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Florida Supreme Court Stays Certification of Florida Presidential Ballots; Counties Counting Overseas Absentee Ballots

Aired November 17, 2000 - 4:00 p.m. ET



JAMES BAKER, OBSERVER FOR BUSH CAMPAIGN: We now look forward to the prompt counting and reporting of the limited number of uncounted overseas absentee ballots.



WARREN CHRISTOPHER, OBSERVER FOR GORE CAMPAIGN: I think the plea that I have is that we take time, that we wait just these few days necessary to reach a result that will enhance the legitimacy of the next president of the United States.


NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Florida counties begin counting absentee ballots, which could make or break the presidential election.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: This as the Gore campaign loses a key legal battle, but vows to fight on. Right now, we have cameras trained on the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, home of the vice president of the United States. Al Gore is expected to step out momentarily to make a statement.

That's part of our ongoing developments, which are happening at a frightening rate of speed here. I'm Lou Waters.

ALLEN: And I'm Natalie Allen. Here's a look at developments from this day.

Lawyers for the Bush and Gore campaigns continue to fight tooth and nail in Florida courts, but the focus outside the courtrooms is now on those overseas absentee ballots. Florida counties have begun counting those ballots. So far, George W. Bush's lead over Al Gore has increased slightly.

Secretary of State Katherine Harris says she expects to certify the final results tomorrow. A judge in Tallahassee this morning upheld Harris' decision to reject hand recounted ballots that are filed late, but the Gore camp says it will appeal.

Despite the ruling, hand recounts continue in Broward and Palm Beach counties.

WATERS: Now, let's get on to Palm Beach County. Despite the judge's ruling today upholding the secretary of state's authority to reject the recount, the recount continues, and a judge in West Palm Beach says he will rule Monday on a request for a countywide revote.

CNN's Martin Savidge is covering that aspect of the story from West Palm Beach. He joins us now live.

Marty, what's new?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, elections officials here with Palm Beach County say despite the ruling out of Tallahassee this morning that would say that the votes would be certified without the hand recount included, they say they will continue to count on here until they are told by some other court in the state of Florida that they cannot do so.

Meanwhile just a few minutes ago, we received an update from the chairman of the elections canvassing board here in Palm Beach County. That is Judge Charles Burton. He essentially said that as of right now -- and this would be at about 3:30 or 3:40 this afternoon, that they had counted 39 precincts, or approximately 32,000 votes. And so far, they have only been able to really give us results from two of those precincts.

They admit that the problem is that they have been bogged down somewhat, especially last night. They had some problems. And this is how the judge described what the difficulties were.


JUDGE CHARLES BURTON, PALM BEACH COUNTY CANVASSING BOARD: ... there's a couple of problems where we had agreed to allow each party more observers than we probably should have, because there's too much commotion running around, and it was getting late into the night, and I know one fellow dropped some ballots, and everybody was kind of hooting and hollering at him. So we agreed, fine, we'll just recount all of those and just put them back in and we'll deal with them.


SAVIDGE: You can imagine the atmosphere inside of that counting room is extremely tense, especially with all those observers, all of those attorneys that are there. The judge quipped at one point he had heard there were about 500 attorneys for each political party down here. So it's obviously very crowded inside the room here.

Now as for the two precincts that he essentially gave us some what he called "unofficial results" for, that would be precinct 144(d) and for precinct 3. He said that the total count of only those two precincts showed a net gain for Republican George W. Bush of one vote. So, that's where it stands.

Now, he's only reporting unofficial results from two precincts, even though they say that they had now counted a total of 39 precincts. The reason he says is there are so many questionable ballots that are brought to the attention of the canvass board that it's slowing their process down greatly.

At this particular rate, Lou, it will take them 10 days, if you do the math in your head. They hope to be completed sooner than that -- Lou.

WATERS: Has that tension you referred to spilled over into any arguments? Is everything civil within the counting area?

SAVIDGE: Well, for the most part, we are told that it is fairly civil. There has been more talking in that room than they would like. Initially, they had a no talking rule and said that the only thing that the observers could say is "object" or "questionable." It appears a few more words are being said than that, but even if they aren't speaking, they can definitely feel the attitude in the air.

WATERS: Marty Savidge in West Palm Beach. Natalie, what's next?

ALLEN: Well, as we mentioned, George W. Bush has extended his lead over Al Gore with the absentee ballots that have come in. We can tell you of 14 of 67 precincts -- excuse me, 14 of 67 counties, Bush leads Gore by 339. Those are the partial results compiled by the Associated Press from counties that have counted the overseas ballot. These figures do not include any results from the various hand recounts going on in Florida. We'll report those hand recount results to you as they become available.

