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The Florida Recount: Manual Recount Continues, Despite Uncertainty of Whether the Votes Can Be Officially Counted

Aired November 17, 2000 - 11:17 a.m. ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Showing you live pictures now from Broward County and also from Palm Beach County. As you can see, the recount, the manual recount goes on. That despite a decision that came down just over an hour ago from Florida Judge Terry Lewis, saying that Secretary of State Katherine Harris was working well within her discretion and using reasonable judgment when she decided that it would not be in the best interest of Florida to include those numbers, even though, as you can see, the recount goes on. More from both those sites in just a moment. But first, here's Stephen.

STEPHEN FRAZIER, CNN ANCHOR: With some insight we hope from David Cardwell, who's a former Florida elections official, who's been helping us understanding the twist and turns of this continuing epic.

Mr. Cardwell thank you for joining us again today.


FRAZIER: It just seems like, you know, here is a state court saying that, all along, we will handle this issue, thank you very much, that the secretary of state was within her rights and was exercising reasonable judgment, that we should keep it here and not go to the federal courts.

CARDWELL: Well, the state court has shown that -- customarily, these types of issues are resolved in state court; it's really a state law issue. It deals with the election code and with the authority of a member of the executive branch.

Judge Lewis ruled this that morning Secretary Harris did not abuse her discretion, that she had reasons on which to base her decision, and therefore, he did not find any violation of his order, his order, not whether there was a violation of law or that there could be a count on the ballots. It's just that his order had not been violated. Now we'll see what happens when it goes to the appellate courts. I'm sure the notice has already been filed with the 1st district court of appeal that the request is certified immediately to the Florida Supreme Court.

FRAZIER: Mr. Cardwell, have you had an occasion to be inside with those counters who are working on the recount now, and have you had any sense of their attitude, because you've made it very clear that there still is the possibility that their work may be proper and not in vain?

CARDWELL: I merely observed the counters here on the television monitor, but I've been in several other manual recount rooms in several counties as manual recounts have taken place. It is a very tedious process and one which makes it extremely difficult for the counters as they go through the process, as they get tired, you know, fatigue sets in. It's something where they need some breaks. It's not a real pleasant task they have, and they've got several hundreds of thousands of ballots to do. It's going to take a while.

FRAZIER: This is another episode where maybe media reporting of the events that are happening elsewhere may affect them. It seems to me I heard in a couple of those rooms, they look like almost hurricane evacuation centers, that there were very large television monitors on the wall, and that people were keeping eye on developments elsewhere, even as they tried to do their own work. Now, is that a distraction or a good thing?

CARDWELL: Well, it could be a distraction. I'm not sure whether they have the volume up. But I have seen the monitors that are on. You know, these counters are not like a jury, you can't sequester them; they go home when their shift is over. They can read the papers. They can watch television and find out what's going on elsewhere. Hopefully, that won't affect their job, because you've got two counters of each political party and observers at each county location. So there is plenty of observation of what the counters are doing.

I think you need to be more concerned with fatigue than possibly with any outside distractions.

FRAZIER: I think fatigue is a reasonable thing to expect, Mr. Cardwell. One other question is, we know that the observers come from the parties, but we don't really know who the counters themselves are.

John Zarrella was saying that the county is looking forward to a bill of about a quarter of a million dollars just so far. Are these emergency workers who are laid on, on a temporary basis? Are they in fact county employees? Who is doing all of this hard work?

CARDWELL: Well, it's sort of a mix. Customarily, these recounts start with supervisors of election office staff, then other county workers who can be reassigned from their jobs, and then after that, then, temporary worker from outside the county would be hired. Even if these are already workers whose salaries are budgeted, they're going to be working a lot of overtime. So there is a lot of expense involved. You've also got the expense of the setup and the other operations associated with it.

Doing a manual recount like this can be a very expensive proposition for a county, and it is up to the county to pay for it. It may be possible under these strange and unique circumstances that the counties that have incurred these expenses may be able to go to the legislature and say, can you appropriate some money to help us out with this? This was a statewide election and not just a Palm Beach County election. FRAZIER: Fascinating, David Cardwell, thank you for your insights this morning -- Daryn.

KAGAN: The recounts go on in Broward and in Palm Beach County. For more on that, let's bring in Susan Candiotti, who is in Ft. Lauderdale this morning.

Susan, good morning, once again.


Well, this certainly ads a whole new dimension of course to everything. But the hand recounts are continuing in Broward County at this hour, but we're not sure if they will this afternoon, here is why, at 1:30 in afternoon in the courthouse behind me, in the Broward County courthouse. The three members of the Broward County Canvassing Board -- two Democrats, one Republican -- have been ordered to appear in court. They have been served with subpoenas late yesterday, and they have been ordered to what's known as "show cause."

The Republicans are calling this, in effect, a trial. The canvassing board has been ordered to prove why they believe they can continue legally this hand recount in view of Secretary of State Harris saying that she is going to reject the results. When this lawsuit was filed yesterday, the decision from Judge Lewis hadn't come in, so that ads another dimension to all of this.

The lawsuit was filed by four Republican voters and they're being represented by an attorney representing the GOP party's interest. And these voters have been arguing that this entire episode is a waste of taxpayer time and money.

Earlier today, there was a brief hearing before a judge hear at the courthouse, and he rejected taking charge of this, in effect, laying the groundwork for this hearing to happen at 1:30 this afternoon. Afterwards, we got reaction from both -- from attorneys representing both the Democratic and Republican interests. First, let's hear from the Republican attorney, William Sherer.


