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The Florida Recount

Aired November 11, 2000 - 10:00 p.m. ET


STEPHEN FRAZIER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, fallout over election 2000: Uncertainty in the presidential race tests patience and paves the way for legal challenges.


JAMES BAKER, BUSH CAMPAIGN OBSERVER: The manual vote count sought by the Gore campaign would not be more accurate than an automated count. Indeed, it would be less fair and less accurate.

WARREN CHRISTOPHER, GORE CAMPAIGN OBSERVER: When doubts have arisen, a hand count is seen as the best way to ascertain the true views of the voters.


FRAZIER: George W. Bush sees it as nothing but a fishing expedition.


GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We don't think there needs to be three elections.


FRAZIER: The courts will now help decide the battle over ballots -- all straight ahead in CNN's special report, "The Florida Vote."

ANDRIA HALL, CNN ANCHOR: From the CNN Center in Atlanta, welcome to this special report, "The Florida Recount." I'm Andria Hall.

FRAZIER: And I'm Stephen Frazier. Good evening, everyone.

We have several major stories to report from around the world tonight, including a hijacking of a commercial airliner on its way to Moscow and a horrible train crash in an Austrian ski resort.

But first the latest in the United States presidential election.

The first of several thousand ballots in Palm Beach County, Florida, were manually recounted today, despite attempts from the Bush campaign to block that move. Supporters of presidential candidate Al Gore took to the streets in West Palm Beach demanding a revote. Hundreds of Democrats have complained that butterfly ballots used in the count confused them, causing them to vote for the wrong candidate.

Now along with Florida, New Mexico has shifted to the too-close- to-call column. On election night, Democrat Al Gore appeared to have won that state by 7,000 votes, but now Republican George Bush is ahead by 17.

We have two reports on the very latest in the Florida recount. CNN's John King has reaction on todays events from the Gore campaign. But first, Jeanne Meserve reports from the Texas capital.


BUSH: 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.

Jeanne Meserve, CNN, Austin, Texas.



JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Arrogance and hypocrisy were the words the Gore camp used to describe Governor Bush's decision to take the fight for Florida into federal court. Arrogance, the Gore camp said, because a hand recount is clearly allowed under Florida state law.

CHRISTOPHER: If Governor Bush truly believes that he has won the election in Florida, he should not have any reason to doubt or to fear to have the machine count checked by hand count.

KING: Hypocritical, they said, because Bush himself in 1997 signed a Texas law governing election disputes that says, quote, "A manual recount shall be conducted in preference to an electronic recount."

This hand count in Palm Beach County is one of four requested by the Gore campaign, a process the Democrats believe will swing the vote tally in the vice president's favor.

The Bush camp says it' is critical that the country know now who won the elections, but the Gore team says the manual recount will take just a few days and be finished well ahead of next Friday's state deadline for certifying absentee ballots from overseas.

CHRISTOPHER: Until today, the Bush campaign has argued that every minute counts. We have consistently maintained, however, that, as we continue to do today, that every vote must count.

KING: The Gore team came under fire a few days ago for suggesting it might mount a court challenge and it seemed to relish the fact that it was the Bush campaign that ended up going to court.

CHRISTOPHER: We call upon the Bush campaign to withdraw the litigation that they have filed today and to allow a full and accurate count to be made of all the votes in the state of Florida.

KING: The vice president's lawyers say all options remain open. Democratic sources tell CNN that here is now a consensus within the Gore camp that initiating a court challenge could create a public backlash.

(on camera): But that doesn't guarantee all this will be over by next Friday. There are several private lawsuits pending, and some attorneys believe that will prolong the fight for Florida and the White House for some time to come.

John King, CNN, Washington.


FRAZIER: Well, we have two guests joining us now to help untangle those issues that we've just explained. From Fort Lauderdale, Ellen Soteber, the managing editor of the "South Florida Sun-Sentinel" and Kenneth Gross in Tallahassee, who's an expert on election law and a consultant to CNN now on the results in Florida and beyond.

