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Election 2000: Palm Beach County Canvassing Board Votes to Suspend Recount; 5:00 p.m. Deadline Challenged in Court

Aired November 14, 2000 - 10:01 a.m. ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: I was just over at the secretary of state's office here in Tallahassee. These right now are the official numbers the state has in their file to determine the potential outcome in Florida. These came out about 9:17 a.m., about 45 minutes ago. These are significant for this reason. The state canvassing commission, if there are no legal intercession later today by 5:00, then indeed these are the numbers right now that would be recorded in the state's log. According to these number, George Bush leads Al Gore statewide by 1,065 votes. Again, that is pending no legal action throughout the day today.

We do expect a decision in about 60 minutes' time across the street here at circuit court, that is where CNN's Mike Boettcher is standing by live, waiting for that decision to come out in about an hour's time.

Mike, what do we know thus far?

MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bill, we are told around 11:00, perhaps between 10:30 and 11:00, but that cane to us about one hour ago. Judge Terry Lewis has three options. He could delay that Tuesday 5:00 p.m. deadline today stand, which would mean, with the vote total that you just gave, that Governor Bush would be certified as the winner of the election up until Tuesday with still the overseas ballots to be counted.

The second option is he can ignore that deadline, tell the county election boards to ignore it, and say the new deadline is the end of business Friday deadline, when the overseas ballot are to be counted. Or, he can order that the election not be certified until all hand counts are done in the three or possibly four counties that have talked about doing those.

So those are the options by the questions he was asking yesterday, to the lawyers for the Republicans and Democrats, it seemed that he had concerns that if he held to the present deadline that perhaps it might have been arbitrary. He was saying why not go on to this Friday deadline? What difference would it make because you are going to count the votes anyway on Friday from the overseas ballots? And he also said that it would take much longer than seven days for a hand count to be done in smaller -- pardon me larger counties around the state. And that those sorts of questions he was aiming at the attorneys, challenging them. So it looks like, from observers there, legal observers, that he might be leaning towards lifting this deadline, but to when we're still trying to find out -- Bill.

HEMMER: Mike, in addition to that, it is expected whichever side loses within the hour, there will be an immediate appeal. And if that is the case, the state supreme court in Florida could take up this issue. Now is there any talk about how long that may take to be processed in the courts here in Florida?

BOETTCHER: Pretty instant. There is a mechanism in the Florida law that allows parties to bypass a circuit court of appeals if it is an urgent matter and take it directly to the Florida supreme court. We are told that's likely what will happen, they will use that mechanism in the law and directly go to supreme court, which is basically a five-minute walk from here.

Those appeals, whoever loses, will be filed almost instantaneously. The supreme court is expected to take up those matters on an emergency basis, perhaps as early as today. And the interesting thing is, there will be several cases that will be coming there. And soon the center of this election universe here in Florida will be at the supreme court,

And interestingly, Florida law allows for cameras in the courtroom and in the supreme court. So you may be able to see a rare instance of a supreme court in this country on camera, live, hearing the arguments about this critical case and these critical cases -- Bill.

HEMMER: OK, all right, Mike, Mike Boettcher thanks very much. Now down to West Palm, where John Zarrella keeping a track of things, where there may or may not be a vote today. John, what do we know at this hour now?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, at this hour, we know there will not be a recount today. They are saying now that the recount will not start until tomorrow morning 7:00 a.m. That's the soonest they can get started. So even if the judge were to extend it to Friday midnight, when the absentee ballots are due, it probably wouldn't be enough time for them to get the recount done in Palm Beach County. They say they need about five or six days, which now would take it into probably Monday before they could complete the recount here.

What happened this morning is they suspended the recount because they got an opinion from the secretary of state's office division of election saying they didn't have the legal authority to do it because there wasn't anything wrong with the machines. And unless there is something wrong with the counting machines and the election equipment that you don't have the legal authority to do it. And that's not why they were recounting here.

They were recounting because when they did the sample 1 percent it came up that there were enough errors in the numbers and, of course, the vice president had a net gain of 19 votes in that recount, they decided they needed to recount the entire county.

So then they went and they were waiting for an opinion from the attorney general, Bob Butterworth. Bob Butterworth came back and said: Well, you do have the legal authority to do it. You're in the county. You can do it, if there is something wrong, and there is a problem, it doesn't have to just have to do be with machines, you can go ahead and recount.

So now the county is going to circuit court here sometime this morning asking a judge to sort it all out and tell them what they should be doing and what they can be doing. So waiting for that opinion.

And, we're losing about everything here. The wind is kicking up. It is a hurricane. This is the emergency management center, and so that's what this building is usually used for. bad weather.

But, anyway, what we are looking at now also is the Democrats are going to court here because some of the votes they did not count were the pregnant votes, the dimple votes, as they call them. They are going to court to ask a judge to tell the election commission here that they need to count dimple votes, and how they should do that, and what a dimple vote is.

So tremendously confusing legal issues still to be hashed out and wrangled out here in West Palm Beach, Florida -- Bill.

HEMMER: John, quick clarification here. Last hour, you said nothing can happen, with regard to a recount, until tomorrow. Is that because of the pending legal decision? or could that possibly change today in Palm Beach?