WILLIAM SHERER, FLORIDA REPUBLICAN PARTY ATTORNEY: I don't know how the hand recount can continue if the canvassing board comes to trial. Judge Stafford has ordered them to come to trial. He entered a show cause order, which is essentially an order that says, you better be here, because we're starting this trial at 1:30. This is what's going to happen.



LEONARD SAMUELS, FLORIDA DEMOCRATIC PARTY ATTORNEY: This is just another attempt by the Republicans to stop the manual recount by serving subpoenas on the canvassing board to stop the work. They were confident that the work will continue. And as far as Judge Lewis' opinion, I haven't seen it, but certainly we all know the Florida supreme court is going to have the last say on this.


CANDIOTTI: So the canvassing board has continued, has resumed its work. In fact, this is the third straight day that about 30 teams of people, if not more, have been working on peering over these ballots, looking to see whether they've been properly punched out, and who is earning additional votes. And so far, we can tell you 102 precincts have been reviewed so far, with an additional 25 votes now for Vice President Gore. But in the end, will all count?

And furthermore, if -- at least one member of the canvassing board must be present for these recounts to continue, so if all three of them do appear in court this afternoon, then clearly, it would appear, the hand recount cannot go on.

So as we understand it, the attorneys representing the canvassing board are now reviewing their options and waiting to hear what's going to happen next.

Back to you, Daryn.

KAGAN: Well, Susan, I guess that would be two hours from now, when that court hearing is supposed to take place. Maybe one of the options: Do all three of the canvassing board members in court at the same time? Could they rotate? How far is that courthouse and that courtroom from where the recount is take place?

CANDIOTTI: Well, certainly, that's a question we've been asking the attorneys representing the Democratic Party. It's a sizable difference. You cannot get here in five minutes from where the canvassing board is located, and where the recount is going on, but certainly, I asked one of the lawyers whether it's possible that an attorney could be representing a member of the canvassing board and say, "Your honor, I'm here, but if you really need to have the canvassing board member here, I can get them here shortly, is that all right with you?" That certainly is an option, and the attorneys most certainly at this hour are huddling to figure out next move.

KAGAN: I bet they are busy indeed.

Susan Candiotti in Ft. Lauderdale, thank you very much -- Stephen.

FRAZIER: Well, let's switch over to Palm Beach County, where they're still working. In Palm Beach County, they're counting by hand again. That continues again at this hour.

We're going to turn to our Miami bureau chief John Zarrella, who's been keeping tabs on that.

You heard what Susan was saying, John. It sounds like it could be a very useful tactic for stalling the count, if you need to put all of the canvassing board elsewhere. Already, people on that canvassing board are saying they are not only willing only to go to court but to go to jail if they had to keep up the action. JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's correct. Interesting, last night, when they tried to start the count and did start the count that they only had 13 counting teams, and one of the things that happened there was that the Republicans could not come up with enough observers to fill out the remaining 25-26. They wanted 26 teams, one observer a Democrat, one Republican for each of the teams. So there were a little bit of eyebrows raising over that, saying, gee, is this a stalling tactic by the Republicans to slow down the hand count precipitously. But this morning when they showed up, there were 26 teams counting, and they are continuing to count, because of course, they got the word here from the Florida Supreme Court yesterday that they had the authority to go ahead and count. Whether they -- the supreme court will further back them and say not only do have the authority to count but the count will count is another story.

And picking up on the dollars, we talked about this in the other hour. They all sort of blend together now. But the county administrator told us so far it's cost them in Palm Beach County for this recount procedure about $250,000 so far, primarily in security, Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office of course, a lot of security around the site and a lot of security around the canvassing board members and around the ballots, every time they've been moved from one location to another. So there is a considerable expense being accrued by the counties for this effort to recount. We expect there may be another one of these meetings in the sunshine at about noon today, where we might get some sort of a sense from these folks as to exactly what their feeling is coming out of the latest ruling from the circuit judge in Tallahassee.

All we know about the numbers that have been counted so far is that the vice president in a very minuscule precinct number picked up six additional votes in one precinct. They counted some 16,000 or 17,000 as of this morning, probably many more since then today, but no updated numbers on what the new count is for the vice president and for the governor of Texas. We expect to have those numbers sometime around noon. They say they may come out and give us an update what they take the lunch break -- Stephen.

FRAZIER: John, whether they count or not, that does seem to be a pretty significant increase. It could affect the outcome of the election, and I gather there that people have always known, as they gathered, that what they're doing right now could be invalidated by all of the court cases swirling around them.

ZARRELLA: Oh, absolutely, and that was one of the reasons they said, well, let's not even start recounting until we have some sort of a definitive ruling whether we are in the legal right to do so. Of course it was the secretary of state a few days ago that initially told them, no, you don't have the right to do it, because it wasn't a machine failure or a software problem that is the reason why you want a recount, and then there is the attorney general who said, well, yes, you do, and then they went to the Florida Supreme Court. And after a couple days of waiting, they got the ruling late yesterday, and then they began the recount.

So unless the Florida Supreme Court tells them it's a moot point, they're not likely to stop.

But the interesting fact in all that is, what happens if since they have the go ahead to continue counting, they go ahead and count and finish the count and it changes the result of the election but it doesn't matter anyway? That could really cause a stir, if they do get some changed numbers. Just to do it, to go ahead and finish the count, but knowing that it may not -- that it won't count. That's going to be awfully interesting to see what they ultimately decide to do.

FRAZIER: And then we're definitely involved in the court of public opinion, rather than the state circuit count or county circuit court.

ZARRELLA: Exactly.

FRAZIER: John Zarrella, thank you for keeping us up to date on things in West Palm Beach. We'll be back to you before the day is out for sure.



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