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Election 2000: Florida Secretary of State Seeks to Stop Recount; Partisanship Potential Problem in Recount

Aired November 15, 2000 - 9:21 a.m. ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: If you're just joining us, once again, Florida's secretary of state, Katherine Harris, has put in an emergency petition between Florida's supreme court asking that all hand vote recounts be stopped for now. Of course, that would put things in flux in a place like Palm Beach county where they had intended to do just that.

Let's check in with John Zarrella from West Palm Beach for the latest.

John, Good morning.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Daryn, the secretary of state doesn't have to worry about them counting here right now anyway, because they never did get started this morning. Inside the emergency operations center behind me, all is quiet, no counting. The counting workers are on hold. The reason for that: they decided this morning in a two-to-one vote that they were going to wait. The reason: because the Democratic Party had gone to court here in Palm Beach county asking a judge to decide whether they should be counting dimpled ballots or those pregnant chads.

The Democratic Party believes they should be. The canvassing board has not been counting those as part of the vote. So they're going to wait until a court hearing, which should start at about 9:30, and get a determination in circuit court here as to whether they should be doing that.

The chairman of the commission, Judge Charles Burton, said he just didn't think it was wise to be doing this right now.


JUDGE CHARLES BURTON, PALM BEACH COUNTY CANVASSING BOARD: If we're going to start fooling around with ballots and go through them, and then Judge Labarga says you should be counting this or you should be counting that, I just think we need to be clear -- and one of the issues all along has been that this board has no clear guidelines on how we're going to count these.


ZARRELLA: Now, while this has all been transpiring, right after that, the Republican party took aim at commissioner Carol Roberts. Carol Roberts was asked by the Republican Party to disqualify herself. The reason they are saying that is, and they've submitted this written request for Commissioner Roberts to disqualify herself, saying that she has been observed on several occasions handling ballots and shuffling piles of Gore ballots with ballots that were questionable. So they are saying that she needs to disqualify herself.

Attorney Dennis Newman with the Democratic Party here.

Sir, what I understand is the commissioner will be coming out here. What do you make of this challenge by the Republicans?

DENNIS NEWMAN, FLORIDA DEMOCRATIC PARTY ATTORNEY: It is a frivolous challenge. It is just meant to delay the process. Commissioner Roberts handled the ballots, as all of them in it. That is their function. They all handle the ballots. They have to handle the ballots in order to determine the vote.

All of the commissioners did that, all of them voted. On the challenged ballots that they particularly objected to, 99.9 percent -- I think there were only three or four or five that the vote was not unanimous by the board. All three commissioners agreed on all the challenged ballot with the exception of a couple. And I would have to check my notes, but I believe that Commissioner Roberts actually voted against the Gore position on several occasions.

ZARRELLA: Dennis, a quick question. Now, we know the secretary of state is asking the supreme court to step in and take all the cases. But she's also said she wants no recounting in any counties until after this 2:00 p.m. deadline that she imposed or until they get some more guidance. It may be a moot point anyway, but does that is sound like a reasonable idea?

NEWMAN: Actually not. There's two -- yes and no -- there are two components of this recount. One is that the county workers' top counting team go through each precinct and put them into piles. Most of those piles people can agree on, and they put the challenged ballots aside. There's an observer with the Republicans and the Democrats. If either one objects, the work is automatically put in the question pile. Then they would segregate those for later review by the commissioners.

The commissioners could hold till 2:00 until standards are determined. However, you have 25 city workers -- that's the most labor intensive. That should start, and nobody's rights would be prejudiced -- those challenged ballots would be segregated for later review.

So in terms of, I think, that the recount should go forward, at least in that respect. As to the standards, they could hold that off, but the actual mechanics -- as you know, yesterday, there was a motion to start at 7:00.

ZARRELLA: Correct.

NEWMAN: They could not get all the workers back. So I think that function they could do and preserve the rights of both parties.

ZARRELLA: Dennis, thank you very much for taking some time and hanging with us here as the situation continues very fluid throughout the state of Florida and certainly here in Palm Beach county.

Again, no recounts starting until there's further disposition from the courts. Back to you, Daryn.

KAGAN: All right, John Zarrella, in West Palm Beach, thank you very much.

Let's now turn to Stu Rothenberg, who's in Washington. He is editor and publisher of the Rothenberg Political Report, a Washington- based political newsletter that reports on elections, presidential politics, political trends, all the stuff we've been talking about over the last week and, actually, over the last year.

Stu, good morning. Good to see you once again.


KAGAN: This latest move by the secretary of state of Florida seems to have taken both camps, both Bush and Gore camps, by surprise. What's the next move that both must do?

ROTHENBERG: I don't think anybody knows what the next move is. Every time we think we know what the next move is, something else happens. Daryn, this seems about two fundamental things. A: guidelines, exactly what votes do you count when the ballot looks a certain way, do you count it or don't you? And the other thing has to do, frankly, with partisanship. And we just heard this suggestion from Republicans that Miss Roberts has acting improperly, we've heard Democratic complaints about Katharine Harris.

The fundamental problem here is that Republicans don't trust Democrats to make the count, and Democrats don't trust Republicans. Well, we hear all this talk about let the people decide, let the people count, but the people, in this case, could be a handful of local election officials who may or may not have strong partisan bias.

KAGAN: And when people make the claim that people involved here, this is political, that's why these people are involved in this process in the beginning.

ROTHENBERG: That's right. That's the nature of voting and vote counting and these offices that the local election officials hold. To that extent, the Bush people are right. Once we've gotten into this mess, it's a question of finding the right judge to make the decision that you want, or to find the right person to evaluate the ballots to decide you do or you don't count dimples.

We're in this murky/political/legal bog here, this slump. And somehow we're going to have to get out. I gather that the secretary of state is hoping that a relatively nonpartisan panel, in this case the state supreme court, is going to be able to come in a dispassionate, disinterested, neutral way and make these counts.

KAGAN: Stu Rothenberg, as we track things in Florida today, our time is very short. Want to thank you for stopping by. Good to see you, good to hear your thoughts.

ROTHENBERG: Thanks, thanks.



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