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The Florida Recount: Strict Deadlines Loom for Hand Recounts

Aired November 12, 2000 - 7:00 p.m. ET



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


ANDRIA HALL, CNN ANCHOR: The battle for ballots in the Sunshine State, as strict deadlines loom a hand recount for the candidates.

STEPHEN FRAZIER, CNN ANCHOR: Plus the tangling legal web facing Bush and Gore. What's next and what are their options?

HALL: And looking in the mirror, what does the Florida recount say about America, a sociological look at this political battle.

FRAZIER: From CNN Center in Atlanta, welcome to this special report, The Florida Recount, I'm Stephen Frazier.

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

Election 2000 and election officials, well, they are in four Florida counties working on counting their ballots once again. In Palm Beach County after a partial recount of votes on Saturday, the Associated Press reports that Bush's lead has been trimmed to just 288 votes. Florida officials are currently not counting Palm Beach in their totals, which give Bush a 960 vote lead.

Monday, representatives from both campaigns will go before a federal court judge. Saturday the GOP filed the request for an injunction to stop the hand count.

The Democrats want that tally to continue, of course. At this hour in Volusia County officials are recounting votes by hand. Officials there are considering filing a lawsuit to allow for an extension past the Tuesday 5 p.m. deadline.

Joining us now is Martin Savidge. He's standing by in West Palm Beach where officials have decided to count all 425,000 ballots by hand.

Marty, they're going to have to polish up their eyeglasses. MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That is going to be a phenomenal project and as yet we still don't know a firm timetable on how that is going to take place. Yesterday here during the partial recount that was conducted by hand it was a very tense day, a very intense day at the same time.

The political parties literally peering over the shoulders as those on the election board looked into the light and held the ballots trying to determine how people voted. That was just 4,000 ballots. As you say, they now have decided they will go ahead and recount all 425,000 ballots in this county.

They believe this county, that count, could make all the difference in who sits in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Eyes will focus tomorrow morning, 10 a.m., as the Election Canvass Board meets to try to determine exactly how they're going to carry out that vote. Last night, though, 11 o'clock was when they completed; not till 2 o'clock in the morning did they finally come out with the results. That gives you an idea of the political intensity at stake.

And during that news conference it was quite remarkable as it was determined at one point by one of the Canvass Board members that they were still in open session so Carol Roberts, the election official, moved at that moment to demand that there be a countywide hand recount of the vote. Not everyone on the commission board saw it that way. There was contention from the chairman who thought they ought to seek out the advice of the secretary of state. This is how those remarkable, even historic moments, started.


JUDGE CHARLES BURTON, CANVASSING BOARD MEMBER: I would simply feel better making a more informed opinion rather than a rash opinion.

ROBERTS: I don't believe this is and I'm not giving an opinion, I'm asking for a vote. I don't believe we need an opinion on what we should do because we are here in Palm Beach County. I represent the people of Palm Beach County and I believe the people of Palm Beach County deserve -- I represent all the people in Palm Beach County and I believe all the people in Palm Beach County deserve to have, as well as the people in the United States deserve to have, an answer and this is the way I see best fit to get that answer.


SAVIDGE: One of the things that needs to be pointed out here is that obviously the Democrats were encouraged by what they saw coming out of this sort of sampling of the hand recount that was done yesterday. They saw that the votes were going up for Albert Gore. The woman that you saw there, she is a Democrat on the election's board and she was the one that moved quickly to have the entire county. She was extrapolating believing that if you saw a boost for Vice President Gore in just one percent, well, who knows what you would see if you counted all 400 plus precincts in this particular county. The decision now is when will they start the recount and how can they possibly get it done in time with the deadlines that loom? If you simply look at how long it took them yesterday, 10 hours, 4,000 votes magnifying that over 425,000 votes you're looking at a process that could take over 40 days -- Andria.

HALL: Well, Martin, isn't it somewhat risky because it's not necessarily true that those votes might go up for Albert Gore, it could go up the other way?

SAVIDGE: No, and that was one of the arguments that she made as she demanded that the recount be done that she extrapolated, I'm not sure where her numbers came from, but possibly as many as 1,900 votes here that could be found. Obviously 1,900 votes that could go for either George W. Bush or Vice President Gore, however, this is known to be a very heavily Democratic area. It's unlikely that George W. Bush would see a significant increase. It is possible that Vice President Gore could see a lift.

