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Florida Supreme Court Halts Certification of Vote Totals After State Court Rules in Favor of Secretary of State

Aired November 17, 2000 - 8:00 p.m. ET


ANNOUNCER: Tonight, a state court judge hands Al Gore a legal setback, but Florida's Supreme Court delays final action.


CRAIG WATERS, SUPREME COURT SPOKESMAN: She is enjoined until further order of the court from certifying the results of the election.


ANNOUNCER: George W. Bush's team counts on a big advantage in overseas votes, but Al Gore's attorneys put their faith in a favorable decision from the state's highest court.


AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This election is a matter that must be decided by the will of the people as expressed under the rule of law.



KAREN HUGHES, BUSH CAMPAIGN COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: The one constant is that things are changing minute by minute, and we will be glad, as always, to keep you posted.


ANNOUNCER: The latest on the courtroom debates over manual recounts and talk of a potential revote. The day's legal victories, and defeats, and what could happen when Florida's Supreme Court takes up the case: all ahead on this special edition of THE WORLD TODAY, "The Florida Recount."

Reporting tonight from Washington, here's CNN's Wolf Blitzer.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. The deadline for overseas absentee ballots to arrive in Florida is just four hours away. With the counting of those ballots ongoing, George W. Bush's lead has increased to 449 votes over Al Gore. That's an unofficial tally from the Associated Press.

But the story does not end there. Late this afternoon, the Florida Supreme Court ordered the secretary of state not to certify the state's final vote totals, as she had said she would do tomorrow. The high court says it first wants to rule on the Gore campaign's appeal of this morning's decision by a lower state court judge. That judge ruled the secretary of state has the power to reject manual recount totals from Broward and Palm Beach counties, which are heavily Democratic.

And the state's largest county, Miami-Dade, late this afternoon announced it, too, will begin a full manual recount.

The Florida Supreme Court scheduled a hearing in the case for Monday afternoon. Also today, a federal appeals court in Atlanta denied a Bush campaign request to block all manual recounts.

The day began with an apparent court win for George W. Bush and ended with what appeared to be legal decisions favoring Al Gore.

CNN national correspondent Mike Boettcher details a very busy day in the Florida courts.


MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Another dramatic turn in a case full of them: Florida's Supreme Court finally intervenes and will attempt to untangle a complicated legal web, with the presidency at stake.

WATERS: In order to maintain the status quo, the court on its own motion enjoins the respondent, secretary of state, and respondent, elections canvassing commission, from certifying the results.

BOETTCHER: Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris was making plans for a very public ceremony Saturday to observe the final certification of Florida's statewide vote, when she got the news that her plans were put on hold by the Supreme Court. The day was full of such ups and downs for both sides.

At 10:00 a.m., it was the Gore campaign that got disappointing news from a trial court in Tallahassee.

TERRE CASS, LEON COUNTY COURT ADMINISTRATOR: It appears that the secretary of state has exercised her reasoned judgment to determine what relevant factors and criteria should be considered.

BOETTCHER: Attorneys for Al Gore had argued to Circuit Judge Terry Lewis that Secretary of State Harris had abused her discretion by promising to go ahead and certify Florida's election without giving time for three Florida counties to conduct hand counts. But Judge Lewis rejected their argument, said Katherine Harris acted properly, and allowed the certification process to roll on.

Bush's man on the ground in Florida, James Baker, quickly stepped to the podium. 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.

BOETTCHER: But even as Baker was speaking, Gore's attorneys were filing an appeal to Florida's Supreme Court.

WARREN CHRISTOPHER, OBSERVER FOR GORE CAMPAIGN: I must say I think most observers have thought this matter would end up in the Supreme Court of Florida.

BOETTCHER: At 7:00 p.m., Baker was back at the podium, this time disappointed.

BAKER: We remain confident that for all of the reasons discussed by the trial court in its two opinions, the Supreme Court will find that the secretary of state properly exercised her discretion and followed the law.

BOETTCHER (on camera): And this is where the day's twists and turns ended, in the hands of the highest court in the sunshine state, where the spotlight will glare at 2:00 p.m. Monday with the presidency at stake.

Mike Boettcher, CNN, Tallahassee.


BLITZER: Joining us now from Tallahassee is Bob Crawford. He's one of three Florida election officials who are -- who are supposed to certify this election. He is a Democrat, though he does -- he's a close political ally of Governor Jeb Bush and endorsed Governor George W. Bush. Just want to be up-front, Mr. Crawford, with all of that.


BLITZER: Does it -- is it correct, as a lot of people are now assuming, that the Supreme Court, which has now twice told Secretary of State Katherine Harris, you're not going to right thing, is it correct to say that they don't appear to have a whole lot of confidence in her decision-making process?

