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The Florida Recount: To Recount or Not to Recount

Aired November 12, 2000 - 6:00 p.m. ET


ANDRIA HALL, CNN ANCHOR: To recount or not to recount: The Florida vote takes on Shakespearean overtones, as ballots are counted by hand, giving hope to Democrats.

STEPHEN FRAZIER, CNN ANCHOR: Meanwhile, Republicans say they're ready to fight any process that could change the results of an election they say has already been decided.

From CNN Center in Atlanta, this is a CNN special report on the Florida vote. I'm Stephen Frazier.

HALL: And I'm Andria Hall. Thanks for joining us.

The next few days could be crucial in deciding something we all thought was going to be decided with certainty last week: who is going to be the next president of the U.S.

A federal judge will hear a Republican request to stop the recounting on Monday. Also on Monday, a full hand recount is supposed to begin in Palm Beach County. Votes there are supposed to be certified by Tuesday. And Friday is the deadline for absentee ballots to arrive in Florida.

Election officials in Volusia County, Florida, want extra time to finish the manual recount under way there. Their original deadline is Tuesday at 5:00 p.m.

CNN's Brian Cabell is live in Deland, Florida, with the latest on the effort to determine a winner there -- Brian.


First a couple of things you need to know about Volusia County: It is Gore country. Gore won the first balloting and this recount, the first recount, by about 15,000 votes.

Secondly, they don't use the notorious punch ballot here, they use the ballot where you fill in the oval, like an SAT test, which is said to be a little more -- or considerably more reliable when it comes to counting those ballots accurately.

Still, there are a number of questionable votes that have come out here. We've been listening in. There are as many as 15 in some precincts, as few as one or two in other precincts. There are 172 precincts, so that's quite a few questionable votes that are coming up for looking at by the canvassing board.

Most of them, as we have seen, have been for Gore, but we don't know whether those votes were initially counted for Gore or not.

Bottom line is, we don't know whether the margin is narrowing at this point. There is no running tally. Still, the recount is going quickly, more quickly than expected. It may be done as early as tomorrow.

Earlier there was a thought that maybe they might miss the Tuesday 5:00 p.m. deadline, so the county decided it will file a lawsuit against the state over the deadline.


JUDGE MICHAEL MCDERMOTT, VOLUSIA COUNTY CANVASSING BOARD: The board authorized the county attorney to file a civil lawsuit in either state court or federal court joining as a defendant of the secretary of state of Florida, seeking a court order requiring an extension of the deadline.


CABELL: That lawsuit will be filed in state court tomorrow. At least that is the plan currently. Again, the deadline is Tuesday at 5:00 p.m. They have to have this recount finished and the votes entirely certified. The last word we got, though, was that more than 70 of the 172 precincts have already been counted. That means they're probably going to finish at least half of them tonight. That means they probably will finish the rest tomorrow.

We do not have a running tally, but, as I said, after all the votes are counted, we'll have a final tally. We will find out if the margin has been narrowed, whether Mr. Bush has perhaps gotten more votes, or whether we have precisely the same count we had during the first vote and the first recount.

I'm Brian Cabell, CNN live, in Deland, Florida.

FRAZIER: Brian, thank you.

Now in West Palm Beach, Florida, it's a day of rest for election officials there, but they are poised to begin the ballot recounting process once again.

Standing by with a look inside that Florida election process is CNN national correspondent Gary Tuchman -- Gary, are you near that infamous picture window again? No?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We are near the picture window, Stephen, here we saw so many images of vote counting yesterday.

You know, downtown West Palm Beach is usually very quiet on the weekend, but not this weekend because protesters have been outside here all day yesterday and all day today, protesters on both sides of this issue. Now early this morning the count of the 1 percent ended, and the Palm Beach County canvassing board made a decision to recount by hand all 425,000 votes in this county. That count could start as early as this Tuesday.

But that 1 percent vote that took place yesterday took about nine hours. Now there will be a lot more counters counting all 425,000 votes, but if one ballot was counted every single second without stopping, it would still take 118 hours -- that's five days. So 10:00 tomorrow morning, the three-member canvassing board will meet to make out their plans.