Let's go now to Tallahassee, the center of the political and legal universe and CNN's Deborah Feyerick -- Deborah.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Natalie, the bottom line here in Tallahassee is that the Gore team really wants the hand recounts in the final total, but this morning a judge effectively ruled that they don't have to be included. The judge sided with the secretary of state who said she had used her discretion, the judge even going so far as to say as far as he was concerned she had followed his directives.


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, applied 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.


FEYERICK: The Gore team, of course, is appealing. Attorneys were here at the Supreme Court earlier today. This is Florida's highest court. They filed papers and in those papers, it said that they had found substantial ballot counting irregularities. They also said that this appeal is of great public importance. Now, the secretary of state has repeatedly fought the recounts today. She said she was pleased by the judge's rulings. She said that she will continue to follow election law procedure.

Just to let you know about the absentee ballots. If everyone thought everything was going to go smoothly there, let me tell you how it stands here in Leon county. They received 49 absentee ballots. Now, of those 49, three are already in question, either because they were mailed out from a particular location, or because of the legitimate date. All of those things right now being investigated. That's three that are in question, 16 of the 49 have already been thrown out. And the reasons they were thrown out was because of a late postmark and also because they did not receive an official military forms and legalities and technicalities there. So, 49 received, right now, only 30 those counting -- Natalie.

ALLEN: All right, and that's Leon County. Thanks Deborah Feyerick, outside the state Supreme Court.

Here's Lou.

WATERS: And another legal boomlet this afternoon: In Broward County, where members of the canvassing board were called into court to explain why the hand recount that's ongoing in Broward County should continue. A ruling came down a little more than an hour ago on that.

The latest from CNN's Susan Candiotti, who's following along in Ft. Lauderdale -- Susan.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Lou, a wild and woolly hearing this afternoon in a courtroom in Broward County, Florida, with two lively characters, two attorneys, one Republican, and one Democrat going at each other in front of a judge. However, in the end, the Republicans failed in their effort to bring the hand count to a stop here in Broward County.

Now, the Republicans actually had subpoenaed into court the three members of the canvassing board, two Democrats and one Republican, demanding an immediate trial. However, a judge ultimately ruled that the canvassing board members could go back to the hand count and furthermore asked, what's the emergency? No need for a trial at this time. And he said let the hand count continue, and so that is what is happening at this hour. They expect that the hand count will wrap up on Monday at 5:00.

But will it be worth anything if Secretary of State Harris rules that the results will not be acceptable to her? In about -- at 5:00, in about an hour from now, the overseas ballots, however, in Broward County will be counted by the canvassing board and they hope to finish that up by about 8:00 tonight. Estimated numbers of those ballots to count, anywhere from 100 to 200 ballots, and they're punch cards.

Back to you, Lou.

WATERS: All right, Susan Candiotti in Ft. Lauderdale -- Natalie. ALLEN: The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta also playing a role in this election battle. The court has received responses from both sides in lawsuits aimed at stopping the hand recounts in Florida.

We get the latest on that part of the story from CNN national correspondent Bob Franken -- Bob.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Natalie, they're playing a role, maybe. The Republicans had lost the district court level in Florida -- to please to end the hand recounts and they're appealing to the circuit court of appeals here to try and overturn those rulings. But there has been nothing out of the circuit court. It's all been incoming. The two sides have been filing a variety of arguments. There has been no word on whether there would be hearings, no word on whether there would be a ruling by the all 12 members of the appeals court. Many legal experts say they believe they're waiting to see how final developments unfold in Florida.

The issue is a Constitutional one, whether the federal court should get involved in the matter that is traditionally reserved for the states. If the states were able, in this particular case, Florida by rulings by the Supreme Court make the hand recount irrelevant, it would leave the judges on the appeals court to rule they have no place in the case. They'd call it moot. That is on of the possibilities.

Others include having a full open court hearing which they haven't done or ruling on the merits of the Constitutional claim. All this is possible. Some fairly colorful language in the latest filings that came today. The Democrats said that the Republicans were stunningly complaining that humans are incapable of accurately and impartially counting the votes cast. Brazenly, they invoke the Constitution, the Democrats charge. The Republicans said if the recounts are permitted to continue, the party will succeed, meaning the Democrats, in artificially skewing the main portion of the votes to the Democratic candidates. So those are the claims in the counterclaim. The court has not indicated if it's going to rule or even whether it's going to rule or when it's going to rule -- Natalie.

ALLEN: All right, well, thanks for keeping up. Thank you so much, Bob Franken in Atlanta.

WATERS: Now here's a new one, Natalie.

With all the talk about recounts and deadlines, when is a deadline really a deadline? As we've been reporting for the last several days officials have been calling for all of Florida's overseas ballots to be handed in by midnight tonight. Right? Thus, midnight has been seen as a deadline for such ballots. But, get this: Florida law actually sets that overseas absentee ballot deadline at November 24th, which is next Friday. Stay tuned.