CRAWFORD: Not at all, Wolf. As you know, earlier today, the circuit court did uphold exactly what Katherine Harris is doing and how we see the law. The only thing the Supreme Court has done is said let's maintain the status quo while we sort out all of the legal questions here. And I think for the process that could be very good.

BLITZER: But the recounts are going forward in three counties in South Florida. Presumably, this is not simply an academic exercise, as the Gore campaign supporters are suggesting. The Supreme Court says, go ahead and continue that count.

CRAWFORD: Well, I think it's appropriate. They said from the very beginning that there was no law prohibiting the counties for exercising that kind of discretion, so therefore, they should be able to go ahead. But I think the Supreme Court Monday will clearly focus in on the question of the law. I believe it says the election is over after we recount the overseas ballots and I expect the Supreme Court to say that.

And when they do say that, I think it will give a lot more credibility, a lot more validity to the whole process, and hopefully, people will accept that and support the winner of this election.

BLITZER: But if those three counties in South Florida do come up with a new count and certify it, according to their county rules that those are the new counts, do you think it's realistic that the secretary of state and you and your other colleague could reject those counts, this new number, if it should, in fact, put Al Gore over the top?

CRAWFORD: Well, I think the Supreme Court is probably going to give us specific direction on the law. If the counts down in the southern counties do not change the count as it relates to George W. Bush currently, I think the Supreme Court, their decision is probably moot. If there is a change in the election, the Supreme Court, I think, will focus in on the arguments. They will say whether or not Katherine Harris and the election canvassing commission has the authority to stop. And at that point, we've got to make a decision based on the facts at that time.

And I think the best decision for the country is to observe the statutory guideline of ending the election at a time certain and tabulating the votes and announcing who the winner is and moving on with the business of this country.

BLITZER: All right, Bob Crawford, thank you so much, once again, for joining us on our special edition of THE WORLD TODAY.

CRAWFORD: Thank you.

BLITZER: I want to bring in our CNN legal analyst Greta Van Susteren. She's been watching all of this from West Palm Beach, which may be, in many respects, the eye of the storm.

Greta, give us -- give us the sense of the enormity of this decision today, if it is, in fact, enormous that the Supreme Court announced in Tallahassee, the state Supreme Court.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, Wolf, it really in many ways seems like such a drop-dead decision by the Florida Supreme Court, the fact that they're actually going to hear this question, because the secretary of state wants to certify the election. If the election gets certified and she certifies it as having the winner George W. Bush, that certainly is an enormous decision to Vice President Al Gore.

So what the court did today, it was a unanimous decision, and they've simply put on hold -- they directed the secretary of state not to do anything, not to certify the election until they can decide the matter. The Florida Supreme Court wants to decide the important issues here, and so they've put everything on hold. But while it's extremely important, there is something that's sort of lingering in the back that no one's really discussing, and that's this, Wolf: is that once an election is actually certified, under Florida law, a candidate can then contest the results of the election. So it's actually possible that once we get through this hurdle, once the Florida Supreme Court makes its decision, once the hand counts are either counted or not counted, once the election is certified, a candidate -- George W. Bush, if he's a loser, or Vice President Al Gore, if he's a looser -- could go to court and the challenge the results.

So it's an important chapter, but by no means the last one.

BLITZER: But politically, that would be highly extraordinary if after the Supreme Court of Florida makes it final ruling and the state certifies the winner, wouldn't it be extraordinary once again to go back and challenge that decision, politically speaking?

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, you know, Wolf, that's more your business, the political business. The legal business is simply much different. We're very aggressive. We fight everything to the bitter end, and oftentimes people throw in the towel and give up for political reasons. It's good for the country, good for the party, or whatever.

But the lawyers always look to the different options that are available, and in terms of this particular case, the Florida Supreme Court is in a big -- whoever wins the Florida Supreme Court on Monday -- that's when the arguments are going to be; we don't know when they're going to decide the case, but I think we can assume that they'll decide it after. Well, at that point, it may be the end. Politically, that may be the end, and one of the two candidates may decide to end. But legally, there is out there still another option. Whether or not they take it or not remains to be seen.

BLITZER: All right, Greta Van Susteren, stand by. Greta will be back later in the program. She'll be taking us behind the scenes to see how those hand recounts are going on in Palm Beach County.

For now, let's continue to discuss today's ruling with Gore campaign attorney David Boies. He'll be with us in just a moment. But first, the Bush campaign declined our invitation to have a representative join us. So before we speak to David Boies, let's hear the entire statement made less than one hour ago by Bush campaign observer James Baker.