(voice-over): They are the numbers of the Palm Beach County Election Canvassing Board.

Team, you all raise them up together one at a time so the observers can look at them, too.

TUCHMAN: Election Supervisor Theresa Lepore, Circuit Court Judge Charles Burton and County Commissioner Carol Roberts oversee the final results of county ballots. But now the three have the potential to shape who becomes the next president of the United States.

CAROL ROBERTS, PALM BEACH COUNTY COMMISSIONER: I move that this board conduct a manual recount of all the ballots for the presidential election for the year 2000.

TUCHMAN: So now, unless a federal court stops it, it appears this heavily Democratic county will hand count 425,000-plus ballots, likely giving Gore the edge in the Florida vote count.

ROBERTS: All I want to do is make sure that whoever is elected president, there's no shadow on the election.

TUCHMAN: Carol Roberts is a Democrat who says her party affiliation does not affect this decision making. For 14 years, she has served on the county's legislative body. Prior to that, she was a mayor of West Palm Beach.

ROBERTS: It's awing to think about the impact that I and the members of the canvassing board are going to have on American history. And it's really scary.

TUCHMAN: Scary, she says, because of telephone threats she has received.

ROBERTS: I was called names that I couldn't repeat. They're saying things like, it words that I couldn't repeat but these are not the words that were used, you're not going to steal the election again, you better watch out, you know, if you're think you're going to get out of this alive, you need to be careful.

TUCHMAN: Did you tell the police?

ROBERTS: Yes, I had the police over last night.

TUCHMAN: All three members of the board are registered Democrats. There is no law that both major parties must be represented. But member Charles Burton's judgeship is a nonpartisan position, and he was appointed by George W. Bush's brother, Governor Jeb Bush.

JUDGE CHARLES BURTON, CANVASSING BOARD MEMBER: We are to serve as a neutral, ministerial body. And as a judge and a chairman of the board,, that has been my attempt, to try and to serve in that capacity.


TUCHMAN: Now Al Gore gain the 19 votes in the 1 percent recount here. If you extrapolate to 100 percent that would be 1,900 votes. Now, of course, he might get more, he might get less. But he only has to make up 327 votes in the entire state of Florida to take the lead over George W. Bush. So the three-member canvassing board is in the heat of the political spotlight, much to their surprise.

Andria, back to you.

HALL: Thank you, Gary. As we told you earlier in the evening, Prime Minister Ehud Barak from Israel is scheduled to arrive in Washington. We do believe he's arrived.

Let's take it to Mike Hanna, who's standing by live there in D.C.

MIKE HANNA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Andria, we are waiting at the moment for Prime Minister Ehud Barak to leave his airplane, which has just arrived at Andrews Air Force Base. He'll be going directly, we understand for a meeting with President Bill Clinton.

This meeting a senior aide to Mr. Barak has described as one that is very, very important. The aide says that it is a meeting that is critical to peace making. Basically, it's not quite clear what will be discussed. However, Israeli officials have said that the meeting will be taking place on two levels.

Firstly, they will be discussing ways in which to end the ongoing cycle of violence. And secondly, they will be discussing ways in which to resume a peace process that has long been dormant.

The meeting follows also a meeting between President Clinton and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, that took place on Thursday night. These series of meetings been called by President Clinton in a bid to end the violence on the one level, and secondly to find ways in which the peace process can be revitalized.

The one problem perhaps involving this series of meetings is that it had been expected at this particular point it would have been known who would be the next president of the United States, who will be taking over from Mr. Clinton, and there could have been a period of handing over in terms of the Middle East peace process itself. But that, given the political circumstances within the United States, is not clear at this particular point. And certainly from the size of the delegations, from the Palestinians, we heard expressed very clearly in recent days that there is an awareness that because of the political circumstances in the United States, the window for effecting major peace agreements is now very limited, that Palestinians in particular appear well aware that whoever takes over as the next U.S. administration, it's going to be a long period of time given the political circumstances before they're going to be able to focus on the peace process once more.