Mr. Gross, first to you. You heard John King mention private lawsuits. If those lawsuits have been filed and are actually now before the courts, will they then delay the official certification of ballots? Are they, in fact, the determining factor?

KENNETH GROSS, ELECTION LAW SPECIALIST: Well, not necessarily. A court can order, as a result of one of those lawsuits, a delay and put it off. So it's possible, but it's not necessarily a result of those lawsuits.

FRAZIER: A lawsuit on a matter as basic as this, how quickly could it be resolved in a court?

GROSS: Well, it's going to take a while, because first of all we're at the trial court level. And then there's, of course, the appeal level. So anything that works its way through the court system is going to, even on an expedited basis, it would take weeks potentially, a little longer.

FRAZIER: What's the test to see if these suits have any kind of credence before the court?

GROSS: Well, it's just like any other legal action. The lawyers for the plaintiffs are going to have to accumulate evidence. They're going to need affidavits from people who said that their votes were miscalculated, they're going to need evidence that perhaps the ballots themselves, there was something wrong with it, and the aberrational voting patterns will all count toward the weight of evidence. And that's what's going to need to be brought before the judge to see if they have a case...

FRAZIER: In your...

GROSS: ... And the standard is -- and the standard is, is whether there's some sort of substantial irregularity.

FRAZIER: In your experience as a former counsel to the Federal Elections Commission, do you see actions here that meet the test?

GROSS: Well, that's, of course, the $64 question. And I think there is some irregularity that appears to have occurred based on the aberrational voting patterns. But one of the hurdles that these private lawsuits have to overcome, which I think is a difficult one, is what remedy are they going to get? Can this thing -- can this case be rectified short of a revote? And I think a revote is such an extraordinary remedy that a court would be very reluctant to do it.

If there was something that could be done short of that, recounting and that would be somehow satisfactory to the plaintiffs, then possibly relief could be obtained.

FRAZIER: Well that discussion of a revote, Mr. Gross, takes us to Miss Soeteber then and what people on the streets are calling for. You say that you haven't seen this level of energyy and demonstrations in protests since the war?

ELLEN SOETEBER, "SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL": I really haven't. And the fervor is incredible. And the demonstrations and the protest we're seeing, a lot of them are spontaneous. Sure there are some people here organizing and trying to get people riled up, but a lot of it is just people doing it on their own. And that's something that I haven't seen since the war.

I mean, we had the Elian Gonzalez saga here in South Florida not all that long ago, but this has become a much bigger event. It's affecting a lot more people. It's drawing the emotion of a lot more people and a greater variety of people.

At the "Sun-Sentinel," we have been getting thousands of letters, phone calls and e-mails. The e-mails come in so fast that you can hardly keep up with them, and we've never seen anything like that.

FRAZIER: So then genuine interest shared by the citizenry, as well as the professionals like you and us here.

SOETEBER: Oh, no question. I don't hear people talking about anything else.

FRAZIER: Well, Miss Soeteber, Mr. Gross, thank you both for your insights tonight and for joining us late on a Saturday -- Andria.

GROSS: Thank you.

HALL: Well should there be a new election in Palm Beach County, Florida? The Americans who responded to a new CNN/"Time" poll were about evenly split on that question. Fifty percent say yes, while 47 percent don't think a new election is necessary in Palm Beach County, Even fewer of those polled thought the whole state of Florida should revote and only 22 percent thought the entire country should go back to the ballot box.

As to when and f Al Gore should concede the election, 39 percent of those polled think he should wait until after the court decisions come down.

And most of those polled seem to think Gore will have to concede eventually. Sixty-nine percent say George W. Bush will be the next president.

The election fallout in Florida is swirling around the two major presidential candidates. Wolf Blitzer talks with the observers for the Bush and Gore campaigns in a special two-hour program of CNN's "LATE EDITION." That airs Sunday, 12:00 p.m. Eastern.

It is a tiring, tedious process but important nonetheless. Up next, a live progress report on Florida's vote count.