JAMES BAKER, BUSH CAMPAIGN OBSERVER: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.

As the Florida Supreme Court stated in this recently issued order, the court's action is designed to maintain the status quo until its hearing on Monday.

The court issued an order that neither side requested. Nevertheless, its action is not an order on the merits of the case. We remain confident that, for all of the reasons discussed by the trial court in its two opinions, the Supreme Court will find that the secretary of state properly exercised her discretion and followed the law.

In addition, while we are disappointed, of course, that the federal Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit decided not to step into the dispute at this time, that is while it is before the Florida courts, they specifically noted that we are free to return to the federal courts to present our constitutional challenges to the selective and subjective manual recount process at an appropriate time in the future.


BLITZER: David Boies, thanks once again for joining us. You heard James Baker, other supporters of George W. Bush say the Supreme Court made no decision on whether Secretary of State Katherine Harris abused her discretionary power in saying this election should be certified tomorrow. They simply said let's have a hearing to discuss the matter. So no final decision on that point.

DAVID BOIES, GORE CAMPAIGN ATTORNEY: Yes, and I agree with that. I think that the Florida Supreme Court decision is not a decision on the merits. It is a decision to preserve the status quo until the court can consider the merits.

BLITZER: So it's still very possible the Supreme Court will back up Katherine Harris and refuse to consider those uncounted ballots or those recounted ballots -- the manual ballots that are being counted in those three counties in south Florida.

BOIES: We certainly would hope that the Supreme Court would listen to our arguments and be persuaded by our arguments, that the votes that have been cast in those ballots ought to be counted and ought to be counted accurately.

However, we have no indication from the Florida Supreme Court as to what its views are or may be on the merit of the case. What we have from the Florida Supreme Court, and we're very grateful for it, is a preservation of the status quo pending a hearing on the merits.

But I think that Secretary Baker is exactly right that this is not a determination on the merits and should not be determined to be a determination on the merits.

BLITZER: Are you prepared at this point Mr. Boies to say that whatever decision the Supreme Court of Florida reaches in the next few days, that's the end of the legal battle and the Gore campaign is willing to live with that decision?

BOIES: We certainly would hope that resolution that the Florida Supreme Court gives would be the final decision. However, until the Florida Supreme Court acts, there's no way of know whether that will be a final decision of an interim decision. There are many different things the Florida Supreme Court could do. And one of the things that I've learned in 35 years of practicing is that it's a bad idea to try to predict what the court's going to do or what you're going to try to do in response to it.

BLITZER: Is the offer made by Vice President Gore the other day to have a recount of the entire state, all 67 counties, is that still on the table at this point?

BOIES: I'm not sure whether it's still on the table or not. That's something that ought to be addressed to the people who are handling things other than the legal issues which I'm handling. I do note that that offer was rejected by Governor Bush and his people. They've indicated no interest in that offer. Even today they've indicate no interest on the offer. So whether it's on the table, off the table I don't think makes and difference because they've rejected it.

BLITZER: All right, David Boies, once again thank you so much for joining us on THE WORLD TODAY.

Right now, vote counting is proceeding on two fronts: one, absentee ballots that have come in from overseas. And second, the hand counts going on in Broward and Palm Beach Counties, which are still the subject of legal proceedings. Watching over the count for us tonight: Martin Savidge in West Palm Beach, and Susan Candiotti in Fort Lauderdale.

First, to you, Susan. Give us a progress report. What's going on in Broward County?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, at this hour aside from counting overseas ballots, the third day of hand counts here in Broward County is done. The work will resume tomorrow.

Now so far they have hand counted 128 of 609 precincts. That's about 20 percent in all with, so far, 38 additional votes for Vice President Gore. Democrats have claimed all along that Vice President Gore could potentially gain hundreds of additional votes. That has not happened yet. However, Democrats claim that if the canvassing board here decides to change its standard and allow to consider so- called dimpled chads that perhaps Gore could gain many more votes.

So far, the county here is using a two corner standard, that two of those corners of those chads have to be punched out for a ballot to be considered. Now tonight, there was a hearing and a Broward County court judge has ruled that the canvassing board here should consider every kind of ballot, and he said if they don't do things right that he would make them start all over again.

That wasn't the only action in court this day. Earlier, Republicans lost a battle to try to get an emergency, a trial, in effect, to try to stop the hand count. But a judge rejected that and said, what's the emergency.

So for now, the hand counts are over with. Work will resume tomorrow and all weekend long. And the authorities here hope to wrap things up by Monday at 5:00. Now as for what is going on in Palm Beach County, let's turn to my colleague Martin Savidge.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Susan, the election workers here are into their 10th hour of work in Palm Beach County on the recount by hand of all of the votes cast in the presidential election. They've been working over two shifts. It's not expected they will go as late tonight as they did last night. Actually, they went until 3:00 this morning.