CNN will be watching as those overseas ballots are counted. We'll present a special report at midnight, Eastern tonight with Joie Chen.

ALLEN: And again, a reminder we're waiting to hear from Al Gore who should step outside his residence at any moment and make a statement. We'll bring you live coverage.

WATERS: And we'll get a little clearer understanding of the legal picture down in Florida when Greta Van Susteren joins us right after a break. Hang in there.


WATERS: We know you're on the edge of your seat and Al Gore is expected out momentarily to speak with the nation. We will carry that live when it happens. While we wait, let's check in with Fred Katayama who gives us a good idea of how the markets ended up today -- Fred.

FRED KATAYAMA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Lou. Well, trading ended about 15 minutes ago. There were some wide swings today, capping off a very volatile week. At midmorning, stocks spiked higher after the Florida court ruling ignited optimism that the uncertainty surrounding the presidential election would end soon. But gains quickly eroded as worries about slowing corporate growth took center stage once again.

By the closing bell, the Dow Jones Industrial lost 26 points. J.P. Morgan lost 3 7/8 and SPC Communications fell 2 1/16. Another baby bell, Bell South, tumbled 7 1/8 points. It reported earnings would be significantly below expectations, citing costs to expand its network of digital subscriber lines.

The Nasdaq composite managed to close above the 3000 level. It lost four points on the day. Now, if you remember, Monday, the Nasdaq dropped below 3000 for the first time this year.

Back here on the Big Board, shares of DaimlerChrysler fell 71 cents. As expected, the automaker ousted the American head of Chrysler and replaced him with a German executive. It also warned fourth-quarter earnings will fall short of expectations. The company cited reduced -- rather, higher buyer incentives, higher dealer inventory and production costs.

Firestone is being ordered to stop destroying the millions of tires it is recalling. A federal judge wants the tires preserved as evidence in lawsuits against Firestone. A federal agency is investigating whether Firestone tires were to blame for more than 100 U.S. traffic deaths. Sales of Firestone tires have plunged since the company recalled more than six million tires in August. That's forcing the company to cut production at three U.S. plants, idling 1,100 workers.

Well, that is the latest from Wall Street. Now back to Natalie in Atlanta.

ALLEN: And new developments since we tossed to Fred in New York. We have just learned that the state Supreme Court will hear oral arguments at 2:00 p.m. on Monday on the Gore appeal. Let's bring in CNN's legal analyst, Greta Van Susteren.

Greta, what does the timetable mean for the Gore campaign in their effort?

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I'm sure that they'd rather have it before the secretary of state does certify the election. But nonetheless, they did get a hearing before the Florida Supreme Court. And lawyers who file emergency pleadings always think it's a good sign -- never a sure sign -- but a good sign that the hearing -- that the matter they bring to the court is an important one, and that maybe the court predisposed to consider the issue.

So it's a good sign for the Gore campaign that they are getting a hearing. It is not a sure sign as to how the court will rule.

ALLEN: But this comes after the fact that the vote could be certified by Katherine Harris. And if George W. Bush is ahead, he could say: Hey, I'm the president. What does that do to legal battles in such a climate?

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, Natalie, there's a lot of confusion over whether or not the secretary of state has to certify it. I've been looking at the statute. And maybe I'm wrong. But I don't find this deadline that she see. There's certain deadlines as to when the counties have to send their tallies to the state officer. And she's the state officer that does the certification.

But let's assume that she is required to certify. Let's assume that she is required to do it in the next 24 hours. The Florida Supreme Court is the last word. And it -- and they have an awful lot of power. And they could order her to vacate her certification, if they deem that appropriate. They could say she abused her discretion when she said she refused to hear the hand counts on the various counties. Therefore, her certification needs to be vacated.

I mean, they have been awful lot of power, I would have thought, though -- I must admit -- that the Florida Supreme Court, if they thought this was so very important, that they would have set a hearing down for today, Saturday, Sunday. Courts do have emergency hearings all the time. So I'm a little bit mystified as to why the state Supreme Court in Florida wants to wait until Monday at 2:00 p.m.

There is an awful lot of time between now and Monday at 2:00 p.m. I've seen courts act a lot faster when they thought they should consider important emergency matters.

ALLEN: Right. They could be going to the Florida State-Florida game. But we hope not -- that that's not the reason.

VAN SUSTEREN: I hope not. You know, I mean, the interesting thing about it, Natalie, is that this is no big surprise to this Florida Supreme Court, that they got this issue -- unless they live in a vacuum. I mean, you don't even have to be in Florida to know this is the all-encompassing issue in the news. I mean, you live anyplace around the world, you know what's going on.

And if you get CNN anyplace, you know how important this is. It will decide the presidential election. They knew this issue was coming. So putting it off until Monday until 2:00 -- it is certainly within their power, their authority to do so. But I got to tell, it really surprised me. They knew they were going to get this. I'm surprised they aren't moving this a little bit faster, whether they rule in favor of Vice President Gore or in favor or Governor Bush.

