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The Florida Recount: War Over Ballots Rages in Multiple Courts

Aired November 15, 2000 - 1:45 p.m. ET


LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: It is 1:45 p.m. here on the East Coast and if you're closely following this presidential election story, you know that last evening the Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris stepped out and gave counties who wanted to amend their voting results until 2:00 p.m., 15 minutes from now, to come up with a reason why they wanted to amend their voting results.

CNN's Bill Hemmer is down there in Tallahassee; apparently has in his hand one of those reasons.

And it's from Broward, is it, Bill?

BILL HEMMER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Indeed it is, Lou. Yes, it just was faxed into the secretary of state's office about 15 minutes ago. Arrived at 1:30 p.m. Eastern time here in Florida. This is from Broward County; again, we had suspected that Palm Beach and Miami-Dade would file as well. But what we know right now is that Broward has filed their letter of justification that they believe should allow them to continue counting in their part of Florida.

I'll give you a couple of reasons they cite. No. 1, they cite extremely large voter turnout. The resulting ballots cast dramatically increased the time required for the initial tabulation -- that's No. 1. No. 2, they say this board, representing voters in the second-largest county in the state of Florida, needs additional time to complete all necessary tabulation. No. 3, it says the large number of ballots has created additional logistical problems.

On page two -- it runs about a page and a half, here, Lou -- the board has encountered significant periods of delay. They cite things like the veteran's holiday that was observed on November 10, which was Friday at the end of last week. It concludes by saying the board expects to complete the recount by 5:00 p.m. on Monday, November 20, year 2000. This, in accordance with the memo, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Again, that's Broward County's letter in to the state, which was required last night by Katherine Harris, the secretary of state here in Florida when she announced that any county that wants to continue voting should, indeed, do so -- counting rather -- but only do so when this letter of justification arrives here in the secretary of state's office.

Now, Lou, I want to shift gears quickly here because the first significant survey has been conducted in Florida regarding those overseas ballots. "The St. Petersburg Times" contacted all 67 county supervisors; this is the number, the survey that they put out in their newspaper this morning as of 5:00 yesterday. They indicate, of all the counties in Florida, 22,186 were sent out by request. They also say the ballots already counted -- in other words, the ballots already in the hopper statewide here, register 12,590. In hands, to be counted on Friday, 1,865.

So, basically, they're saying that, of all the ballots that went out, about 60 percent were returned. Who knows where they end up for Al Gore, George W. Bush? We'll know that late Friday night at midnight when the deadline does become official in Florida. Then we expect results again Saturday afternoon here in Tallahassee...

WATERS: Bill, help me with something; Broward County justifying their reasons why they want to continue the count -- isn't this the same county that decided yesterday not to recount?

HEMMER: Indeed it was, Lou. That decision came down -- they canvassed a small sample of the county and they indicated at the time that Al Gore had gained about four votes based on their recount. Again, they decided not to recount. They were later taken to court by Democrats in Florida, saying, indeed, Broward County has to do a full recount of the county.

Then this morning, again, you're exactly right, they reversed themselves and said they, indeed, will do a county-wide recount in Broward. Quite possible there are folks down in southeastern Florida, they can give us more information on that. But what we know now, they filed a letter, Lou. It's in here -- the secretary of state's office. We will see. I'll run back inside and let you know if there's more coming, OK?

WATERS: OK, Bill, thanks. Bill Hemmer down in Tallahassee -- Broward County has been heard from -- Natalie.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, there will be another one coming Bill Hemmer's way because the Palm Beach County canvassing board has just decided that it will meet the 2:00 p.m. deadline and inform the secretary of state that it wants to do a manual recount.

John Zarrella was there when they talked about the reasons they will give Katherine Harris-- John.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Natalie, what they did was they read a draft -- a draft of the letter that's going to be sent to Katherine Harris, the secretary of state, and then they seconded the motion and decided, OK, this is the one we're going to send.

