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The Florida Recount: Broward County Continues Manual Counts, Palm Beach Awaits State Supreme Court Decision Before Proceeding

Aired November 16, 2000 - 2:06 p.m. ET


NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: As you know, both candidates appeared on television last night. Both candidate's lawyers still in court in Florida, which has branched out here to Atlanta to the 11th circuit court of appeals as well.

So let's check in with, first, CNN's Jeanne Meserve, who's in Austin, Texas covering the Bush campaign today -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Natalie, a very interesting statement from Don Evans just a moment ago, indicating that the Bush campaign will not contest those results in Iowa, though they are exceedingly close. He said the difference between them amounting to something like 3/10 of 1 percent.

A couple of things going on here, I think. For the one thing, they want to show, hey, we're adhering to a deadline here. The deadline for contesting this election was 5:00 this afternoon. We're respecting that deadline. The deadline in Florida for the absentee overseas ballots is midnight Friday, the Gore campaign should respect that.

Another contrast they're trying to draw here, I think, is that in Iowa they are deciding not to contest. They are saying, we will accept the results that have come in. They are trying to draw a counter-point here between what they are doing in Iowa and what they believe the Gore campaign is doing in the state of Florida: contesting, contesting, contesting until, the Bush campaign claims, they come up with a victory -- Natalie.

ALLEN: And as far as George W. Bush today -- is he back at his ranch or in Austin?

MESERVE: He went right back to his ranch in Crawford right after he came up here yesterday evening. As you know, the Bush campaign was somewhat surprised by Vice President Al Gore's decision to go on the airwaves yesterday afternoon and proffer something to break the deadlock in Florida.

He zoomed up here from his ranch in Crawford, went in front of the cameras at the mansion, made response, which was a succinct, no, we won't do that because we believe hand recounts are flawed. And then he immediately went back down to his ranch. We haven't heard from him today, we haven't seen him at all. I'm sure he's monitoring developments very closely and probably also enjoying the relative seclusion that he gets that far away from the media -- Natalie.

ALLEN: All right, Jeanne Meserve in Austin, thanks.

Now to Lou.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: And we're going to go back to West Palm Beach to John Zarrella who was rudely interrupted a few minutes ago.

And John, standby to be rudely interrupted again. But you were telling us about the canvassing board meeting down there today in West Palm Beach, and the subject, among the other counties, being discussed in Judge Lewis' chambers this morning about how they were stopped from recounting and then told the deadline would not allow for a manual recounting. And that seems to be the bone of contention today, legally.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN MIAMI BUREAU CHIEF: That's exactly right and, certainly, the eye of the storm here. And an hour ago that's exactly what the subject was again because they were going under the assumption that they were bound by the law; that the secretary of state, the division of elections' letter that they got a couple of day ago that said, you can't recount because it isn't a machine failure, it isn't a software problem, was binding.

They got the Attorney General Bob Butterworth's opinion a little later the same day that said, sure, you can go ahead and recount. But that's an opinion, it's not binding. So from that point on, they have been sitting and waiting until the Florida Supreme Court decides for them what they can do. They have been totally frustrated. They have not started any recount here; and about one hour ago they came out and Judge Charles Burton said, very movingly and poignantly that in times of peace the right to vote -- there is no greater act and there is no greater act than to have your vote count; but they have to follow the law.


JUDGE CHARLES BURTON, PALM BEACH COUNTY CANVASSING BOARD: The reason Florida law requires that a county court judge chair the canvassing board is because a judge is nonpartisan. My allegiance is not to any political party, but it is to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the state of Florida. And I respectfully submit that, if this board were to begin a manual recount before the Supreme Court of Florida issues an opinion, that it would be -- that act would be illegal.

Florida statute 106.232 makes it clear that the opinion this board received from Clay Roberts, director of division of elections, that stated a manual recount under the circumstances confronted by this board is not authorized and is binding until such opinion is amended or revoked. Now this board has filed a petition in the Supreme Court of Florida. And they have given all parties until 12:00 p.m. today to file all pleadings.

Having asked the Supreme Court to give this board a binding legal ruling on the legality of conducting a manual recount, it is incumbent on this board to wait for that court's ruling. To do otherwise would be unlawful and, in my opinion, would be foolish. As public servants, we have an obligation to follow the rule of law even when we don't like the law or even if it is not the popular thing to do. If we were to do otherwise, then we are sending a message to every citizen that it is OK to violent the law when it suits our purpose; or worse, that the ends justify the means.

I want to make it clear that I would vote to immediately begin the recount if I had unfettered discretion. I do not. However, any delay in performing this recount is not the fault of this board, but rather is caused as a result of the opinion of the director of division of elections and the binding effect of that opinion. My recommendation to this board is, if the Supreme Court of Florida approves this board's express desire to conduct a manual recount of votes, then we proceed to do so, notwithstanding the position of Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who, as you all know, has denied our request to file an amended certification of votes.