It's anticipated the election workers will be let go around 9:00 tonight and that the elections canvassing board members will remain several hours thereafter going over the so-called questionable ballots. They are going to be joined by an army of attorneys and representatives from both campaigns as they go over those very, very critical ballots.

The work did come to a halt for time today as they reviewed the absentee ballots that came in from overseas. And the results that were released by the Palm Beach County Board of Elections so far say that 13 of those ballots went to George Bush, 22 to Al Gore, one to Ralph Nader and that there were 17 ballots that were rejected.

As of last report, the count stands right 39 precincts out of 531 have been counted, 32,000 that is roughly votes. They have about 430,000 votes yet to go. So they still have a lot of work to make up on. They say things got off to a slow start -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Marty Savidge and Susan Candiotti, thanks so much for joining us. And as we mentioned earlier, Miami-Dade County has voted two-to-one to conduct a hand recount of its own. That's 654,000 ballots to recount. The elections committee will meet at nine tomorrow morning to decide when and where their recount will take place

Now to the overseas absentee ballots. Ballots that we know will be included in any final vote total. As the count proceeds, counties are relaying their numbers to Tallahassee as well as to the Associated Press. With 55 of 67 counties now reported, we can tell you that Governor Bush's lead has grown from 300 to 478. In order to count in the final tally, the ballots have to be received by the counties no later than midnight tonight.

The secretary of state has asked that all Florida counties report their results by noon tomorrow. But under state law, the counties have until November 24 to turn those results in.

Americans living oversees are keeping a very close watch on this legal drama. We have three reports tonight from around the world, beginning with CNN's Fionnuala Sweeney in Israel.


FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In this neighborhood of West Jerusalem, Cheryl Korchak runs her laundromat. She and her family moved from Los Angeles to Israel three and a half years ago. The neighborhood has a large American expat population and Cheryl decided to offer an extra service to her customers. CHERYL KORCHAK, AMERICAN EXPATRIATE: I'd hear an accent or something and say, you know, where are you from, would you like to register? And then I had the book so I could look up their local address so they could send them back, and they'd sit here and fill them out and take them across the road to the post office and get them mailed out.

SWEENEY: Paul is one of Cheryl's customers. He moved from Massachusetts 10 months ago.

PAUL, AMERICAN EXPATRIATE: I'm debating internally about the importance of my vote. I mean, of course, everybody's vote counts and this just goes to show just how important everybody's vote is.

SWEENEY: Much emphasis has been placed on the votes of American Israelis, but there is also a significant minority of Palestinian- Americans entitled to vote in the U.S. elections.

Samira Rukab moved from Jacksonville, Florida with family to Ramallah in the West Bank seven years ago. She says she would have voted for George W. Bush because the Democratic vice presidential candidate, Joe Lieberman, is Jewish. But Samira says she couldn't travel to Jerusalem to register to vote because the Israeli army had sealed off the West Bank.

SAMIRA RUKAB, AMERICAN EXPATRIATE: I have the right to vote. I'm from Florida. But because of the situation, because of the enclosures they refuse us -- they won't let us in Jerusalem.

SWEENEY: The U.S. consulate says Samira could have registered to vote by mail or via the Internet, but she claims there was not enough voting information for Palestinian-Americans.

Fionnuala Sweeney, CNN, Jerusalem.



MARINA KAMIMURA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Both of these soldiers are absentee voters registered in the state of Florida.

MAJ. 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.

Marina Kamimura, CNN, Tokyo.



PATRICIA KELLY, CNN BRUSSELS BUREAU CHIEF: On Election Night, watching events unfold from overseas, these U.S. expatriates, like everyone else, had no idea they'd still be waiting for the president election result more than a week later.

Listen to what this Democrat said Election Night:

PAMELA CARTER, DEMOCRATS ABROAD, BELGIUM: Every vote counts, and many times people have won the election with just one vote. And the absentee ballot is going to be very important because there are about five million Americans outside the United States.

KELLY: That may be one of few accurate predictions we've heard so far.

What does she have to say now?

CARTER: It really counts for our president this time. Iowa and New Mexico, the absentee ballots have now been counted and he won both of those. He, meaning Al Gore. And it does dispute the notion that many of the absentee ballots that would come in would be for the Republican candidate.

KELLY (on camera): We asked the Belgian branch of Republicans Abroad for comment, but they say they've been instructed by the Republican National Committee in Washington not to respond to media requests, even, as they say, if it means the media favoring Democrats.