There were also demonstrations that were taking place outside of the election's board today. The crowd were roughly about 100 people, very vocal at times, very loud, people expressing their political opinions. Yesterday and the day before it was mainly Democrats you saw. Today it was the Republicans that were more out in force but as we say, it was a peaceful demonstration. A much larger one planned for tomorrow, possibly as many as 15,000 people -- Andria.

HALL: American democracy at work. Marty Savidge live from West Palm Beach. Thank you, Martin -- now to Stephen.

FRAZIER: Andria, during those remarkable moments, which Martin actually called historic moments, Governor Bush kept a low profile Sunday. He has appeared before the public four times during all of this but not this time. Political operatives instead from both sides punched and counter punched their way through the Sunday talk shows. CNN's Jeanne Meserve is joining us now from Austin, Texas with more on what the Governor is doing himself -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Stephen, the Governor remains at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. The Bush campaign tonight expressing confidence that it will win that injunction it has requested to stop the hand counting of ballots in Florida. They feel their case has been strengthened by the pictures coming out of Florida which shows the difficulty and complexity of deciding which ballots to count and for whom and which ballots to throw out.

Former Secretary of State James Baker, who is the Bush campaign's point man in Florida, made the talk show circuit today saying it was a black mark on the democratic process to have the hand counts going on only in selected counties, each of which has its own procedures.


JAMES BAKER, BUSH CAMPAIGN OBSERVER: There're absolutely no objective standards, there are no uniform standards. One county may decide to count or 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 -- that is the reason that we say that type of process is simply not constitutional.


MESERVE: One expert on constitutional law tells me that what is even more helpful to the Bush case is that the standards governing the recounts appear to have shifted since the recounts started within Palm Beach County and Volusia County. Roy Shockland (ph) of Georgetown Law School telling me that this is a fundamental violation of due process. There could be a ruling on the injunction tomorrow morning. Until there is one, the Bush campaign is not making any decisions on strategy either within Florida or in the other states where Al Gore's margin of victory is exceedingly (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- Stephen.

FRAZIER: Jeanne, thank you -- Andria.

HALL: Vice President Al Gore has kept out of the spotlight while his advisors battle their counterparts from the Bush campaign over the Florida ballot. The vice president is back in Washington and CNN White House correspondent John King, of course, is there too and he updates on -- updates us on the Vice President's activities -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Andria, we're seeing a lot of the Vice President, we're just not hearing much from him. Today the Vice President and his wife, Tipper Gore, and the Gore family attended church services across the Potomac River in Alexandria, Virginia.

Last night it was the Gore's and the Lieberman's out to the movies. The day before that a little Gore family touch football but he's saying very little about this leaving the talking to his aides. Their basic message is it is worth the wait to find out who truly won the election in Florida and of course, the race for the presidency here.

Now a very different view, you just heard Jeanne's view of the Bush camp's view, the Gore camp view is very different. They believe they will win in that court hearing tomorrow in Federal Court because they say this is a process governed by State Election law in Florida, that it is not the Federal Court's business and they also object to the comments made by the Bush camp that this is an unreliable -- that a hand recount is unreliable. They note Governor Bush himself signed a state law in Texas that says manual recounts are preferential to electronic recounts and Bill Daley, the Chairman of the Gore campaign, telling CNN earlier today this is a very open process for the whole world to see.


WILLIAM DALEY, GORE CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: I think it's a normal procedure and obviously the recounts that are going on right now are not only having observers from both campaigns but you have CNN, you have news agencies all over so anyone's concern about the process should be alleviated by virtue of the openness of this process but it's all being done in accordance with Florida law. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now the Vice President is telling top advisors, we're told, that he hopes all this is over by next Friday, the deadline in Florida for certifying the remaining overseas absentee ballots, but even members of the Vice President's own legal team say that may be wishful thinking. They base that on this.

They assume they will win in Federal Court, they assume those hand recounts in the four counties already underway, as Marty Savidge mentioned predominately Democratic counties, they assume those hand recounts will continue and then the Bush camp will feel it has no choice but to request recounts in other counties in the states where they think Governor Bush's totals might go up. And to the complaints about the process, the Democrats saying that if the Republicans don't like the process outlined under Florida law they should complain to the state's Governor, Jeb Bush -- Andria.