ZARRELLA: What they are saying is that they sent the folks home. They have to wait now for the legal decision. By the time they get a legal decision down, even if it is early this afternoon, the best they can do is re gear-up and start up tomorrow morning at 7:00 a.m. -- Bill.

HEMMER: OK, John Zarrella in West Palm. It changes by the hour. Once again, it has changed again. John, thanks to you.

Two other parts of the state to talk about, chiefly Volusia County. It was said last night that they did finish their recounted, approximately 184,000 ballots. They are still waiting for official and final 100 percent numbers from the recount in Volusia.

Meanwhile, Broward County was expected to start a small sample recount in about three precincts, but late last night the local commission in Broward County voted 2-1 not to recount things.

CNN's Susan Candiotti is in Broward County this morning. We will check in with her shortly, coming up here on CNN's MORNING NEWS.

But, again, in summary, watch 11:00 a.m. Eastern time, about 50 minutes from now, when we should get a decision from the circuit court judge as to whether or not the extended deadline at 5:00 can happen or not. But, again, through all this mix, it is quite possible there will be legal challenges regardless of the decision that comes out today.

We'll track it. Daryn, I hope you are taking notes. Back to you in Atlanta.


Because so much of this, as you mentioned, is ending up in the courts, we want to get through some legal analysis. Nobody better to help us than our own Roger Cossack standing by this morning in Washington -- Roger.

ROGER COSSACK, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I have a pen too. I am taking notes, Daryn.

KAGAN: You're supposed to give the notes, Roger. That is why we are going to you. First, help us understand or maybe look forward to what we might be hearing from this judge, Judge Terry Lewis, the circuit court judge in Florida. The decision supposed to come out once again Bill said about 50 minutes from now.

Mike Boettcher reported yesterday in the courtroom the judge was asking a lot of questions like: Why can't we just stretch this thing until all absentee overseas ballots are counted? When a judge asks questions like that, can you take any clues what his decision might be?

COSSACK: Well, the answer to hat is a firm sometimes, Daryn. Oftentimes, they like to play little games with you and they will say things up there that make it sound like it is going one way, it is a slam dunk, he has already made up his mind, and then oftentimes, after you hear that, it comes out the other way.

But clearly, the judge was asking the kinds of questions that are sort of practical questions. Looks, what he is saying is: Look, we're not going to have the absentee ballots until the end of the week anyway. Why are we even talking about certifying an election when we know we are going to have more ballots to count at the end of the week? Doesn't seem like it makes much sense. he is saying, therefore, why should we be in any rush to certify at Tuesday at 5:00, when we know there's going to more ballots. Sounds to me, sounds to me, like he's thinking that why don't we just extend until Friday?

KAGAN: But Roger, one of the criticisms that a lot of people have of things that come out of the courts and people who think that too much government come out of the courts. Is it that judge's role to interpret or to look and see what the law actually says? Is it really his role to say, well, that doesn't seem like a good idea, here's a better idea. Something different than the legislature came up with.

COSSACK: And again, I am going to give you that great answer that sometimes it's to be both. What this judge -- what this judge is doing is saying, basically, look, it is clear that there's a problem in the votes in Florida. Second of all, the question then now becomes should there be a -- if there is a recount, when should it take place and how much time should we have? What's the basic policy here?

The basic policy is that all the votes should be counted and should be counted correctly. Now you have two conflicting situations. You have a -- secretary of state saying we have got to finish it by 5:00 Tuesday. Yet, on the other hand, everybody agrees that the absentee ballots aren't coming until the end of the week. So this judge, I would think, would be well within his right to say: Look, if we know, by definition, we are going to be counting votes Friday, why don't we extend until Friday?

KAGAN: Well, we clearly don't know what the judge's decision is going to be. But one thing we can bet on for sure is that whoever loses is taking this thing, kicking it up a notch, as you might say, and taking it to appeal.

COSSACK: Yes, this is going up -- this is way too important. It is clear -- one of the things that is clear is that you are seeing almost the lines begin to fill in. The Bush people want this recount stopped. They have a secretary of state who has said it should be stopped. Obviously the Gore people want it to go on. This decision will decide which one of those two camps is going to prevail at least for now, Clearly you are going to see an appeal out of this one.

KAGAN: And real quickly, we heard Mike Boettcher report, when and if this thing ends up at the state supreme court, fascinating that that court allows cameras in the courtroom, that is going to be a great opportunity for folks to see how a supreme court, at least a state supreme court, operates.

COSSACK: Yeah and it is going to be wonderful -- a wonderful opportunity because you will see the judges and they will -- you will hear the questions and you will be able to hear -- make up your own mind which way you think they are going, which way individuals are going. You know, I am a great supporters of cameras in a courtroom, particularly in courts of appeal and supreme courts like this. I think this will be a wonderful opportunity.

What better kind of fact situation than one that is determining the next president of the United States of America. It should be open.

KAGAN: America's and the world's civics lesson will continue. That's for sure.

COSSACK: You bet.

KAGAN: Roger, we will see you later on "BURDEN OF PROOF."



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