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Manual Vote Count Procedure Varies in Palm Beach County

Aired November 11, 2000 - 6:00 p.m. ET


ANDRIA HALL, CNN ANCHOR: Five-days now and counting, and counting, and counting. As today's manual recounting of thousands of presidential ballots continues in Florida, the state's canvassing commissioner is warning against prolonging the extraordinary process. Says Bob Crawford, "You can't drag out an election for this long and expect the system to stay intact."

Right now we go to Florida live for a briefing now on what's going on with the very latest in this counting.

BOB NICHOLS, PALM BEACH COUNTY SPOKESMAN: This is a very serious process. And this process that is underway and that you are getting the opportunity to see, fully and completely is going to continue for a while. I'm going to call on Leon St. John from the county attorney's office to come up here and to explain what you just heard happening in the canvassing board; some of you may not have heard it.

But the discussion was on their particular use of light to see where there's a punch or where there might not be a punch. It's very vague in the law. And there is a part of it that -- Leon is going to explain to you exactly what happened there now. And this is Leon St. John with the county attorney's office -- Leon.

LEON ST. JOHN, PALM BEACH COUNTY ATTORNEY: The Florida statutes in chapter 102 state that a purpose...

QUESTION: Louder please.

ST. JOHN: Pardon me?


ST. JOHN: Florida statutes in chapter 102 state the responsibility of the canvassing board when there's a manual count, the -- if there's a discrepancy or a question on a ballot, the canvassing will look at the ballot to the best of their knowledge to discern the intent of the voter. That's all it says.

So the question is, what do you do? Does the chad have to be punched all the way out? Do you look at a dimple -- is that enough? It's within the discretion of the canvassing board.

In 1990 the canvassing board at that time adopted a procedure which was adopted by this canvassing board this morning at the meeting at 9:00, and copies of this were given to all of you that wanted it. That policy, in pertinent part, said as follows: "A chad that is fully attached bearing only an indentation should not be counted as a vote."

Now, the first three precincts in here you that you have seen through the windows have been decided into six teams. They have been separated and the ones that either the Republican Party or the Democratic Party felt that there was a question on were put to the side. Those are the ballots that the canvassing board had been reviewing and holding up to the light. Now, when they did that, they were looking for -- to see if you could see sunshine or light through where the chad is.

Counsel for the Republican Party as well as the Democratic Party are sitting immediately behind the canvassing board, and they have a good look at it, too. In the first batch that were looked at, the -- apparently the test they were applying was, if you could see light after the first batch went through. The chairperson of the canvassing board, the judge indicated that he had a concern that the light test, if you can use the term "light test," that's my term, was possibly not consistent with the guidelines that were adopted this morning.

The canvassing board discussed that and just moments ago they had decided to not go with the light test, but to go with the test that's reflected on the procedures where, if one of the four corners of the chad is detached, then that will be a vote. They are proceeding with the second batch now, of the six batches of the first three precincts.

When they are through, they are going to go back and go through the stack of the questioned ballots from the first batch, or from the first team.

QUESTION: How long is this going to take?

ST. JOHN: How long is it going to take? If I knew that question, you know, I could sell the answer. We don't have an answer. A best estimate, the hard count has already been completed of all the other ballots in the county. The hard count is only waiting for these four primaries -- I'm sorry, precincts.

QUESTION: Sir, that sounds like a lesser standard, that just one corner off than the light test. Is that a lesser standard for the vote?

ST. JOHN: That's your term, you can term it that way.

QUESTION: Well, I was wondering what your interpretation of it is...

ST. JOHN: I don't have a interpretation on it.

QUESTION: What happens with the ballots that approve the "objected" pile, the 500 or so ballots that the other attorneys object to -- what's the next step for those ballots? We understand from the pool reports that they've objected to some of the ballots. ST. JOHN: They objected to some of them. I'm not sure of the amount of them, and I'm not sure what the procedure is going to be tonight. The canvassing board is going to deal with that before the night is over. I'm not sure of that yet.

NICHOLS: Ladies and gentlemen, be careful now, and remember you have your pool reporters and you're going to have the opportunity to get information from those pool reporters and, in situations like the one you're talking about, please depend on that area, we caution you.

QUESTION: Can you tell us how many ballots ended up in the "question mark" pile?

NICHOLS: No, I can't, because there's judgment going on here; I can't tell you. That I can't tell you, I can tell you.

One at a time, what is it?.

QUESTION: How late do they plan on going tonight?

NICHOLS: Until they stop. We're going to make every effort to get it done tonight; and what that does to our schedule of briefings that we're been trying to keep, it means that we're going to continue to let you know.