WATERS: Apparently, Greta, they are moving along. We have just received word that the Florida Supreme Court has ordered the secretary of state not to certify the Florida election until she hears from them.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, there you go, Lou. I mean, maybe they are busy working. Obviously, they don't want to be in the position of having to research whether they could order her to vacate a certification. So they are being very proactive and they're telling the secretary of state: Don't certify this. We are giving you an order.

They are putting things on hold, I guess, so that they can have a three-day weekend to study this issue or -- as Natalie suggested -- attend this football game, of which I know nothing.

WATERS: You don't.

ALLEN: You will after a week in Tallahassee.

WATERS: Well, you're not in Tallahassee. If you had a hotel room in Tallahassee, you would probably be sitting out there in your directors' chair for all the weekend.

ALLEN: That's right. It's going to be...

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I think I am going to be running for -- I think I'm going to be running for mayor of West Peach Beach if I'm here for another day. I mean, we've been here an awful long time.


ALLEN: All right.

WATERS: She's become a resident of Florida.

ALLEN: Thank you, Greta. We appreciate it.

WATERS: OK, well...

ALLEN: And there's the news.

WATERS: The legal battles will keep up: the battle for the all- important electoral votes in Florida.

ALLEN: Coming next, the latest from both camps of the men who want to be your next president. We'll have reaction to this news that the Supreme Court will hold a hearing on Monday and that they've allowed that this election not be certified until after they meet. Stay tuned.

WATERS: Don't go away. Don't move. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ALLEN: Live to Tallahassee now, the Supreme Court clerk is having an announcement.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... which is short for Supreme Court.

QUESTION: Everything you just told us in the Web, every order you just read.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of the orders I just described are on the Web. I posted them before I came down here.

QUESTION: What is the Web site?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Web site, again, is and the duplicate Web site is

QUESTION: How will you announce -- how and when will you announce the winner of the lottery?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That will be done over the weekend and what will happen is we ask that you submit your credentials or your business card or whatever by 5:00 p.m. tomorrow, Saturday.

ALLEN: All right, that was the -- the clerk for the Supreme Court in the state of Florida. The news is that the state Supreme Court has said it will hold oral arguments at 2:00 p.m. Eastern Monday on the Gore appeal to the hand counts being allowed by the secretary of state. It has also ordered that the secretary of state not certify the election tomorrow, which she had planned to do.

Let's go to CNN's Eileen O'Connor covering the Gore campaign in Washington for a reaction -- Eileen.

EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, aides say that they are obviously gratified with this decision. They call it a win for the people and a win for local officials, who in demanding and calling for these hand recounts and supporting these hand recounts, they say, are trying to find a fair and accurate count.

Gore officials obviously heartened at this news. This will, of course, then, preempt any certification which would have been very difficult for them public relations-wise to try to counter that in the court of public opinion -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Any word if this late news is going to delay the statement we expect from Al Gore?

O'CONNOR: No, the vice president is still expected to come out. Again, the Gore strategists and Gore officials here, campaign officials, are trying to continually assure people in the court of public opinion that these recounts are adding votes to the vice president's tally. They are saying in Broward County they picked up 35. They say they expect to pick up at least 250 to 300. They believe that public opinion will support their legal challenge in the state Supreme Court as long as the hand recounts are going on, and as long as they are picking up votes for the vice president.

They say the only way that you can accurately gauge the will of the people -- and that is something the vice president will obviously be emphasizing -- the only way that you can accurately gauge the will of the people in the state of Florida is through these hand recounts and that's what they say they are pursuing -- Natalie.

ALLEN: And that's the view from the Gore campaign. Thank you, Eileen.

WATERS: Let's check in with CNN's Jeanne Meserve, who is covering us with the Bush campaign from Austin, Texas.

Any word out of there?


But one can imagine that the Bush campaign is less than thrilled with this development. Governor Bush and his wife Laura are on their way back here to Austin having spent a week at their ranch. Their daughters are heading in from college for Thanksgiving. But of course, there are other reasons to gather them besides the holiday.

We will know by tomorrow who has won the majority of those overseas absentee ballots and until just a few minutes ago when we heard the secretary of state is not going to be allowed to certify the results, we thought that she might do that tomorrow. There has been a lot of speculation around here about what the Bush campaign would do if that happened, events have overtaken us somewhat.

But here's what communications director Karen Hughes had to say about what Governor Bush would do. Would he declare himself the winner of this election?


KAREN HUGHES, BUSH CAMPAIGN COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: I think it is premature at this time to discuss any of that. Obviously, the result, the votes in Florida have been counted. They have been recounted. The results were certified, but there is still the question of these overseas absentee ballots and our men and women in uniform who are sending in ballots deserve to have their votes counted. And the good news is that by midnight tonight, those votes will all be in and tomorrow morning we will know and we won't have to ask, if, anymore.


