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Presidential Election Mired in Florida Legal Battles

Aired November 15, 2000 - 4:00 p.m. ET


LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: CNN watching a roller coaster mishap in northwest Phoenix; they have several people who are stuck in these cars about 30 feet off the ground. This happened about a half hour ago, so some of these folks have been up there almost 30 minutes now. They are being rescued by hand, we'll keep an eye on the story and keep you posted if anything develops there.

And the candidates wait as legal teams do their work. Another day and the verdict is: still no winner of the presidential prize.

Hello, I'm Lou Waters. The only thing that's constant is this story is the change in the Florida recount wranglings. Here's where things stand at this moment: The secretary of state in Florida, Katherine Harris, had a 2:00 p.m. deadline for counties to submit letters justifying manual recounts. That deadline has passed.

Broward County responded after reversing an earlier decision and opting to go ahead with a hand recount. Palm Beach County also met today's deadline. There, a judge ruled that so-called "dimpled ballots" can be counted in election results. The judge also plans a hearing tomorrow morning on a possible countywide revote because of the so-called "butterfly ballot." And the 11th U.S. circuit court of appeals in Atlanta has agreed to hear the Bush campaign's challenge of a judge's refusal to stop hand recounts altogether. Now, the final word on the election in Florida, whatever it may be, ultimately will come from the state's capitol city.

CNN's Deborah Feyerick is in Tallahassee with the latest on this rapidly-changing story.

Deborah, what's the latest?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, we can tell you we're expecting to hear from James Baker within the half hour. He was supposed to give a briefing at about 4:00; he's moved that. So we do expect him to be here, at least, shortly.

Now, the latest deadline was two hours ago. As you mentioned, four counties have filed with the secretary of state asking that they be allowed to post later returns. Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Broward County, Collier County all sent a letter to the secretary of state by the 2:00 p.m. deadline saying that they did want to put in later votes. The secretary of state had asked for this letter yesterday, saying that she needed to know all the reasons and all the facts surrounding a request for a recount. Now, among the reasons in one of the letters was errors in vote tabulation which could affect the outcome of this election.

Now, to let you know where we stand today, Lou, this has been a day of fines and counter-fines, some an inch thick of different motions and counter-motions. It started with the secretary of state today. She is asking that all of the lawsuits be combined and moved to a court here in Tallahassee; this, a way of controlling the litigation. She's also asking that the hand count be stopped until standards can be established so that all recounts are done similarly.

Now, the Gore pointman Warren Christopher said that this is another attempt by the secretary of state to delay this hand recount. They want the lawsuits to stay exactly where they are, they don't want them moved here to Leon County. They also want a final ruling on the legality of the hand counts because there's been a big question -- certainly a big question in Palm Beach County. They, too, filed a motion today; they say they want to know, can they proceed with this hand recount and they're worried right now that they're going to open themselves up to a lot of litigation.

And Governor George W. Bush did file a motion in Palm Beach County. He is not in favor of a recount and, according to his motion, it said that he received the majority of the votes there -- or the majority of votes in Florida, some 300 -- that's his lead, now, over Vice President Gore. And in his motion it said that a hand recount could ultimately affect that result with an enormous resulting impact upon the interests of Mr. Bush.

Again, we are waiting for James Baker to give a press briefing and, of course, we'll bring that to you -- Lou.

WATERS: OK, we'll wait for that, we'll be back to you, Deborah Feyerick in Tallahassee. We are all becoming familiar with the buzz words chad, dimple, revote. A judge in Palm Beach County began tackling the legal issues behind those words today.

CNN's Martin Savidge joins us from West Palm Beach -- Marty, what's up there?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's actually a very big decisions that's been made by the local judge. I'll tell you about that in just a moment.

First I will update you that Palm Beach County officials here on the elections board did get their homework done in time -- they got their letter to the secretary of state, they got it off to Tallahassee about 20 minutes before that deadline; essentially saying that their partial recount by hand last Saturday showed enough discrepancy between the machinery count that warranted the fact that they should recount the entire county, 431,000 votes I think it is, by hand.

Now, they were to start counting them by hand this morning. They didn't do that. Essentially what they are doing is hanging fire, waiting until they get some sort of official guidance from the state court -- that is, the Florida Supreme Court here, to try to tell them which way to go. Is it legal now, after the fact, to go ahead and count these ballots and will they, in fact, be counted if they do?

Now, getting to the ruling by the local judge: now this is very interesting. This was basically a suit that was brought by the Democratic Party of Florida. What they wanted was that those ballots that were looked at manually -- they were looking at them, you may remember those images of them holding them up to light.

This is where the chad comes in. There was, basically, the three-corner rule of chad. If there was any chad that was perforated or hanging down, then you could count that as a vote. Well then we began hearing talk about these so-called pregnant chad or the dimples -- that is, there is not a perforation in the ballot, but it looks as though there may have been some pressure placed upon that particular spot in the ballot.

That was the debate going on in the courtroom, eventually the judge said it is up to the county canvassing board here to count the ballots any way that they see fit. If they want to include the dimples, they can do that. That's significant because, when they did not count dimples on the hand recount, insiders say that there were a lot of ballots that could have gone to either candidate that did not -- they were simply waiting for a hanging chad.