HALL: We'll see how far they get with that one. John King in Washington, thank you.

FRAZIER: Well, there's plenty more on this Florida Vote still ahead, including a look at the legal options which are available to each candidate.

HALL: CNN's Mark Potter with that angle of the story after this short break.


FRAZIER: As we've been telling you here, it's only just a few hours now when the battle for the presidency shifts to a federal courthouse in Miami. Al Gore's legal team will try to block the Bush campaign's move to stop hand counts in four Florida counties.

We've asked CNN's Mark Potter to look now with the Bush's team legal arguments.


MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The law suit was filed on behalf of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and seven Florida residents who voted Republican. The case will be heard in the Miami Federal Courthouse by Judge Donald Middlebrooks who was appointed to the bench by President Clinton.

The Republicans are trying to stop the manual recount of ballots in four Florida counties as requested by the Democrats. Those predominately Democratic counties are Palm Beach, Volusia, Miami-Dade and Broward.

The GOP's argument is the votes have already been counted and the election decided. In court papers they say the repetitive counting of ballots, especially manual counting, diminishes the accuracy of the count. They also argue further recounts could unnecessarily delay the election's process potentially leading to a federal constitutional crisis.


POTTER: Donald Jones teaches Constitutional Law at the University of Miami. He says this is not a constitutional crisis and argues the Republicans have little chance of succeeding in court.

JONES: For the Republicans to argue that the Canvassing Board should not have the discretion to do its job as it sees fit, you know absent of claim of bad faith, is a radical argument and it's a dog that won't hunt.

POTTER: Jones says the Florida Legislature not a federal judge has the right to decide how votes are to be tallied and predicts the court will agree. Joshua Rosencrantz of the New York University Law School doubts Republicans will win the other argument that recounting ballots in only four counties violates the due process rights of others in Florida.

JOSHUA ROSENCRANTZ, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL: What you're doing is counting heavily Democratic areas and there is some truth to that. Is that a constitutional violation, I don't think so. They had the right to ask for a recount in the other 60 or so counties and they didn't.

POTTER: The Democrats has assembled their own legal team, including Harvard Law Professor Lauren Strib (ph). They will face off against the Republicans in federal court arguing that Florida's manual ballot recount should continue.

Mark Potter, CNN, Miami.


HALL: Well, for additional perspective on how this protracted battle will reflect on George W. Bush and Al Gore, we turn to Presidential Historian Barbara Kellerman. She is the Executive Director of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard and she joins us from our New York bureau.

Thanks for being with us, Ms. Kellerman.


HALL: This presidential drama has almost provided a round the clock viewing for the world, really not to diminish its significance but it's almost become a spectator sport, of course, that's for the people who are viewing it. What is it about this particular drama that has us so fascinated besides its import?

KELLERMAN: Well, apart from being a historically groundbreaking or president breaking political situation, I think partly it's also the personal dynamics and curiously we've really heard rather little about those. Since Election Day we've been mired in detail about the legal niceties and to some degree about the political implications of this crisis and it is fair to call it the crisis of sorts. We've heard really, though, rather little about two men who have been, so to speak, killing themselves to get to the White House. Running at full speed, exhausting themselves to the point of sleeplessness, particularly near the end, particularly in the case of Al Gore, and what are the personal implications of two men, their staff and even the media of people who have been driven to the point of near exhaustion and are now being called on to make decisions that have national and historical implications.

HALL: Well what about those implications? Observers can detach themselves by simply turning off, heaven forbid, CNN, but these two men really can't. They have to be abreast of everything that's going on minute by minute because the situation seems to change minute by minute. How are they holding up inside, internally?

KELLERMAN: Well, of course we don't really know very much. We've really seen and heard rather little from them. Everything we've -- we have seen has been very carefully framed and posed. Al Gore playing touch football, Al Gore going with his wife and the Vice President -- or vice -- presumed Vice President, in his case, going to the movies, Vice -- George Bush in his casual jacket walking along with his dog and Dick Cheney so clearly they've been carefully posed.

But we have to assume that they're in a state of near sleeplessness, near exhaustion, uncertainty and high stress and that their families are too. And particularly, in the case of the Bush's where the state that is so much in contention has as its Governor, George Bush's brother, Jeb Bush. So where we are talking about circumstances that are really stressing various individuals and their families and their staffs we must presume to something close to the limit.