MESERVE: Well, indeed, any speculation would have been premature, but not for the reasons that we initially thought it would. An appeal is already under way of that court ruling earlier today, but the Bush campaign expressing confidence that the Florida Supreme Court will not overturn the ruling, which said that Secretary of State Katherine Harris was within her rights to say, within her authority, to exclude further hand recounts from Florida's final vote tallies.

Former Secretary of State James Baker reacted for the campaign this morning. He said he that Governor Bush and Secretary Cheney were understandably pleased with that development.


JAMES BAKER, OBSERVER FOR BUSH CAMPAIGN: The rule of law has prevailed. The court applied the rule of law objectively and fairly, upholding, as the judge's opinion states, the, quote, reasoned judgment, close quote, of the secretary of state, and the State Election Commission's certification of results on November 15th.


MESERVE: Beside the courts, the campaign keeping a very close eye on the overseas absentee ballots, which will be tallied tonight. The campaign fairly confident, despite a big Democratic push overseas, that Governor Bush will get the majority of those ballot. They are by no means so confident of the results of the hand recounts that are still underway, to what end, we aren't exactly sure -- Lou.

WATERS: All right, Jeanne Meserve covering us from Austin.

Again, we are awaiting the vice president. Al Gore expected to step outside his residence at the National Observatory in Washington, the vice president's residence. When that happens, we will bring it to you.

And also, the Florida Supreme Court ruling: What are the precise words in that ruling? We know you are into precise words at this stage of the presidential election. We'll have CNN's Chris Black give us that when we come back.


ALLEN: Again, we're waiting to hear from Al Gore. The news media gathered outside his house. They seem to be freezing. They just received hot cups of something passed out to keep them warm. Don't you know they wish they were among the Florida press corps, not in Washington, D.C., where it's a little bit chilly up there.

WATERS: Yup. Well, it's a vast and diverse country, and the Florida Supreme Court, the latest news, just a few moments ago, handed down an order blocking any certification of the final presidential vote tallied by the secretary of state until the court can rule.

We have Chris Black now from Washington, who can tell us exactly what this court order is -- Chris.

CHRIS BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, I have it right in my hand. After a big disappoint in one courtroom this morning, the Gore campaign got a big boost from another courtroom: the courtroom, in fact, where they decide -- that they believe will decide this election. The Supreme Court of Florida issued a very brief stay, one paragraph long, that says, "In order to maintain the status quo, the court on its own motion enjoins the respondent, the secretary of state, and respondent, the elections canvassing commission, from certifying the results of the November 7th, 2000 presidential election until further order of this court. It is NOT the intent of this order" -- and not, I should say, is in capital letters -- "it is not the intent of this order to stop the counting and conveying to the secretary of state the results of absentee ballots or any other ballots."

Now, the state's highest court will hear oral arguments from both sides on Monday. But until then, Secretary of State Katherine Harris cannot certify the vote, as she intended to do, tomorrow. So this bought a lot of time for the Gore campaign. There's a lot of rejoicing over there.

In fact, the vice president just sent out coffee and cookies to the press who are waiting outside the -- outside the official residence for his statement -- Lou.

WATERS: All right, Chris, do you have any idea, even an inkling of an idea, why the Florida Supreme Court is waiting until Monday to do this?

BLACK: Judges take there own time, Lou. They obviously want the lawyers to file -- file their motions, file their briefs so they will have the weekend to read them. It is not at all unusual for judges to take their time. They operate on a different timetable from the rest of us.

WATERS: And they may be following the Florida-Florida State game tomorrow, too. That takes a little time.

Chris Black in Washington, thanks -- Natalie.

ALLEN: The oral arguments that will take place at the state Supreme Court Monday afternoon, we will provide live coverage. We'll have a camera inside the courtroom, and again, it begins 2:00 p.m. Eastern.

Still waiting to hear from Al Gore. We'll take a break. We'll have more after this.


WATERS: Yes, the recount continues. If you're just checking in, here's quickly the latest. The Florida Supreme Court is telling Florida's secretary of state not, not to certify the state's election results until she hears from the Supreme Court.

And word from the court may not come until at least Monday. The state Supreme Court currently is grappling with the issue of whether or not Katherine Harris, the secretary of state, must consider the results of the ballot hand recounts still taking place. The secretary of state had expected to certify the final Florida election results tomorrow after overseas ballots are counted.

ALLEN: And despite that news, this president election may still very well pivot on those overseas absentee ballots. Some 150,000 Americans based in Japan are waiting for the outcome with great interest.

CNN's Marina Kamimura spoke with some of Florida's absentee voters in the land of the Rising Sun.