Now, Leon told you that the others have been counted now. We are almost -- it's right at the end of getting the machine count completed. As soon as the machine count is completed -- and that means to get it completed, totally, we have to have those other four precincts in there. So that's going to take a bit longer.

I wish I could tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that we're all going to be able to go home and have a nice dinner in the next hour or so; I'm sorry, that's not going to happen.

QUESTION: Are you going to wait to release the mechanical count until the other is done?

NICHOLS: We have to, yes. I mean, we can't tell you what the count is until those other precincts are in the mechanical count.

QUESTION: Bob, could you summarize...

NICHOLS: Summarize what, I'm sorry?

QUESTION: Could you summarize, once more -- of the four precincts, all of them have been reviewed and now the disputed ballots have gone over to the judges. Have all of the disputed ballots been reviewed? Some of them, a quarter of them, how much?

NICHOLS: I cannot answer that. I'll have to research that for you and find out. I can't tell you. My initial reaction is no, but I'd have to find out for sure.

QUESTION: So you say at 4:00, 5:00 in the morning, they could be here, still looking at ballots? NICHOLS: I wish I didn't have to say that, but I think, yes, it's possible.

Yes ma'am?

QUESTION: Did the party representative subject to the one-out- of-four-corners test?

NICHOLS: I don't know, I was not privy to that part of it. But all of you can see and hear what's going on in there, so...

QUESTION: Actually, we can't. Is there any way to move the microphones closer to them?

NICHOLS: Both, yes -- counsel tells me both parties were heard by the judge on whether or not they objected, so. Is there somebody saying you can't hear?

QUESTION: We can't hear all the stuff.

NICHOLS: I'm sorry, we can't accommodate that outside thing, you'll have to have a monitor.

QUESTION: But the microphone -- even up there, the microphone isn't close enough.

NICHOLS: We're doing the best we can. Make sure you touch base with your pool people; they can help you.

QUESTION: Sir, earlier in the day (INAUDIBLE)

NICHOLS: Speak up ma'am.

QUESTION: Earlier in the day we were told that if only one corner of the chad was detached it would not be counted as a vote. Are you now saying that it is going to be counted as a vote?

NICHOLS: That's what's Leon said, right?


NICHOLS: The discussion underway right now is the original policy of the canvassing board is what they're going to go by, without the light test. That's best way I can answer it.

The original, that's what they're doing.

QUESTION: Sir, the original policy, according to (OFF-MIKE) was that if it was only attached by one corner it would not be counted as a vote.

NICHOLS: If that's what was in the policy, that's what they're going by.

QUESTION: But that's different from what he just said.

NICHOLS: I can't respond to you directly on it.

QUESTION: Tell us what the policy is with the chad. Restate the policy.

NICHOLS: Restate the policy? The policy that was done this morning is that there was, and I believe, and I, where is Leon? Did you get -- the attorneys, because I'm not an attorney, want to make sure they're here before I give you -- I can only tell you what they tell me, that the policy would be that if you don't -- they were using the light test. Now if there is one corner, or three corners attached still, it won't be counted as a vote. That's the way I understand it.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He said it would be counted as a vote.

NICHOLS: That's why I'm asking you to come back. We'll clear it up before we leave here. Don't worry. We're not going to leave you hanging, I promise you.


QUESTION: No matter what happens, does this change your strategy in future elections to go to a different approach, a different way of equal vote so you don't get into this situation again.

NICHOLS: I wish I could tell you what's going to happen in the future. I'm quite certain that this is going to be debated over and over again and that there are going to be all kinds of procedural things that are going to be debated for possible change in the future. I wish I could read the future. I'd tell you when we's be out of here tonight.

QUESTION: How would characterize the level of bickering that's going inside the recount room?

NICHOLS: I can't answer that. I haven't been witness to any of it. QUESTION: Do you have to essentially begin over again (INAUDIBLE).

NICHOLS: I can't answer that one either. That will be up to the canvassing board. But I can find out.


NICHOLS: I can't hear you. ma'am.

QUESTION: If you change the standard, it makes sense you have to start over again.

NICHOLS; Well, they're going to continue from where they are now and then go back to that batch.

QUESTION: Could you recap what is exactly left for the board to do? NICHOLS: A little bit louder.

QUESTION: Can you recap what is exactly left in terms of the counting for you all to do?

NICHOLS: I cannot. I don't know exactly how many they have gone through.

QUESTION: What's the total number?

QUESTION: Tell us the policy on the chads.

NICHOLS: I'm waiting for Leon to come back. He's on his way back. Be calm.

QUESTION: Are you concerned at all as the night goes on about fatigue among those working on ballots?