So certainly there's a belief that if an agreement is not reached between now and the end of President Clinton's term, which is January 20th, then it is going to be a long time before U.S. is going to get directly involved in the peace process again. So it is seen by the Palestinians and most likely by the Israelis that the next few weeks and indeed the next few months until the end of the Clinton administration is utterly critical in terms of getting some kind of an agreement.

Now Mr. Barak, who we are still waiting here to emerge from his aircraft, arrives here on a rather tumultuous day. He had set out earlier on in the course of the day and turned his aircraft around following news of a hijack attempt. A plane was hijacked and flown into Israel. However, that was solved peacefully, and Mr. Barak then once again set off for the United States for this meeting with Mr. Clinton.

Shortly after he took off, however, came the news of the death of Leah Rabin, a person who had been very close to Mr. Barak and somebody who had been a very important player in the peace process and who no less than 10 days ago made a spirited appeal to Mr. Barak to get the peace process going once again. Mrs. Rabin dying of cancer after a long illness.

So for Mr. Barak, it has been a long day, a very sad day, too, in many ways too. But his focus now is to go along, to meet with President Clinton, to hear from President Clinton what transpired between him and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat on Thursday night.

One of the things that we understand that Mr. Arafat did discuss with President Clinton was a question of an international protection force in the Middle East region. Now Israel has been opposed to such a force, to what it sees as the internationalization of the peace process.

Mr. Clinton apparently indicated to Mr. Arafat that he would bring up the question with Mr. Barak, but Mr. Clinton has been on the record that there will be no international force without Israeli approval. Israel has made absolutely clear that it will not allow any kind of international force at all. But still, Mr. Clinton will be relaying Mr. Arafat's views on this to Mr. Barak, and perhaps Mr. Arafat's views on ways in which the violence can be ended will be forwarded as well to Mr. Barak -- Andria. HALL: Clearly, Mike, Ehud Barak, a lot on his mind and a lot on his heart as he leaves his own country. When he is here in the U.S., he's not just going to meet with President Bill Clinton, I would assume. Does he have anything else on his itinerary at this point?

HANNA: Well, at the moment it's all up in the air, given the circumstances of what's happened today in Israel, in particular the death of Leah Rabin. Mr. Barak had been intending to travel on to Chicago after his meeting with President Clinton, where he was due to address a number of various groups. However, at this particular point, we're not sure if that itinerary is remaining the way it was or whether there are going to be now new changes given the circumstances of the past 24 hours, and in particular the death of Mrs. Rabin.

So at this point, Andria, we're not sure whether his schedule is going to stay the same, or whether it's going to change -- Andria.

HALL: Mike, Stephen has a question for you.

FRAZIER: Mike, it looks like we're seeing the prime minister just now. What would be the delay? Since they're on the ground already and we know what he wants to talk about, what would take him so long just to get off the plane.

HANNA: Well, this we're not really sure about. There we do see him emerging now. Possibly he had been due to go for pre-meeting briefing before his meeting with Mr. Clinton. This may not be the case now, and possibly he was being briefed on the plane before leaving it to go directly to the meeting with Mr. Clinton. But that is speculation. We are not sure at this point whether he will go straight into the meeting or whether there will be some kind of pre- briefing process that had originally been planned. But the whole schedule is now running so late that everything is likely to be stepped up.

FRAZIER: And finally now, we see the prime minister emerging and after greeting a number of people who were there for him, getting into the car. And two points, as Mike said, still unknown.

Mike Hanna, thank you for your insights here, as we see these pictures of the prime minister arriving.

We're going to take a break here now. And when we come back, more on the recount in Florida.


HALL: Back to the race for the White House, that race seeming more like a snail's pace. As the recounting in Florida continues, ballot confirmations will take place in Tallahassee, Florida.

And that's where CNN's Deborah Feyerick picks up the story.

Hi, Deborah.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Andria. Well, the Democrats are preparing to file a legal brief. They had hoped to get that in sometime around 5:00, 5:30 today. It's taken then a bit longer, of course. They want to cross all Ts, dot all Is. This is their response to the Bush lawsuit seeking a temporary restraining order as well as an injunction against the hand count now going on in those several Federal counties.

