy isn't the first time for bumps in the road to the White House.

WATERS: Certainly not, CNN national correspondent Bruce Morton takes a page or two from the history books.


BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's funny, of course. The late-night guys love it.


JAY LENO, HOST: Man, and what is it down to, just a couple of votes? Boy, wouldn't it be great if this whole thing wound up being decided by Elian Gonzalez's crazy relatives? Uncle Lazaro and the crazy fisherman, we got the final vote right here.


MORTON: But it isn't just funny. Oprah's worried.


OPRAH WINFREY, HOST: But we're live in Chicago on November 9 and we are leaderless. Aren't we still shocked?


MORTON: And some of us are.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's a lot of problems with counting and exactly how many votes are actually valid and whatnot, and it just makes me think that, whoever they elect, is that really our president or is it a counting mistake?

MORTON: Nowadays, everything is instant. But elections used to be slow. And even then, the U.S. always muddled through somehow. Abraham Lincoln was murdered. His vice president, Andrew Johnson, was impeached in a country bitterly divided at the end of the Civil War. But power passed smoothly. Andrew Jackson won the popular vote and the electoral vote but not a majority. And the House elected John Quincy Adams president. Power passed smoothly. And Jackson won the presidency four years later. Same with Grover Cleveland, won the popular vote, but the Electoral College went for Benjamin Harrison and Cleveland got elected four years later.

When Richard Nixon resigned the presidency -- something that had never happened before -- in 1974, people said this will be bad for the country. But it was only bad for Nixon. The country, under Gerald Ford, was calm. It was the same Nixon who, when he lost a very close election to John Kennedy in 1960, did not pursue vote fraud charges in Illinois but accepted the results. This time, well, everyone's talking about it.

TERESA CHAPPEL, REPUBLICAN ELECTOR: If I was on the other side, I probably would say, yes, the popular vote. However, it is the Electoral College in this country that elects our president and I think that should hold.

MORTON: They'll debate changing the system for next time. But the odds are this election will be decided under the law, fairly calmly, no coups, no national collapse. And if we need a temporary president, somebody to mind the store while the lawsuits get settled, I know just the guy, and so do you. You know he'd love to be asked. It absolutely beats being the spouse of a famous senator.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.


WATERS: A quick recap now of events up to this moment in the stalled presidential election: New Mexico returns to the undecided column as the vote there drives Al Gore's lead of George W. Bush down to just 164 votes.

Republican George W. Bush meets with advisers, planning for a possible White House administration.

Democrat Al Gore keeps a low profile in Washington, staying close to home and family.

Florida's secretary of state says the much-disputed ballot in Palm Beach County was perfectly legal under Florida law in the face of several voter lawsuits.

ALLEN: And that will do it for now. There is much more ahead, a 90-minute edition of "INSIDE POLITICS," so be sure to watch a lot of movies this weekend too. Have a good time. Thanks for watching, I'm Natalie Allen.

WATERS: I'm Lou Waters. Take care.



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