HALL: Well, it may get tested even further to the limit because this is so far from over. Barbara Kellerman, Harvard University, thank you for your insight.

KELLERMAN: Thank you.

FRAZIER: Before we step away from this story to tell you about other developments around the world today, we want to let you know that you can stay with CNN for the latest on this unfolding drama. Join us next hour at 8 p.m. Eastern for a special report, The Florida Report. Than at 9 p.m. Eastern watch a special edition of "CNN & TIME: Making History," a closer look at how we got to where we are now in this presidential race. That's tonight here on CNN.

HALL: And when we come back, yes, there is other news and we'll have that for you, including Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's return to the United States on a mission of peace.

FRAZIER: And Austrians in church wondering what happened after a train disaster that killed more than 100 people.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) HALL: As violence rages on between Israelis and Palestinians in just the past hour Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak arrived in the United States heading straight to the White House for a meeting with President Bill Clinton. Their talks are aimed at finding ways to end six weeks of bloodshed.

Mr. Barak has downplayed chances of a breakthrough saying it would be "far fetched at this point to predict a resumption of the peace process." President Clinton met last week with Palestinian Leader Yasser Arafat who has been seeking an international protective force for the Palestinians. President Clinton has joined Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat in mourning the passing of Leah Rabin, the widow of the late Israeli Yitzhak Rabin, died of cancer Sunday.

When her husband was shot down by an assassin's bullet five years ago, Leah Rabin became a bigger (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and often outspoken defender of the peace process he helped initiate, despite her illness, as she recently pushed for Israeli/Palestinian talks to end the current wave of violence. Leah Rabin died of cancer and she died at the age of 72.

FRAZIER: In Austria, efforts are underway around the clock now to recover up to 170 bodies of victims killed in a railway tunnel fire on Saturday, many of those were Americans from a ski club on a military base there.

We get the latest on the efforts now from CNN's Chris Burns in the Austrian Alps.


CHRIS BURNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A frustrating site to rescue workers so close and yet so far. The 250-member team faced smoke and toxic fumes in the tunnel keeping them from starting their work in a cold and steep incline. They also needed to secure the frayed cable, which drove the train, to prevent it from snapping and sending the car careening back downhill.

Meanwhile, officials were starting to identify, at least by nationality, who was on the train when it caught fire taking skiers and snowboarders up the hill to Kitzsteinhorn glacier. As many as 165 died, including Austrians, Germans, Americans and Japanese, officials said and there's now talk of a second train car inside that was going down the mountain in the opposite direction.

Officials say it was unclear if anyone was on it beyond the driver who is missing. Twelve people managed to escape the smoke and flames, most of them German officials said. Those who did survive fled back down the steep tunnel breathing the oxygen being sucked in by the fire. Those who died tried to escape uphill and were overcome by the rising smoke. The recovery had barely begun but the shock and the mourning for those who perished had already taken hold in this tiny ski town and beyond.

Two days of mourning began with a church service in Kaprun. Townspeople joined with families and friends of those missing or presumed dead. An anxious time in an idyllic place as authorities desperately try to determine who among the missing have died and just what caused the nations worst postwar disaster. The answers lie in a tunnel that's still very dangerous.

Chris Burns, CNN, Kaprun, Austria.


FRAZIER: And we're back in a moment.


FRAZIER: Just to bring you up to date, once again, on where we stand now concerning events surrounding the election recount in Florida, several dozen Volusia County election workers are hand counting more than 184,000 ballots there. Their work is expected to take three days.

In Palm Beach County local election officials have also called for a hand count of 425,000 ballots. There a partial manual recount of four districts found Democrat Al Gore gaining slightly on Republican George W. Bush.

On Monday a federal judge will hear arguments on a Republican request to block additional manual recounts. And Florida's overseas absentee ballots postmarked no later than Election Day must be received and tallied by next Friday, November 17th, busy week ahead.

HALL: I know and I was going to say again, this story continually changes so, of course, we'll keep you updated here. From CNN in Atlanta, I'm Andria Hall.

FRAZIER: And I'm Stephen Frazier, stay with us for updates on the Florida recount, including a special report coming up in about 30 minutes, but first, "SPORTS TONIGHT" is next.



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