A federal judge has scheduled a hearing for tomorrow. Both sides of court will be represented there.

And to bring us up to speed on what we can expect is Kenneth Gross, a CNN legal analyst who also specializes in election law.

First of all, walk us through what you expect to happen tomorrow with the judge and this lawsuit.

KENNETH GROSS, ELECTION LAW SPECIALIST: Well, we're going to have a hearing at 9:30 tomorrow morning, and the lawyers for the Bush campaign will be there, the lawyers for the Gore campaign will be there defending the lawsuit. And they're going to make an argument to the judge, and the Bush campaign is going to argue that the whole hand counting process needs to come to an end because their constitutional rights of the Florida citizens are being interfered with because of the vagaries of the recount process.

And essentially, the Gore people are going to say, let it go. We're under a state statutory procedure. There's no constitutional reason to stop this case.

FEYERICK: What are the judge's options here?

GROSS: The judge, of course, could grant an injunction and stop the counting and that would be the end of it. So that was a piece.

Or the judge can simply outright deny it and the state process would take its course.

I suppose there is a middle option where the judge could take jurisdiction over the case without a ruling and just sort of see how it develops over a short period of time.

FEYERICK: OK, now there was something else that happened today. Jim Smith, who was a former Florida attorney general, was here at the Capitol, basically talking about the rules of absentee ballots. And one of the things that he was also talking about was fraud and felony, saying that anyone who partakes in any sort of fraud when it comes to these overseas ballots is committing effectively a felony. And we want to ask you a question about that.

Why have this press conference? Why let people know about this so late in the game? What is he setting up with this?

GROSS: Well, he certainly didn't say anything knew. In fact, he just essentially read the statute to the press corps that was there and didn't take many questions. The only thing I could divine from it is that the Bush campaign was trying to say, this is a very strict process, and if you fool around with it in any way you're subject to prosecution. Because they think these absentee ballots are going to help them.

Of course, the other side of it, as a lawyer listening to this, I hear a formula for even more challenges. There's only -- a witness can only witness five ballots, and everything has legal complications. Who's to say that they won't be legally challenged?

FEYERICK: OK, Ken Gross, thank you for joining us today. Of course, that legal brief will be filed shortly. That's what the Democrats are telling us, and, of course, we'll have the latest for you on that.

Reporting live, Deborah Feyerick, CNN, Tallahassee -- Andria.

HALL: Thank you, Deborah.

FRAZIER: Florida is not the only state where the tally of presidential ballots is tight.

In New Mexico, where Governor Bush currently leads Gore by 17 votes, police have begun to impound absentee and early-voter ballots in the event of a recount there.

Monday, election officials will begin to count ballots in 33 counties from a special group of voters who applied for absentee ballots but said they never received them and who went to the polls unexpectedly and were permitted to cast ballots in person.

HALL: Well, the Bush camp is speaking out against all the manual recounts in Florida. It says the recounts expose the race to mistakes and political mischief.

CNN's Jeanne Meserve has more on that aspect of the story from Austin, Texas.


JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A black mark on the U.S. election process is how Bush's lead man in Florida describes the manual recounting of hundreds of thousands of ballots there.

Former Secretary of State James Baker hints that if the Bush campaign loses its bid for an injunction to stop the hand counts, it will take further legal action.

JAMES BAKER, BUSH CAMPAIGN OBSERVER: We intend to vigorously contest their efforts to run these selective manual recounts without any standards whatsoever. And we will continue to vigorously oppose those efforts.

MESERVE: Baker points to the risk of human error and fraud in manual recounts and says conducting them in only a few predominantly Democratic counties could skew the results. BAKER: One county that may decide to do a manual recount in one way, another county may decide to do it in another way. There are no standards, Wolf, none. And that is the reason that we say that type of process is simply not constitutional. And we ought not to be subjected to that in these heavily Democratic counties, after the citizens of Florida have voted, after there has been a full recount.

MESERVE: Again the Bush campaign offered the Gore campaign a quid pro quo.

BAKER: They should agree with us, OK, we'll stop all these shenanigans. We dismiss our law suit, they withdraw their request for manual recounts, and we both agree to respect the results of the overseas absentee ballot count on November 17th, whichever way it goes as long as it's done properly.