So now, if they go by the dimple rule, we could see a lot of votes being added. And the thing is, this is a heavily Democratic area, so you know, pretty much, where those votes are going to go; probably to the candidacy of Vice President Al Gore.

WATERS: So the decision has been made -- the judge says, you go ahead, make the decision Palm County, but Palm County hasn't decided yet whether or not to count the dimples?

SAVIDGE: No, we haven't officially been told what the new guidance is going to be when they start recounting. We only know that they can count dimples if they so choose. We're still waiting for clarification from the canvass board as to what they will count.

WATERS: All right.

SAVIDGE: Confusing, I know.

WATERS: We'll be back to you. You will unconfuse it for us, I'm sure; Marty Savidge in West Palm.

Broward County officials prepare to proceed with their countywide manual recount. This, after Broward's canvassing board, you'll recall, unexpectedly reversed itself today. In reconsidering a 2-to-1 decision reached Monday, one of the board's two Democratic members changed his vote. Broward County was first to submit its justification letter to the secretary of state's office before that 2:00 p.m. Eastern deadline today. As for their surprising reversal this morning, board members say simply, "things are changing."

In another legal arena, the Bush campaign is appeals a Florida judge's refusal to stop the manual recounts. CNN national correspondent Bob Franken is covering that aspect of the story from outside the 11th U.S. circuit court of appeals in Atlanta.

Bob, what's new?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And Lou, the court of appeals has decided to get into a case which is really about whether there is federal jurisdiction here or whether this is just a statement.

There have been two district-level hearings in Florida. Both have gone against the Republicans, who had been seeking from federal judges in Miami and Orlando that the hand recount be stopped, that there be an emergency order to stop them, to consider the various legal principles that would be argued in federal court. Both judges in Florida said no; now it's been bucked-up to here in Atlanta, the appeals court.

The appeals court has made an order that the Orlando case lawyers must submit, by 7:00 a.m. tomorrow, their legal arguments in this case. And here's what's significant: the court has decided that it will hear the case with all 12 judges, not just the normal three-judge panel. What they have not said is whether there will actually be an oral hearing.

It is theoretically possible -- in fact, very possible the judges will simply take the arguments and then all 12 of them will read the briefs and decide among themselves what the ruling should be; that is a possibility. But the issue here is whether or not the hand recount should be discontinued. More importantly, whether there is federal jurisdiction here; whether this should be in the federal courts.

Legal tradition has it that the elections are handled at the state and local level; but the appeals court here wants to discuss that question. It's considered important enough that all 12 of the judges in the court will consider the matter. We don't know exactly when a ruling would come, whether there will be a hearing, and no word on whether they would issue that temporary restraining order, which is at the core of the request by the Republicans -- Lou.

WATERS: Any significance to the fact that all 12 judges are being called to rule on this?

FRANKEN: It's hugely significant. Normally the only time that is done is when they want to reconsider a precedent of their own court. The operative precedent is a 1986 ruling which favored the Democratic position that the federal jurisdiction did not apply here -- that elections were a state or county matter. They want to reconsider that; either to restate it and to reaffirm it or to reverse it. That is, really, the question that they would be considering.

WATERS: Bob Franken at the U.S. circuit court of appeals in Atlanta.

It is a tangled legal web in Florida, to say the least.

Perhaps CNN legal analyst Greta Van Susteren can unravel it for us. She joins us from West Palm.

Greta, I was talking to our election law analyst Ken Gross earlier. He said that he -- even though it appears to be a tangled legal web, he sees signs that the process has begun to congeal, I believe was his word for it. How do you see it?

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, actually, Lou, I agree him. It does sort of congeal if we can finally get an answer out of someone who has the authority to tell us how to proceed. The big question here has been, how do you proceed? how do you count votes? when can you count votes?

And, of course, it may be that we're going to get that answer from the Florida Supreme Court, and we're fortunate enough to have joining us from Tallahassee, former chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court Justice Stephen Grimes.

And let me go to you, Justice Grimes. Take me behind the scenes. What is going on, do you think, with the Florida Supreme Court from a procedural standpoint? They know there's this problem out here. They've had an application for emergency relief. What does the court do when it gets a request for emergency relief?

STEPHEN GRIMES, FORMER FLORIDA CHIEF JUSTICE: Well, in a case like this, of course, they recognize the emergency and they will immediately give attention to whatever has been filed before them, and try to render a decision as early as possible. Of course, the legal procedures here are unique and it's not necessarily going to be easy.

One of the problems the court will probably have to consider is whether or not the extent of their jurisdiction because the Florida Supreme Court has a jurisdiction that's somewhat limited by our Constitution.

Judge Lewis' ruling that he made yesterday, an appeal or review of that ruling would go to the 1st District Court of Appeals if someone seeks to seek review, and that court probably, recognizing the emergency nature of the matter, would certify to the Supreme Court that this is a matter of great importance that requires immediate resolution.