And what it comes down to is that -- their reasoning is what we had expected all along. That when they did the sample recount of the four precincts this past weekend, Al Gore had a net gain, the vice president had a net gain, of 19 votes. And they believe that if you extrapolate that out over the entire county, that that could mean a significant change in the outcome of the presidential race, that Al Gore, they say, could pick up an additional 1,900 votes here in Palm Beach County, which certainly would change the complexion of the election here in Florida.

So they've gone back inside, now, to fax that letter to Katherine Harris, saying that these are the reasons why they believe they must have a hand recount in order to fairly tabulate the opinions, the feelings of the voters here in Palm Beach County -- Natalie.

ALLEN: And where do they stand as far as any plans to continue with the recount? Yesterday at this time they decided to start a recount this morning, but that didn't happen.

ZARRELLA: Right, that didn't happen because, first, they were waiting for the judge in circuit court to decide on these dimpled ballots, the pregnant chads and that decision came down an hour or so ago where the judge said, it's up to you folks. And so they have been maintaining all along they're not going to count those. But at least they have that decision.

But now they're just waiting for the Supreme Court to let them know whether they should go ahead with the recount, and that follows the secretary of state petitioning on an emergency basis, the court, not to allow these recounts until everything gets settled, or at least until there's some disposition as to whether those are legal recounts.

So they're waiting, still, for the Florida Supreme Court and all the counters that they brought in here are waiting as well -- Natalie.

ALLEN: A lot of folks waiting on that Supreme Court. John Zarrella from Palm Beach County, thanks.

Now to Lou.

WATERS: I suggest you get a pad of paper and a No. 2 pencil. You may need a flowchart to follow all of this and you need to factor in the 11th circuit court in Atlanta, the federal court taking up the matter of those hand recounts.

Bob Franken is over there.

Apparently there's been some movement on that score, right Bob?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Very interesting; the 11th circuit court of appeals will hear both cases that have come out of Florida. Two federal district judges in Florida, one in Miami and one in Orlando have denied Republican efforts to try and put an end to the hand recount that's been going on in Florida. There's been requests for emergency temporary restraining orders to stop that.

Now, this is what is unusual: Not only has the 11th circuit decided to hear these cases -- but, one, they're going to combine the two cases. More importantly, all 12 members of the court will hear it. It's a term that's called "en bank." They're going to all hear it; they're bypassing procedure.

Normally a three-judge panel hears it first. But there's been a decision made -- in the interests of time, all the members of the court will hear this. No time has been given yet for the hearing, but they have put out an order requiring that the parties in the case present their arguments in writing to the court by 7:00 tomorrow morning, Thursday morning; at which time, presumably, there will be a hearing scheduled. A hearing is not required, but it would be highly unusual if the entire court did not hear oral arguments.

Now, we talked to some lawyers and they say that the significance of this is that what the court would possibly want to do, in hearing it in its entirety, is to reconsider a precedent that was set in this case. Now, the relevant precedent here is a 1986 ruling which would seem to be favorable to the Democratic position in which the judges ruled then: "Federal courts will not intervene to examine the validity of individual ballots or supervise the administrative details of a local election."

The question is, does the entire court want to reconsider its precedent? That would be the type of discussion that would be happening. We do not have a time yet for a hearing. There doesn't, necessarily, have to be one, but it would be unusual if there wasn't one. Nevertheless, the appeals court has decided it will hear these arguments -- the appeal of the local court rulings. Thus far, nobody has decided that this really belongs in the federal courts, but the appeals court is going take a crack at that -- Lou.

WATERS: You say there's been no -- the Bush people are not arguing why this should be a federal case?

FRANKEN: Well the Bush people are arguing it should be a federal case in both cases. Thus far, two federal judges have said no. Now it's gone up to the next level. At the appeals court level they're going to reconsider that question.

WATERS: All right; Bob Franken in Atlanta at the 11th circuit court of appeals which covers the state of Florida.



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