MARINA KAMIMURA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A familiar war of words between Democrats and Republicans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Both men and both parties need transition time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wise up, and realize that the electoral vote should reflect the popular vote?

KAMIMURA: This exchange is taking place half a world away from the vote count in the United States at an army base outside of Tokyo. And this is why it matters: Both of these American soldiers are absentee voters, registered in the state of Florida.

MAJOR STEVEN BOYLAN, U.S. ARMY: This is the first time on a national-level election that I feel that my single vote really, really matters.

ANITA COLE, U.S. ARMY: My vote counts as an overseas ballot, you know, voter from Florida. People, are saying to me, my vote counts.

KAMIMURA: For these two, though, that's where the similarities end. Major Boylan says he sent in his vote for George W. Bush to Florida's Broward County weeks ago.

BOYLAN: I think it needs to end sooner than later so that, again, we can get on with the governing of a country.

KAMIMURA: From Intelligence Specialist Cole, a vote for Al Gore in Martin County.

COLE: It won't take beyond a month or two, but no matter how long within that framework it takes, we need to say to the voters, your vote counts.

KAMIMURA (on camera): Other Floridians, whose ballots were postmarked from Japan, have had their hands full explaining to Japanese colleagues what's going on.

SACHIKO COOK, VISIT FLORIDA: The USA is the most powerful country on the Earth and it cannot decide the leader of the country 10 days after the election date. That is embarrassing for me.

KAMIMURA: Even so, that hasn't dampened the spirit of this Sunshine State promoter. COOK: I'm the key person. Yes, I have the destiny of the country in my hand.

KAMIMURA: Heady, yes. But in this race, it could actually be true.

Marina Kamimura, CNN, Tokyo.


WATERS: And the state of the U.S. presidential election has many folks scratching their heads elsewhere in the world. We spoke with one bemused ITN anchor in London.


JOHN SUCHET, ITN ANCHOR: We just don't know to what to make of this story. I mean, from one day to the next. We thought when it wasn't settled on the first day, it would be settled on the second day. When it wasn't settled on the second, it'll be settled on the third. We're. how now after it now, a week and a half, nearly two weeks and it hasn't settled.

How has this happened in the world's greatest democracy. Our newspapers are making fun of it now. There are pages of jokes. I think the latest one is that Her Majesty, the Queen, has decided to withdraw independence from the United States on account of its ability to elect a president.


WATERS: Yes, I think we've all gotten that e-mail.

The U.S. Election impasse is having an effect on experiments in Democratic reform in China. One Chinese official says plans to import machines for punching holes in ballots now may be scrapped. CNN will be right back.


WATERS: We refocus our attention at the U.S. Naval Observatory, the vice president's home, where Al Gore has just emerged. He's about to make a statement to the press about today's developments in the courts of Florida. The vice president.

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Hi. As I have said all along, we need to get a fair and accurate count to resolve this election. The American people want to make certain that every vote counts and that every vote is counted fairly and accurately. The citizens of Florida surely want the candidate who receives the most votes in Florida to be determined the winner of that state.

That's why I'm very pleased that the hand counts are continuing. They're proceeding despite efforts to obstruct them. And that is why the decision just announced by the Florida Supreme Court preventing the Florida secretary of state from certifying the election results tomorrow is so important.

I want to be clear: Neither Governor Bush nor the Florida secretary of state nor I will be the arbiter of this election. This election is a matter that must be decided by the will of the people as expressed under the rule of law, law which has meaning as determined in Florida now by the Florida Supreme Court.

Thank you.

WATERS: The vice president taking no questions, just commenting, following the Florida Supreme Court ruling just a few minutes ago preventing the secretary of state of Florida, Katherine Harris, from certifying the election, as she had intended, by tomorrow.

Frank Sesno is in Washington. He has been keeping a close watch on the Gore campaign today. And Frank, as we know, post-election has been all about strategy. What's the strategy here today?

FRANK SESNO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the strategy here is to do just exactly what we heard the vice president do, and that is invoke the Supreme Court. I've spoken with several people here today, Lou, in Washington, to include a prominent Democratic senator, who said there was -- expressed some concern that the impact that the clock is having, that the American people may be growing impatient.

But this senator and many others have said if the Florida Supreme Court says hang on, hold it, let the count go forward, that not only gives Al Gore the ammunition that we just saw him use and that he needed in the view of this Democrat, but also gives the American people something to hang on. In this senator's words, they don't call it the Supreme Court without a reason. They are the last word, and that should be the position of the Gore campaign and that should be what the American people recognize.

So this a tremendously significant moment here, and it's been a day when many Democrats around town have been expressing some real concern over the course of events.

So this one -- you know, I hate to use the term "roller coaster," because we've used it too many times, but I can't think of many other analogies or metaphors that describe this much better.

WATERS: Yes, there was a nightmare scenario being bandied about today, with the Florida secretary of state certifying the election...

