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The Florida Recount: Democratic Party Asks Palm Beach County Court to Determine What Constitutes a Vote

Aired November 15, 2000 - 10:44 a.m. ET


STEPHEN FRAZIER, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to turn now to Mark Potter in West Palm Beach Florida to discuss what it is that constitutes a vote in that part of the world. And one of the reasons, Mark, we might want to consider how closely they're weighing these issues is because one of the members of the election canvassing board, herself, ran for reelection a while ago and lost her seat. This is Carol Roberts now, lost her seat as city commissioner in West Palm Beach by a single vote. So personal experience is leading her to pay close attention to all of this.

MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, but the issue here, that is the underlying concern, of course. But the big issue here that they're arguing over now, is who has the right to decide how to count the votes? And that is the subject of this hearing that's going on right now in the building behind me here at Palm Beach County courthouse before the circuit Jorge Labarge (ph).

The Democrats are asking the judge to provide guidance to the canvassing board on how to conduct that manual recount. The canvassing board in, all along, has been counting those ballots by looking for the hole punches. They take the ballot, if it's been punched out, or if there is partial area -- if it is partially punched out, then they count that ballot.

The Democrats are saying that the judge should order the canvassing board to also consider those times where you look at ballot and the hole is not punched out. But there is a point on that ballot, a dimple as they call it, or a pregnant chad is the term that is being used, and they are saying that the judge should tell the canvassing board to also consider that as the intent of the voter and that that should be counted as well.

Now the canvassing board attorneys just appeared before the judge a moment ago and said: We don't need a judge telling us how to do our job, in effect. They did it more politely than I just said it. But they are saying that this is not within the purview of a judge to decide. We had the discretion at the canvassing board, leave it up to us.

And they were joined in that argument by an attorney for George W. Bush, who is speaking at this moment to the court, via speaker phone, from Tallahassee. Arguing that, most respectfully, that a judge simply does not have the right in this case to tell the canvassing board what to do. Under law, the canvassing board has the discretion -- it has the discretion to decide whether there should even be a manual count, and therefore, it should also, he argues, have the discretion to decide how to do that manual count.

So that's where we are right now. A fight, the Democrats on one side, the county canvassing board and the Republicans on another, arguing over whether the judge should set the rules for counting the ballot.

And, we'll have to see what the judge comes up with. But that's the argument, as it's framed right now. Everybody knows how important this vote is. It's just a question of who decides how to count those votes.

FRAZIER: And Mark, to review, to take us back in a way chad 101. A dimple in a ballot is created how?

POTTER: When you vote in Palm Beach County, you take your card and you put it in a machine and you use a little stylist, like I would use my pen here, and you punch a hole indicating the candidate that you want. If you punch it through all the way, no problem. There's a little hole that's created there, and they can see that you voted for Al Gore or George W. Bush or Pat Buchanan or whomever.

If you don't push it through all the way, but partially, and a little bit of that little piece of paper that would fall out of there, called a chad is, is slightly perforated, they're counting that too. If you just push it lightly, not enough to push it out, but you leave a little mark, that's called a dimple. The little piece of paper that is still left in there with that dimple in it is called a pregnant chad.

And there was an interesting argument that was raised by the attorney for the canvassing board. He said the Democrats are arguing that if you have a dimple on there, that suggests that the voter intended to vote for that candidate. Another possibility, is that the candidate -- the voter punched that little piece of paper and then changed his or her mind and pulled back; and they say, so it doesn't necessarily mean, if you have a dimple on the ballot, that the voter intended to vote for that candidate.

But the broad point made by the canvassing board, and by the Republicans, is that that is the sort of decision to be made by the canvassing board itself. If there's a question about it after the fact, after the election is over, and the decisions have been made, then a voter or whomever, the Democratic Party, would have a right to come back in court with evidence in hand and say: Your honor, this ballot to us looks like it has a dimple over the name of Al Gore, say for example, and we want you to look at this one specifically and give us a ruling.

But they're saying at the canvassing board and at the Republican Party: Please, your honor, don't do that to us in advance. We have the right to decide.

FRAZIER: Mark Potter; Mark, thank you for your close attention to events under way in the hearing and thanks for your use of those visual aids to help explain it all.



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