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Circuit Court Judge Says Florida Secretary of State Can Certify Vote Tomorrow

Aired November 17, 2000 - 10:33 a.m. ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, once again, welcome back. Live in Tallahassee, Florida. The decision we have been waiting for the past several days has come down about 30 minutes ago. Circuit court Judge Terry Lewis says that the Secretary of State Katherine Harris can continue to certify the vote potentially tomorrow. He says that the recounts don't necessarily have to be included in Florida's total.

We talked with Bob Crawford a short time ago. He's the state canvassing commissioner. He says, at this point, barring any state supreme court intervention, that they will go ahead and certify that vote tomorrow. We talked to him a second ago.

Bob Crawford now is surrounded by literally about 300 voters here in Tallahassee, as the story moves away from circuit court, potentially to supreme court, and then eventually possibly tomorrow to that canvassing commissioner here in Tallahassee.

We talked to also Bush surrogates here in Tallahassee. No comment, similar to what Jeanne Meserve was reporting in Austin. However, a Gore spokesperson does say they come over and talk with us here in Tallahassee coming up in a few minutes.

In the meantime, Terre Cass is a court administrator. She delivered the announcement at circuit court a short time ago. Once again, here is Terre Cass from 30 minutes ago.


TERRE CASS, COURT ADMINISTRATOR: On the limited evidence presented, it appears that the secretary has exercised her reasoned judgment to determine what relevant factors and criteria should be considered, apply them to the facts and circumstances pertinent to the individual counties involved, and made her decision. My order requires nothing more.

Accordingly, it is ordered and adjudged that the plaintiff's motion is denied.

Thank you.


HEMMER: Again, Terre Cass at Circuit Court 30 minutes ago. More reaction continues to come into us from around the world, too.

CNN's John King traveling with the president in Hanoi, Vietnam.

John joins us now with more reaction from Democrats in Congress and their response to this.

John, what are we learning now.


Making some phone calls from here in Hanoi, to senior advisers in the Gore campaign, also to leading Democrats on Capitol Hill. And one top adviser in the Gore campaign, saying -- quote -- is almost certain, but this adviser saying that the vice president's legal advisers still huddling in a conference call. Warren Christopher, the former secretary of state, and David Boies, his lead litigate attorney in the state of Florida now, conferring with the vice president at his official residence in Washington. Members of the political team and also debating their next move.

One leading Democrat on Capitol Hill telling CNN, that Bill Daley, the chairman of the Gore campaign, had indicated in conversations with congressional Democrats in advance of this ruling that there was likely to be an appeal if they suffered a setback with Judge Lewis's ruling this morning. I asked this Democrat how long would support for the vice president hold up with the vice president to keep pressing this in court? And the Democrats said they believe to continue for the time being.

However, this Democrat said that members of Congress and others in the party would closely watch public opinion in recent days, and said that the big thing for them was to see these recounts continue in the county, despite the court ruling. They said if the recounts continue and we begin to see evidence that the vice president is picking up ground. They believe he will very strong case to continue this and to press on with the appeal and to make the case that he is indeed picking up ground, and therefore, the secretary of state should consider these results.

But this leading Democrat also said, if public opinion took a significant turn in favor of ending this as the Thanksgiving holiday approached, that the vice president could find himself under significant political pressure.

And again, the top Gore campaign officials saying they're huddling at the moment, but they do expect to take this to the state supreme court -- Bill.

HEMMER: OK, John King by telephone in Hanoi, again, traveling with President Clinton at this moment.

Once again, we're waiting here. A midnight deadline, about 14 hours away, for those overseas absentee ballots to be officially tabulate, entered into the record here in Tallahassee. It is believed through CNN estimates about 2,300 of those ballots will be opened later the afternoon into the early morning hours. If things proceed from there, the state canvassing commission expects to go ahead tomorrow about noon local time in Florida and certify the vote here in the Sunshine State. We will track all of that.

Again, it continues to be a fascinating story with developments expected at any moment. Stay tuned, also. Back here in Tallahassee, shortly, hopefully we will get more reaction from the Gore and Bush surrogates traveling in Florida.

Back now to Stephen in Atlanta.

STEPHEN FRAZIER, CNN ANCHOR: Bill, in fact, we're hearing that there should be reaction from the Bush campaign from the Republican National Committee, and from the Bush representative in Tallahassee, perhaps secretary -- former Secretary of State James Baker. We are expecting that momentarily, close to where you are, so let's stand by.

But first, let's turn to a separate action that's been launched in federal court, that is superseding or standing by parallel to what has been happening in Florida state courts, is an action to throw out the hand recounts in federal courts. That has moved up to the 11th circuit court appeals in Atlanta, and all week our Bob Franken has been there monitoring events. We're expecting some kind of a ruling or an action a little bit later today.

So, Bob, what can you tell us about that?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Or for the possibility exists, Steve, for a non-ruling, if ultimately in Florida, the courts in that state rule that the hand counts are irrelevant. The suit that was brought by the Republican Party to stop the hand counts could possibly be ruled moot by this court, and the possibility is enhanced by the fact that the federal courts have been reluctant traditionally to get involved in the elections in which the constitution seems to designate as state functions.

Now the Republicans have argued that there are constitutional violations which make this a matter that the should be in the federal courts, and that's exactly what the judge, all 12 judges, of the court are deciding here.

This was the day that the final responses were to be filed, responses to the original arguments. And in fact, the Republicans didn't even bother to final a substantive response. The Democrats, well, they did, but they really made no new arguments about their case. They did, however, use some colorful there language.

Some so my favorite experts include, "Stunning, the plaintiffs" -- meaning the Republicans -- "complain that humans are capable of accurately and impartially counting the votes cast. Brazenly," they went on, "they invoked the Constitution." And finally, referring to the punch cards which are the subject of the recount in Florida, the Democrats go on to say, "In a Democracy, votes, not polls, are what matters." Colorful language, a lot of invective.

It's now up to the judges, who that could open up a hearing, or they may just decide to continue to reading the briefs and decide this case without a hearing, or as I pointed out, decide not to decide the case --Steve.

FRAZIER: Bob, who said the law was dry? That is pretty colorful language. Are they meeting to make those decisions, or were these documents circulated to the residences who were scattered all around at their residences.

FRANKEN: Well, as a matter of fact, they must be very happy about the invention of the fax machine. The judges in this circuit, as well as the other appeals circuit, don't all live in the headquarter city. Five of them, as a matter of fact, live in Florida, and others scattered throughout Georgia. They have been getting the material delivered to them by fax. They have been considering it, presumably talking by telephone, and among the requests, they have to consider whether to have an open hearing and of course they have to decide whether they even really need to decide this matter.

FRAZIER: Well, Bob, thanks for keeping eye on all of that. Bob Franken at the 11th circuit court here in Atlanta.



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