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Election 2000: Legal Challenges Over Florida Presidential Vote Increase; Secretary of State Seeks Consolidation

Aired November 15, 2000 - 10:24 a.m. ET


STEPHEN FRAZIER, CNN ANCHOR: Seems a long time ago, but only one week ago now, Americans expected to wake up to a new president-elect. But for the candidates and their supporters, it's been something else since then: for some, a dream of a civics lesson playing out; for others, a nightmare of uncertainty.

The latest statewide tally in Florida shows George W. Bush clinging to a razor-thin lead of three hundred votes. But that could change with absentee ballots trickling in and manual recounts such as the one now pending in Palm Beach county, as we just showed you.

Elections officials had planned to begin a recount this morning, but they have decided to wait until a judge rules on whether dimpled ballots -- those, which John Zarrella explained to us, which holes are incompletely punched -- can be counted. A hearing on that issue now underway.

Meanwhile, Florida Secretary of State Katharine Harris has filed an emergency petition with the Florida supreme court. She is asking that it halt all manual recounts and take control of all election- related lawsuits.

We're also keeping a close eye on the Bush legal team. It has notified a federal appeals court in another city that it is considering a legal challenge to stop the manual recounts.

Difficult to keep up with all of this, so we'd like to turn next to our Bill Hemmer, who's gone down to the nerve center of all of this. He's in Tallahassee, and he's here to join us now.

Bill, good morning again.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, Steve, and good morning, and thanks again. Want to bring you the very latest. Getting word now from the Democratic Party here that Warren Christopher will brief with reporters anywhere between the next 10 to 30 minutes' time. So we will stand by for live coverage on Warren Christopher. It's also quite possible that David Boies, one of the lead attorney for Gore campaign, who showed up in town yesterday in Tallahassee, he may be involved as well.

Now, Doug Hattaway, a spokesperson for the Gore campaign, will not say what Christopher will talk about, but we believe there will be some sort of response to what we're hearing out of the state supreme court.

More on that court in a minute, but want to remind you, once again: 2:00 Eastern time, about 3 1/2 hours from now, is the deadline that Katharine Harris has said that the counties that want to continue recounting have to file a letter of discretion with the state office here in Tallahassee justifying why, indeed, they believe they have to continue counting in different parts of Florida.

So we will keep you posted on that. Also, we're going to check in shortly with Mike Boettcher, who is outside the state supreme court building across the street here. Stay tuned for that.

But first let's go back to Daryn. I believe you've got something else now, right, Daryn?

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: That I do. Actually, we need to check with Mike Boettcher right away. Once again, the state supreme court of Florida ground zero today for legal action.

Mike, what do you have?

MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Daryn, I can tell how my day is going by the weight of the legal papers I'm holding in my hand right now. I'm up to about 15 pounds.

You just saw that live meeting of the Palm Beach canvassing board. Well, we just received this from the supreme court, it's from Katherine Harris, secretary of state. It's an addendum to her earlier filing. She says, "According to press reports, the Palm Beach county canvassing board has voted to suspend its recount for the purpose of awaiting a ruling from the circuit court of Palm Beach county as to the issue of whether the Palm Beach county canvassing board is required to count unperforated, dimpled ballots as votes. The subject of this hearing is scheduled for this morning. The board's action further demonstrates the necessity that this court act to protect the integrity of the process and ensure the application of uniform rule of law."

So they are filing these addendums, petitions, emergency motions on a instantaneous basis. Now, what the secretary of state, Katherine Harris, is asking the supreme court specifically to do -- we've gone through her petition -- she's asking them to consolidate all of the 11 or more suits around this date into one court. That one court would be the circuit court of appeals -- rather the circuit court here in Leon county. She maintains that is in the statute to the Florida law. She wants all of those consolidated into one, and she is also asking that the hand recounts be stopped, on an emergency basis, until she has a chance to review the explanations from Palm Beach county, Miami- Dade, and Broward counties that she has requested for a 2:00 deadline to explain why they should be given more time to count the ballots.

She says that with all of these lawsuits being filed all around, it produces an unpredictable amount, variety of results, theories, legal rulings, and procedures, and certainly, we do have an immense amount of those -- Daryn. KAGAN: Well, Mike, I don't know if you were able to listen to the Palm Beach canvassing -- Palm Beach county canvassing board as we were listening to it live on CNN. Maybe it sounds like the secretary of state was -- and there was some confusion there as to whether they should even proceed -- waiting on what's going to happen there in Tallahassee, and also what's happening in West Palm Beach.

It sounds like the secretary of state is saying: You're right, you better hold on, Palm Beach county, and we want everything, all decisions, to come from out of what's going to happen before the state supreme court.

BOETTCHER: No, absolutely. And the supreme court, the clerk there, wanted us to make sure that everyone knew that the judge -- judges here -- have not decided yet if they're going to hear either the petition of Secretary of State Harris or the Palm Beach county suit.

They have not decided if they're going to accept jurisdiction -- take a look at those -- and I'd hate to assume what they're going to do. But right now, no hearing is scheduled because they haven't decided yet if they're even going to accept jurisdiction and hear this.

KAGAN: And they haven't given us any indication when they might let the world know if they're going to that?

BOETTCHER: Well, I think they'll move pretty fast. Certainly, they're very attuned to this, and as you can tell by the latest filing by the secretary of state, people are watching things on an instantaneous basis and filing their petitions, addendums and such instantaneously. And like I said, I'm up to about 15 pounds now. Within 30 minutes, it should with about 20 pounds of documents, I got a feeling, Daryn.

KAGAN: Well, the good news is you're going to have some good biceps by the time you come back here to Atlanta. Mike Boettcher, thanks for that update from Tallahassee.



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