Rather than having the court rule in the 1st District, they would then request that the Supreme Court take jurisdiction. I have no doubt if they did that the Supreme Court would take jurisdiction of that case. But of course that's not the only legal issue that we've got in this sort of tangled web.

VAN SUSTEREN: Explain to me, Justice Grimes, you know, typically a case is tried, it goes to the Court of Appeals and then the Supreme Court. But you actually have the parties, you have the secretary of state almost asking for an advisory opinion, going and asking for advice. You have the Democrats saying that they want to go to the Florida Supreme Court and ask for guidelines.

How unusual is it for people almost to make an original application in the Supreme Court and for the Supreme Court to say this is what the law is or this is how you should do this?

GRIMES: Yes. Well, you know, I think in the big spectrum it makes a lot of sense to try to get as much of this, if not everything, to the Supreme Court as soon as possible so that the Supreme Court can decide all these legal issues as soon as possible.

I think that's what essentially Secretary Harris was trying to do. I believe in good faith she believes that there's a possibility of a lot of disparate rulings around the state and ultimately the Supreme Court should get this as soon as possible, and that's why she filed this petition last evening.

The question -- it's rather unique. It would have to be on a basis of an original writ of mandamus or prohibition. The Supreme Court does have original jurisdiction in those two instances.

Whether or not all of this fits in with what you legally characterize as mandamus or prohibition is not so clear because this is extraordinary and whether the court will be able to conclude that they had jurisdiction to decide these matters at this time, it's not so clear, and I will guarantee you that -- go ahead.


VAN SUSTEREN: And as you say, justice, it is extraordinary. Thank you very much for joining us. Now I'm going to toss it back to you, Lou.

WATERS: OK, Greta Van Susteren down in West Palm. Nobody is more anxious to have a decisive outcome in this election than Al Gore and George W. Bush. Straight ahead, we'll check in with both camps for the latest as the presidential candidates, like us, watch and wait.


WATERS: Yes, the story does continue, and former Secretary of State James Baker is about to step out before reporters in Tallahassee, Florida. That could happen momentarily. We're expecting to bring that to you live. Should be enough time to check in with Allen Chernoff at the New York Stock Exchange on today's final numbers.

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thank you, Lou. Actually, shattered hopes here on Wall Street. The market had been rallying. In fact, the Dow had been in triple-digit territory to the upside, but as soon as the Federal Reserve announced its decision not to make any change in policy at 2:13, Eastern time, all of sudden that rally collapsed.

First, briefly, the Federal Reserve leaving interest rates unchanged and more importantly, not changing its bias, leaving that bias towards a tightening of policy. There had been a hope here at the New York Stock Exchange that perhaps the Fed would actually lean to a neutral bias, and the market had rallied in advance.

Here's what happened to the Dow. It had been up 112 points prior to the announcement. Right after it started sinking, sinking, fell into negative territory. The Dow ending up 26 1/2 points. The Nasdaq composite had been up more than 70 points, also falling into negative territory but ending with a gain, closing up 27 points on the day.

Traders here also telling me they're feeling frustration with the situation in Florida. A lot of news headlines hitting above the floor over here saying that we're going to be going to court, more suits, more filings. People here basically getting frustrated with the situation. One trader telling me a few moments ago this simply is not good for America. Lou, back to you.

WATERS: All right, Allen Chernoff at the New York Stock Exchange. Now let's check on the Gore and the Bush campaigns for which these past few days must be excruciating.

Let's start with CNN's Patty Davis who is covering the Gore camp in Washington. Patty, what do you got?

PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, the Gore campaign says it is focusing on one thing right now. It is to get those hand recounts done in the state of Florida. That's why it went to Florida Supreme Court today, asked the Florida Supreme Court, number one, do these counties have the right to go forward with these hand recounts? What the standard is for determining exactly how that ballot should be counted or not counted? And then there's the question of a deadline.


DAVID BOIES, GORE CAMPAIGN ATTORNEY: One of the things that's in our petition, will be in our petition that Mr. Christopher referred to, was a request to the Florida Supreme Court to set a reasonable deadline.

This is not a matter of weeks. This is a matter of days. We didn't think it's a matter of hours, but we do think it's a matter of days. Palm Beach has said they'll get it done in a week. If you hadn't had the various opinions and other actions by the secretary of state to stop the recount, we'd be a lot closer to having it done now.

But it's not a long period of time. It's not going to drag on indefinitely. It'll be done in a matter of days, and all we're saying is let the process continue. Let the votes get counted.


DAVIS: As for the Federal Court of Appeals decision to go ahead and hear the case, Bush campaign asking for that manual recount to end, the Gore campaign says it thinks it will prevail in this. It says state law is clear that Florida does have the right to go ahead and do a manual recount.

Privately, though, Gore aides tell me that if the recount does go forward in the state of Florida and they do expect Gore to be gaining a good number of votes, they say if he does start to lead there will be a lot of pressure on Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris to go ahead accept those ballots. So they're hoping that the hand recount can go forward and that it'll start to tip the balance in favor of Gore. By the way, Secretary of State Katherine Harris is an elected official. She's a Republican in the state of Florida. Not, as I said earlier, a Bush appointee -- Lou.



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