MESERVE: With the Gore campaign showing no inclination to accept that proposal, some Republicans are urging Bush to get even tougher.

SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MS), MAJORITY LEADER: The Bush team has got to be aggressive in trying to deal with this. You know, there are other counties, 14 counties in Florida, as a matter of fact, that could still be recounted. If we're going to go through this hand count and special consideration down there in one county in Florida, we probably ought to have a whole new vote in the state of Florida.

MESERVE (on camera): Although the Bush campaign is keeping it's options open in Florida and other states where the race is tight, there will be no actions or decisions until after the ruling on whether the hand recounts in Florida will stop or continue.

Jeanne Meserve, CNN, Austin, Texas.


FRAZIER: There's been no public comment on the recount controversy from Vice President Al Gore. The vice president refused to say anything about the matter before or after church services on Sunday morning in Arlington, Virginia. The vice president's advisers, however, had plenty to talk about on CNN's "LATE EDITION."


WILLIAM DALEY, GORE CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: Why won't they accept what happens through these hand counts? They've got observers, it's done in an open, public way. There's a question by citizens of Florida as to these situations, elections, and not all the counties have agreed to go forward with these hand counts.


FRAZIER: That was this morning, of course.

Last night, the vice president, his running mate Joseph Lieberman and their wives wife watched a movie, "Men of Honor."

Another break for us now, and we'll be back in a moment with more of this special report.


FRAZIER: Well, as we've seen from all the Sunday talk show controversy, it's not just a battle over ballots, it's a war being waged for public perception now.

HALL: And a war of words.

CNN's Kate Snow reports on the post-election campaigns.


Good morning.

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good morning, I hope you all have a nice Sunday.

KATE SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Gore aides say the vice president isn't campaigning anymore, yet every move he makes is well planned by Gore himself and a small group of advisers. Even a trip to the movies Saturday became a media event.

Some say the vice president's team is playing defense.

CECI CONNELLY, "THE WASHINGTON POST": They wait each day to see what the Bush camp is doing, whether or not the governor is going to be out in public holding a meeting, a photo opportunity, and then the Gore camp gauges what they want to do.


SNOW: In some ways, analysts say, Bush has the upper hand in the war of images.

BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: George Bush, governor of Texas, will become the 43rd president of the United States.

SNOW: If only for a brief moment early Wednesday morning, the media was calling him the winner. The vice president called Bush to concede the race.

ROBERT LICHTER, CENTER FOR MEDIA AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS: There's a moment when the candidates' personas are crystallized by the media. And then that's the game they play until the clock runs out. So once Bush was in the role, effectively of offense and Gore defense, that's the game they have to play now.

BUSH: This administration would be ready to assume office and be prepared to lead.

SNOW: Gore aides criticize Bush for trying to claim victory too soon. Following the election, Bush appeared in formal settings, flanked by what many saw as potential Cabinet members. MICHAEL KINSLEY, EDITOR, SLATE.COM: The Bush image says, I am the president-elect, and this guy's trying to snatch it from me. And the Gore image says, I'm not panicking.

SNOW: Gore has kept a low profile, appearing just once for a news conference.

GORE: I don't believe it's appropriate for me to take questions or comment further.

SNOW: Bush has talked with reporters four times since Tuesday. Aides say he thinks it's important for the American people to hear from him frequently.

(on camera): Polls show most Americans think George W. Bush will ultimately win this election, but they're not in any rush to resolve the stalemate. Regardless of the public's perception of the two candidates, most Americans say they're willing to wait through a recount to see who will be their next president.

Kate Snow, CNN, Washington.



HALL: CNN's special coverage of election 2000 and the Florida recount continues.

Our next special report is ahead at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, 4:00 Pacific.

FRAZIER: We're going to follow that with an hour-long in-depth report starting at 8:00 p.m., 5:00 Pacific.

HALL: And at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, tune in to a special edition of "CNN & TIME," "Making History."

Business Unusual is next after a check of our top stories.

FRAZIER: And we'll see you again here at 7:00.



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