NICHOLS: Am I concerned about their fatigue? I think we're all concerned about fatigue, whether how, you know, people are going to get tired, but they're dedicated to getting the job done. And I think -- I understand it's a serious question and I'm certain if there is a time where that becomes an issue that the judge, the county commissioner and the supervisor will indeed let us all know. Anybody else?

All right this is the page and we'll try to make it so that it is easy to understand. These are the guidelines on ballots with chads not completely removed. The instructions in the voting machines are as follows, and these are the printed rules as we were going. To vote hold the punch straight up and punch down through the card next to the preferred candidate's name or issue position.

The guidelines assume that these directions have been understood and followed. Therefore a chad that is hanging or partially punched may be counted as a vote since it is possible to punch through the card and still not totally dislodge the chad. But a chad that is fully attached bearing only an indentation should not be counted as a vote.

An indentation may result from a voter placing the stylus in the position but not punching through. Thus an indentation is not evidence of intent to cast a valid vote. That is the procedure approved by the November 6, 1990 Canvassing Board: Robert Gross, country court judge; Jackie Winchester, supervisor of elections; and Carrol Elmquist (ph), county commission. That was November 2, 1990. That is the policy they're going back to.


QUESTION: That doesn't explain the discrepancy between what was told this morning to us and what was just said here versus the one grade point.

NICHOLS: They're going back to go by this policy. They're will continue -- I didn't say that. I said they're going to continue what they have not done under this policy. They will go back to the other batches and go according to this policy.

QUESTION: So what the judge said...

NICHOLS: That's the explanation.

QUESTION: So what the judge said this morning no longer holds?

NICHOLS: I wasn't privy to what the judge said this morning. I'm telling you what I know now. Obviously, he's not. He's back in the canvassing board now but he sent this out so that we can clear it up.

We'll discuss this clear individually with you if you want. If this doesn't clear it up. I reiterate to you, this policy they adopted this morning, they are now going to continue to adhere to it. There was a change in the middle. They are going to adhere to this policy. Anything that was counted after they changed was going to be back and retraced.

They will redo those batches. Now that doesn't mean they're going to go and start all over again. What they're going to do is those that they have not done yet, will go back to the original policy. They're going to do it this and those that were done in any other way they will go back and redo them. That's as clear as I can make it.


NICHOLS: I can't answer that. I don't know. I'm sorry. I will try to find out.

QUESTION: Does it say anything about one corner or anything to determine that. The policy you just read doesn't say anything about one corner being detached. Where did you get that from?

NICHOLS: I didn't. She brought that up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: you brought that up.


NICHOLS: No, I was just answering her question.

QUESTION: If all of us are this confused, how do know that they understand the rules?

NICHOLS: I can't answer that.

QUESTION: When it was decided that the one corner detached was going to be the standard because that's not what it...

NICHOLS: I can't answer the when. I cannot answer when.

QUESTION: But you said you're adhering to the standards and that's what the standard says. NICHOLS: Excuse me. Listen to me. I can only tell you that this is what they have decided to follow from this point on. There's no point to belabor it.


QUESTION: Based on what we've heard today, they could again change the standard in a next few hours. There's no written guideline that says...

NICHOLS: I'm sure you're all watching if they do that you'll know.

QUESTION: Do they have the right to change it again if they desire?

NICHOLS: The canvassing board, as you can tell by the statute, they make the rules. They do make the decision. They can do what they want as far as once they decide amongst themselves. That's what they do. I don't think that will happen. I don't know, but keep watching. You can see, we're making it available to you.

QUESTION: Will there ever be an end to this with all these controversies?

NICHOLS: Trust me, everything has an end. This might not be in a hurry, but it will have an end at some. Anybody else?

Now as far the rest of our briefings go and our schedule. Because of the fact that this is going to take a bit longer, it means that it'll be awhile before we have the machine counts, the recount on the machine, the third recount on the machine.

So as soon as that is available, you will see us back here. If it looks like it's going to be a really extended time, obviously, we will come back here and we will tell you. We're keep you posted as to what's doing, even over and above what you're able to see from the camera in the canvassing room and what you can do and we will continue.

Now, I had asked any of you who had individual questions at a time when we're not involved in a briefing or any other time to write those down, deliver them to one of the deputies at the door here and they'll them to me and I'll get them to the right people and we'll get them answered as best we can.


NICHOLS: I know you don't. You will.

QUESTION: How are they going to evaluate these ballots? And if Leon is the person who can answer that, why can't he walk out again to answer it?

NICHOLS: I'm going to tell you one more time. This is it. I will let you read it yourself if you don't like the way I did it. (CROSSTALK)

NICHOLS: One at a time please. One at a time

QUESTION: Let me try to clarify this because Leon did say something about one corned attached and yet it is not in (INAUDIBLE)

NICHOLS: We will make every effort to -- we'll clear it up. I understand that.