Then the nation pauses to remember the men and women who risked their lives to defend our freedom. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HALL: In West Palm Beach, Florida, the hand counting of ballots got under way today. a handful of votes could determine the next resident of the White House, the next president of this nation. And America is standing anxiously by.,

Also standing by, CNN national correspondent Gary Tuchman, who joins us from West Palm Beach, where the counting continues even tonight.

Gary, what's the latest from there?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Andria, behind this window the counting of the 1 percent of the Palm Beach County vote continues. It began at 2:00 Eastern time. And right now, there's no end in sight.


(voice-over): They arrived with great hoopla. Under escort from the Palm Beach County sheriff's office, the ballots from four Palm Beach County precincts were brought to election headquarters for a manual recount.

With news media cameras allowed to take pictures, the count began. The election canvassing board focused heavily on ballots where no presidential choice was registered with the computers. They held the ballots to the light, trying to determine if the small punch holes known as chads should be counted as votes.

LEON ST. JOHN, PALM BEACH CO. ATTORNEY: If one of the four corners of the chad is detached, then that will be a vote.

BOB NICHOLS, PALM BEACH CO. SPOKESMAN: The ones that are not counted are the ones that are just dimpled or pregnant. They're a little bit out, but they're not through.

TUCHMAN: A spokesman for George W. Bush says the count is confusing and unfair.

TUCKER ESKEW, BUSH CAMPAIGN COMMUNICATIONS: It raises concerns about the process, and we wish to have it noted that it's a grave matter.

TUCHMAN: These ballots only represent 1 percent of Palm Beach County's vote, but Al Gore is picking up more votes than George W. Bush during this recount. And if it's ultimately decided to check all the Palm Beach County ballots manually, it could lead to Al Gore taking the lead in Florida.

ESKEW: It is much more prone to human error. Therefore, the Gore campaign would have us replace precision machines with hand counts.

In the Republican Party they've asked for manual recounts in other parts. So I don't understand why they wouldn't feel it's appropriate for the legitimacy of the process to now have a hand count.

TUCHMAN: The supervisor of this county's election office who designed the controversial ballot vows the count will be fair.


TUCHMAN: Now you might think something like this would happen behind closed doors where you couldn't see it, but lots of windows here, and we've all been staring in the windows for eight hours now. It began at 2:00, and it's still going on.

Now how officials would count all of Palm Beach County's 400,000-plus votes by hand is anybody's guest, but extrapolate it this way: This 1 percent has taken eight hours, which means by that rate 100 percent would take 800 hours. that's more than 33 days. Obviously this is a very complicated situation.

Now it does look funny looking at grown adults in an election office taking small pieces of paper, staring at the light like they're looking at their vacation pictures. but this is deadly serious, because these people could have a determination on who the next leader of the free world will be.

Andria, back to you.

HALL: Gary, maybe they'll get more proficient at this as they go along.

Just a quick question, as the night progresses, do you see the officials in there getting more frustrated, getting confused, do you see a steady, easy process developing?

TUCHMAN: There is one adviser from the Bush campaign, one adviser from the Gore campaign in there, and they are allowed to lodge protests when they look at the chads to determine if it should be a vote or not. They have been arguing back and forth. However, we are being told it's been calmer as the night goes on, but there may be a correlation between that calmness and the exhaustion they must be going through by staring at little holes for the last eight hours.

HALL: Gary Tuchman, thank you, as always. You explained it well.

Well let me explain it to you a little bit better. You heard Gary talk about all those chads, OK, here we go. Take a peek. This is the whole. This up here would be considered the chad. Can you see that? It's where it's not completely punched out. well, those are the tiny hole punches that vote counters use to interpret a ballot.

It's not always as easy you might think. Officials say there are basically three types of chad that are counted in Palm Beach County and two types that are not. Now hang with me on this one.

Vote counters accept what is called a hanging chad, a swinging door and a tri chad. In each instance, the hole punch fails to completely separate from the ballot.