SESNO: Right.

WATERS: ... vote results tomorrow, the hand counts proceed, and whether or not they were allowed in, we would have heard about the results of the hand count. And there you have a nightmare scenario for an ending to all of this.

SESNO: That's exactly right, and a nightmare scenario being that the secretary of state, according to this scenario, would say that George W. Bush is the winner, hand count continues, the results come in, and somehow Al Gore ends up with more popular votes. Now, you've got a certified winner. How do you challenge it? What court does it play out in? Does the electors of the -- do the electors of the electoral college get challenged in Florida or the House of Representatives?

I mean, you know, the other cliche is unchartered waters. Well, there you have a tidal wave of them, and you know, you're lost at sea. So it became a very difficult scenario.

And now the Supreme Court has said: Hold it. We'll be back on Monday. Meanwhile, the voting continues. And as we have heard from Eileen O'Connor and others, the Gore campaign believes that it will pick up some number, some hundreds of votes through this recount. So we could have a very different scenario by Monday. Also, those absentee overseas ballots will be counted.

And we will have a better idea exactly how those are going to come down. So the difference, the disparity of votes between the two candidates will have a little bit more shape by Monday.

WATERS: And now there's a question about the deadline for those absentee ballots. We've been reporting all along and have heard that midnight tonight is the deadline -- looked up -- Florida law says November 24.

SESNO: Well the way it works is, the deadline for those ballots to come to the counties is, of course -- is midnight tonight. And the secretary of state has been using the phones and the faxes and the e- mails to get out to the 67 counties, and say to them: I want them on my desk.

But Florida law says that the counties actually have seven days to get them one. So one scenario earlier today from some Democrats -- they were speculating, so I'll just lay it out there around that -- was that, you know, you could have a couple of counties out there that would drag their feet, that would say: Wait, we need a little bit more time. The actual deadline for them to get them to the secretary of state is the 24th.

WATERS: OK, Frank, stay on the roller coaster. There is more to come -- Frank Sesno, Washington bureau chief -- Natalie.

ALLEN: And as you could see from the screen there, Bush had picked up some 45 votes so far in the absentee-ballots tabulation, which is ongoing -- that according to Associated Press.

Let's see if there is reaction as of yet from the Bush camp in Austin, Texas. George W. Bush headed back to Austin this afternoon from his ranch.

Here is CNN's Jeanne Meserve.

MESERVE: And we are expecting the governor to arrive any time. The gates have opened there.

(CHEERING) MESERVE: In fact, the cheers going up from the crowds now, which leads me to believe that the governor is going by us as we speak. Yes, we see vehicles pulling into the governor's mansion right now. You may hear there are a dozen or so people out here giving hoots and hollers in support of the governor -- of course, locked in a very intense situation right now.

There has been any reaction yet from the campaign to this latest development, that the secretary of state has been forbidden from certifying the elections tomorrow. I can predict that, when there is a response from the Bush campaign, you will hear some of the very same words you heard from Vice President Gore: fair and accurate count.

The Bush campaign has also been saying they want to see this. But they add another word. And that word is "finality." They had high hopes that, when those overseas ballots were tallied tomorrow, there would be a certification of the results, and this might well be over. They had been on a roll today, of course. There had been a -- there had been this ruling from the Florida court that the secretary of state in Florida was within her rights when she decided to exclude those hand-counted ballots.

I am sure, to some degree, the wind has gone out of their sails this evening. But Natalie, we are still waiting for an official result. I am sure the governor has been apprised of the latest developments as he drove up here from his ranch in Crawford. I can expect that would be more consultations with his aides and staff here in Austin and with the folks on the ground in Florida.


MESERVE: And once again: a loud yell going up from the crowd here in Austin -- Natalie, back to you.

ALLEN: He's getting a rousing welcome at the capital. Thanks so much much, Jeanne Meserve -- now over to Lou.

WATERS: We are going to sort through the latest legalities when we come back with more on this election coverage of the presidential race.


WATERS: The latest within the past hour: A ruling from the Florida state Supreme Court read to reporters just a few minutes ago by a clerk of the court. Let's listen:


CRAIG WATERS, FLORIDA SUPREME COURT SPOKESMAN: The court has entered an order accepting jurisdiction in the case that was brought here on the certification from the District Court of Appeal. The cases are consolidated and will be heard simultaneously.

Arguments will be at 2:00 p.m. Monday. The court will be open this weekend for regular business hours on Saturday and Sunday. In case you need additional updates, I will be available to assist you. There will be a maximum of one hour per side in the arguments as they occur. So these will be a total of two hours of oral arguments on Monday.

QUESTION: What time Monday?

C. WATERS: At 2:00 p.m. Monday, these arguments will occur. .


WATERS: All right. So we wait for Monday now to tackle the latest legalities in this race for the presidency.