QUESTION: Could you clear it up for us now?

QUESTION: Who's right, you or Leon?

NICHOLS: There's no difference. I am not right or wrong. I'm a conduit of information. And this is the that information I'm telling you.


NICHOLS: I understand that. Excuse me. This is the policy that's being followed. The canvassing board made the decision and they're following this policy.

QUESTION: Why did Leon say something different, then.


QUESTION: Can we get a copy of that?

NICHOLS: Of this? I'll let you see it. I'm told we're in the process of making copies of this for you. We'll put them out right here. Anything else? Sir.


NICHOLS: If you don't see any action there they may be completed in the machine. I haven't looked back.


QUESTION: How far along are they in the manual recount?

NICHOLS: I'm not sure. Does anybody know how far along they are?

You want to know how far along they are in the hand count? Maybe 25 percent.

QUESTION: How long before you get the final results?

NICHOLS: it will be hours.

QUESTION: When will be the next briefing?

NICHOLS: The next briefing that we're planning we had planned to do another briefing at 9:00. We will keep you posted whether there is a need to do it before that or we will wait until 9:00. So we're going to do another one for you at 9:00 to give you an opportunity to make sure you know what's going on. And I will make every effort to get Leon here, too.

QUESTION: Leon said that if one corner of the chad...

NICHOLS: I'm not going to debate it with you anymore. Write your questions down and get them to me. That's the procedure we set.

HALL: You've just finished listening to Bob Nichols, Palm Beach County spokesman. And if you did, you might be a little confused as to what they are doing now, how will they judge the invalid ballots there in West Palm Beach.

Well what he's told us is they are 25 percent into the process of the hand count as of now. What they will do in terms of the canvassing board is they are going back to the original policy, which was dated back in November of 1990. They're no longer going to use this light test, so to speak, discerning whether or not the chad in the ballot is out or not. What they're going to do is if the chad is not completely removed, he says if there's a tab hanging partially or punched through partially, they may be counted as a vote.

But if the chad is fully attached with just an indentation, it will not be counted as a vote. Don't worry, we'll sort it all out for you.

Let's go to Jeanne Meserve and see what else she can short out for us. She's standing by live in Austin, Texas.

Jeanne, I guess you just heard that. I'm sure it's a little too early to get a response from the Bush campaign.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well this matter of how to deal with questionable ballots is exactly why the Bush campaign says it went to court today to try to stop the hand counting that's going on in Florida. The Gore campaign asked the Bush campaign to stop that legal action. The response this evening from the Bush campaign: no way.


GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hey, hey, hey, hey, please. It's not your turn. Sorry, the dog wanted to have a few comments. What she says was, let's finish the recount. Anyway...

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It may be awhile. As Governor Bush talked transition at his Texas ranch, his commander on the ground in Florida was marching into court with an injunction to stop the hand recount of some ballots there.

BAKER: And, therefore, this morning we have asked that the United States district court for the southern district of Florida preserve the integrity and the consistency and the equality and the finality of the most important civic action that Americans take: their votes in an election for president of the United States.

MESERVE: The Bush camp maintains that machines replaced hand counting to make the tabulation of ballots more accurate, less subjective and less open to error or fraud.

BAKER: Machines are neither Republicans nor Democrats, and, therefore, can be neither consciously nor unconsciously biased.

MESERVE: Baker said he was not afraid of the outcome of the hand recount. But hand recounts do tend to boost the margin of the victor. And all the hand recounts requested in Florida are in areas Gore won.

The Bush campaign warns it could counter with requests for hand recounts in Republican areas, and the Bush campaign continues to contemplate their options elsewhere, including Iowa and Oregon, where the race remains tight; Wisconsin and New Mexico, where there are slim margins and some reports of voting irregularities.

BUSH: All options are open, of course, but what will be good for the country is to have this election over with so that the new administration can do the people's business.

MESERVE: While the tussle continues, the candidate and the campaign projected a public image of calm and confidence.


(on camera): But if may be days before the campaign knows whether it can declare that victory with certainly -- Andria.

HALL: Jeanne, what about those battleground states that you talked about, or specifically those states that are still in question: Iowa, Oregon, Wisconsin and New Mexico. Where do things stand there?

MESERVE: Don't expect the Bush campaign to do anything before Monday. In some of those states, the ballots are still being counted. They don't have a final tally, and for the time being the Bush campaign is concentrating all of its efforts, all its attention on what is happening in Florida, to try and stop that hand counting of ballots. They want to see what the judge does Monday morning with the injunction they've requested -- Andria.

HALL: They've got quite a few hours to wait then, in fact a day and a half

Jeanne Meserve reporting live from Austin, Texas, thanks, Jeanne.



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