It is only after a recount has taken place, do I believe, that we can successfully challenge any abuse of her discretion. If the Supreme Court of Florida tells us that we cannot conduct a manual recount, then we must also abide by that decision as well. I can appreciate the solemn act of casting a vote and you can all image the solemn act of counting a fellow citizen's vote. However, I do think that act should be undertaken only when it is legal to do so.

I remain, here, committed to do my statutory duty, and I intend to continue to do that job in a fair, nonpartisan and legal manner.


ZARRELLA: Now, Commissioner Carol Roberts offered a motion to go ahead and start the count again, now, and not to wait for the Supreme Court. She was outvoted 2 to 1. Then she asked a question we've all been asking: How come Broward County can count and they can't count here in Palm Beach County?

The answer she got from the county attorney was because the letter that Broward County sent to the director of elections was sent just by the supervisor of elections, so it was only the response -- not to count in Broward County was only binding on the supervisor of elections, who was outvoted 2 to 1 to restart the Broward Count.

The letter sent from here to the supervisor of elections was from the entire -- on behalf of the entire canvassing board, so the decision back to them here that they could not count was binding on all three of them. So that's why Broward is counting and Palm Beach County, Lou, is still waiting in thing wings -- Lou.

WATERS: Oh, my. John, it was suggested in Judge Lewis' court that, perhaps, the way to proceed is to recount all the votes, forget about challenging the secretary's decision to stop a recount or not stop a recount and then, after all the votes are counted, challenge the certification at the end.

David Boies just stepped out a few minutes ago saying that seemed to be what the Republican lawyers in the courtroom were saying and that, he said, would be a step in the right direction.

Palm Beach suggesting anything along those lines?

ZARRELLA: It was simultaneously -- at the same time that that court hearing was going on in Tallahassee they were here on the stage saying why they could not start. So they are probably just now, or just in the last 30 minutes, being filled in on what transpired in Tallahassee.

So that could very well alter the way they are thinking, although they are still saying that, at 2:00 this afternoon, local time, they expect it to be in court in Tallahassee before the Florida Supreme Court. So they may decide now to just go ahead and wait on Florida Supreme Court; but this certainly could change their decision, and they may come out at any time and say, based on what happened in Tallahassee, we're going to go ahead and start counting, or at least vote in the sunshine again, as they have been doing right along, under the Florida in the sunshine laws, and vote once against on whether they want to restart or whether they want to wait -- Lou.

WATERS: OK, keep your boots strapped on there, John, we'll get back to you; John Zarrella in West Palm.

ALLEN: And our thanks to John for explaining why Palm Beach County isn't recounting and why Broward continues to do so.

And covering that recount for us is CNN's Susan Candiotti, who joins us now.

Susan, how's it going?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello Natalie. Well, it's going right along here. The officials here in Broward County say Palm Beach can do what it wants to do, but here in Broward County the authorities feel as though they are in the right, that they have been given a green light from Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth as well as from the Florida Supreme Court; and it is for that reason they feel they can keep on going until someone tells them not to.

So after taking a very brief lunch break workers, as you can probably make out over my shoulder, are now returning to their tables to continue their work. About 30 teams of people here and they are, indeed, making progress, even though the secretary of state has said already that she will reject the results of all this work going on.

If the recount does, indeed, count, so far Vice President Al Gore has picked up an additional 17 votes from a review of 61 precincts. There are just over 600 precincts in all in this county. Democrats dominate the canvassing board here two to one and one of the members of the panels, Susan Gunsberger (ph) tells me that she is convinced that, after a full hand recount is done, that this will definitely impact the results, the outcome, of the presidential race here in Florida.

Now Republicans, not surprising, disagree with that. They say, after all, picking up 17 votes is a very small number. They've only looked at a few precincts. And the Republican member of the board, Jane Carol (ph), who happens to be the supervisor of elections, tells me she doesn't care much for hand recounts because she says they lack efficiency.

But she disregards a lot of complaints from Republicans, members of her own party, who are saying that they've been finding a few chads on the floors leftover from the counting last night, and they've actually picked these chads up and put them in a sealed envelope and she said, that really has no bearing here, that chads do fall off every time you check a ballot and touch a ballot.

Now, the work here will continue through Monday. They also intend, here in Broward County, to be counting those overseas ballots starting tomorrow, Friday at about 5:00 in the evening. But the supervisor of elections says she expects there might only 100 of those ballots in all and doesn't think it will take very long to count those up. This work will probably continue through Monday; and, again, they're going to keep on going until a court or someone else orders them to stop.

Susan Candiotti, CNN, reporting live from Plantation.

ALLEN: Thank you, Susan.



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