Pregnant chads and dimples are simply indented ballots and are not counted.

FRAZIER: It turns out Florida is not the only state painstakingly reviewing its ballots for aberrations like that. A similar process is under way on the other side of the country. And we'll get a progress report on a recount in New Mexico when we come back.


FRAZIER: In the pending presidential election, Florida may be in the limelight, but other states are still under review. In New Mexico, election officials are doing some recounting of their own, and CNN's Greg LaMotte has their story.


GREG LAMOTTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Robert Lucero says he's had about three hours of sleep over the past four days. He is a very tired election official in the state of New Mexico, where he's dealt with computer glitches, more than 250 missing ballots and complaints from several hundred residents who said they didn't receive absentee ballots.

But Lucero says almost all the problems have been taken care of, and everyone seems satisfied.

ROBERT LUCERO, NEW MEXICO ELECTION OFFICIAL: We brought in a district judge, we brought in representatives from the Democratic Party, the Republican Party and the Green Party, who has a major party status in New Mexico. This three individuals' attorneys watched the process from start to finish, so they've been by our side day in and day out, and they approved of this process.

LAMOTTE (on camera): So who won the election in New Mexico?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not sure. Gore is what I thought, but it's very unclear right now.

LAMOTTE (voice-over): Al Gore once led in New Mexico by 7,000 votes. Now George Bush is ahead by 17, and no one knows who's going to win the state's five electoral votes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It shows you how each person's vote counts.

LAMOTTE (on camera): Is it making you a little crazy?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I'd like to get it over with.

LAMOTTE (voice-over): But while everything that can be done has, New Mexicans will have to wait possibly until Tuesday, maybe until Thursday, for the final result.

(on camera): Election officials say they still need to verify the ballots of more than 150 residents. These were people who said they didn't receive absentee ballots. Election officials need to make sure they didn't vote twice.

(voice-over): So how close is the election in New Mexico? It is so close that just a handful of votes could make the difference.

Greg LaMotte, CNN, Albuquerque, New Mexico.


HALL: This was also a day to honor those who risked their lives in the name of democracy.

When we come back, see how President Bill Clinton said thank you to all of America's veterans.


HALL: It was a day of remembrance in Washington. President Bill Clinton and a gathering of war heroes turned out to commemorate Veterans Day. At Arlington Cemetery, the president laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. He also paid respects to the sailors killed aboard the USS Cole last month. The president joined in a ceremonial groundbreaking for a new memorial for World War II veterans. The president used the opportunity to discuss the pending presidential election.


WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If ever there was a doubt about the value of citizenship and each individual's exercise of the freedom of citizenship to vote, this week's election certainly put it to rest.

And if ever there was a question about the strength of our democratic institutions in the face of healthy and natural political argument, it has been answered by the measured response of the American people to these extraordinary events.


HALL: President Clinton leaves for a trip to Asia on Monday.

FRAZIER: Included in his itinerary: Vietnam. He'd be the first president to visit there since the war.

In other news a hijacked Dagestani Airlines flight has been denied entry at this hour into Israeli air space. The flight was on its way to Moscow from the former Soviet republic of Dagestan when hijackers demanded that the pilot divert to Israel. Instead, the plane landed in Azerbaijan for refueling. There were some negotiations there, but it did take off again.

Beyond their arrival place of Israel, there's no word on what the hijackers want. Fifty-eight people are on board that plane. About 170 people are missing and now presumed dead after a fire broke out aboard a train in the Austrian Alps. The train was being pulled by cables through a tunnel Saturday to a ski resort in Caprun (ph).

A surge in violence has taken the lives of seven Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, this as Israel's prime minister jets to Washington for a meeting with President Clinton, that meeting aimed at curbing the violence.

HALL: Well, that is our special report on the Florida vote. Stay with CNN for full coverage throughout this developing story.

From the CNN Center in Atlanta, I'm Andria Hall.

FRAZIER: I'm Stephen Frazier. thanks so much. Have a good night. We'll see you tomorrow.



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