Greta Van Susteren, our legal analyst and CNN law analyst Ken Gross.

First, Greta, where are we?

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, actually, this order is very interesting from the Florida Supreme Court. I've had a chance to look at it. Let me tell you two things that jump out at me. First of all, it's unanimous. That's always a signal, not an absolute sign, but it's a signal to at least to the lawyers that the Supreme Court, you know, that this is something they're very interested in. It's not six-one, it's seven-zip.

Secondly, what it says is that in order to maintain the status quo, the court on its own motion stops the secretary of state from certifying the election. The Gore people didn't even ask that they did that. Instead, the court on its own motion did. They went one step further. So you can see how sort of involved or interested they are in this matter.

Gore people didn't say put a hold on the certification. The court said look, we're taking charge. We're stepping in. No one asked for this, but we're putting everything on hold while we decide this very important issue.

WATERS: So Ken Gross, Greta and I were wondering earlier why the Florida Supreme Court wasn't acting more quickly in this matter, postponing until 2:00 p.m. Monday a hearing on all this. That conversation was immediately following after the order shutting down the certification until this process is complete. What do you make of all of this and why isn't the Supreme Court having its hearing today?

KENNETH GROSS, CNN ELECTION LAW ANALYST: Well, maybe they heard your conversation and they decided they needed to leave enough time here for the parties to brief the issues and the deadlines that we have in the statute are deadlines that can be moved by the courts. We're seeing that happen.

They're not deadlines coming up against an inauguration, so there truly is time and we're talking in times of days. And I think what the Supreme Court wants to do is decide this case while we're still in a legal atmosphere because this a law case. That's what it's come down to. And if there's a certification on Saturday, and then the party that wins, which would be Bush, starts celebrating a victory based on the certification and the court hasn't ruled yet, that does not create a very conducive atmosphere for the deliberate consideration of the legal case and that's, I think, what they're seeking to avoid.

WATERS: Let's get an idea of the arguments that'll heard on Monday. An hour on each side. Since Greta is a defense lawyer. We'll go to her second. Ken, first of all, what will the Democrats be arguing before the justices?

GROSS: Well, they will be arguing that there's no reason why these late ballots should not be taken as part of the case. I mean, that the will of the people, that's been the refrain of the Democrats since the beginning. We have to find the will of the people, not some artificial deadline that cuts off. And, of course the Bush people will be taking the opposition. We have to call this to an end. We've got to stop it. The day has passed. It's over.

WATERS: Greta?

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, let me be very blunt, Lou, and the lawyers of course will be eloquent. They not going to be blunt before the Florida Supreme Court, as we lawyers tend to be very deferential to the court. But this is what they're going to say to the court.

They're going to say, look, we don't care whether you think the secretary of state's decision was right or wrong. She acted with discretion. That's what she's supposed to do. All she has to do is exercise the discretion. Listen, court, you don't have to agree with her decision. But this is her job. She has the discretion. She wins. And that's sort of the blunt argument that the Bush people will be presenting.

WATERS: Do either of you have any experience with this court? I mean. could we expect a ruling on Monday or is it a hearing only on Monday?

GROSS: Well, I think that...


VAN SUSTEREN: What this is...

GROSS: Go ahead, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, what this is, is it started on application from the Gore people to reverse on an emergency basis a decision by the trial court judge in Leon County Circuit Court. Remember that Judge Lewis said that the secretary of state did use reasonable discretion in making the decision that she would reject any additional votes, any hand counted votes and so it was simply an emergency application. So this is actually in many ways routine, Lou. I mean, lawyers oftentimes go to court and look for routine relief. But this is an unusual case. WATERS: Our clock has run down. We'll have to let it go there. Greta Van Susteren, Ken Gross, we'll of course be hearing from you both again -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Final look at the day's election events now. Another legal decision, this time from the Florida Supreme Court, to stop Secretary of State Katherine Harris in her tracks. The court blocked Harris' plans to certify the state's elections results tomorrow after the overseas absentee ballots are counted. The court plans a hearing Monday on a Gore campaign motion to include recounted votes from Broward and Palm Beach County in the state's tally and we'll provide live coverage at that hearing on Monday.

Hand recounts continue in those two counties while all counties have begun counting overseas ballots today. So far, Bush's lead over Gore has grown a bit. He now leads with 17 counties reporting, 345 votes over Al Gore, according to the Associated Press.

Vice president Al Gore, says he's pleased with the Florida Supreme Court's decision this afternoon. He says the high court's order will help lead to a fair and accurate vote count.

WATERS: What can happen next? Well, that's why you stay with CNN, I guess. We're gone now. I'm Lou Waters

ALLEN: I'm Natalie Allen. Have a nice weekend. See you on Monday. "INSIDE POLITICS" is next.

WATERS: Take care.



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