(voice-over): This U.S. military officer voted absentee in Florida.

TERRY SZANTO, U.S. MILITARY OFFICER: It's very interesting finding out, you know, what is the law, how is it going to be interpreted and how is this process is going to play out. But it does seem interesting that the absentee ballots are playing such a -- seems to be a crucial role.

KELLY: Were you aware when you were voting that this might carry the election?

LEE MCLENNY, NATO OFFICIAL: No, I'm sure we weren't. One always suspects that our votes, because they tend to arrive later, are statistically unimportant in the context of things.

KELLY: Patricia Kelly, CNN Brussels. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: As the overseas absentee ballots are being counted, many are being rejected. In Miami-Dade County, for instance, as many as two-thirds of the 307 ballots are being recommended for the reject pile because of problems such as improper signatures or witnessing. In Duval County, which has a large military presence, dozens of overseas ballots were rejected for having invalid postmarks. The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee is protesting to the Pentagon saying a clerical error by the military should not cancel the vote of a service member.

More on the absentee vote ahead with Greta Van Susteren in West Palm Beach. Also ahead this hour, historical perspective from presidential expert Robert Dallek and Bill Schneider's analysis of today's developments.

But next, a campaign strategy session with our Candy Crowley and Chris Black and the possibility of a revote in Palm Beach County.

This is a special edition of THE WORLD TODAY.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wash everything and let's just have the six million people in Florida just revote and whoever wins, then that's final decision.


BLITZER: Welcome back. Let's find out what the two campaigns are up to right now. Joining us, CNN's senior political correspondent Candy Crowley, she's covering the Bush campaign in Austin and congressional correspondent Chris Black. She's covering the Gore campaign here in Washington.

First to you, Candy.

The strategy behind the Bush effort right now. Take us behind the scenes. Tell us what's going on because the situation seems to be so fluid.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, let me go back a little bit and say that obviously their strategy has been for some time looking forward to this Saturday deadline, saying, you know, finality is coming. It will be Saturday. That's when the, you know, the state law says that the election must be concluded. Obviously that rug was pulled out from under them by this Supreme Court decision.

Interesting to me, they've made no attempt to sort of hide their disappointment. One aide said we'd hoped for finality. We hoped it would be over. Another said it was a surprising verdict. They found it to be an unusual statement, and unusual action. Having said that, they are finding the pony in all of this for themselves and that is, they say that one of their lawyers looked at it and said, look, the Gore camp already said that if Katherine Harris came out and certified that vote on Saturday, they were going to take it to court anyway. So, in a way, this may speed things up.

Clearly, they are watching very closely the overseas votes, hoping this gives Bush a much larger edge than he's enjoyed in the counts that we've seen up to now.

But, right now they're basically looking at it and saying that the bright side is there is -- this decision by the Supreme Court today was not based on the merits of the case. It was simply what James Baker called a status quo decision. So, they are making the best of it.

But clearly, when you realize that for the last 10 days they have been looking forward to this Saturday to be, you know, some finality, that they thought they would get a P.R. boost out of that. They thought it would make it harder legally for the Gore team once Katherine Harris certified those results. Now that's not going to happen -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks Candy. Stand by.

Chris Black, the Gore strategy seems to be evolving. From the morning we had one reaction informally. Later, when the Supreme Court decision came out, a different reaction.

Take us behind the scenes. What are you hearing?

CHRIS BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I was in touch with the Gore campaign all day long. And there was a tremendous sense of foreboding after Judge Lewis refused to stop the secretary of state in Florida from certifying those ballots tomorrow. In fact, Vice President Al Gore and his advisers decided that Gore himself had to go before the cameras to make his case, to tell the American people, look, this is not over no matter what you hear tomorrow, a real preemptive strike.

But then just as he was about to go out, about 4:00, they all of a sudden got this unexpected inkling that something was happening in Florida. And they got this order from the state Supreme Court of Florida basically forbidding the secretary of state from certifying the ballots tomorrow. They were stunned. The vice president pulled back, waited to see what it had to say, rejiggered his remarks, sent coffee and cookies out to the waiting press core and 45 minutes later came out to pretty much make the point he was going to make before.


GORE: Neither Governor Bush, 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. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACK: Now the Gore campaign is intently focused on those recounts going under way now in two counties, perhaps about to begin in a third, in Dade County. And they say the absentee ballot count is going a lot better than expected -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Chris Black and Candy Crowley, thanks to both of you for joining us.

Up next, the prospect of a new election in Palm Beach County.

Stay with us.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel strongly against revoting. I think that it's not fair that one fate will decide, because the people who voted for not one of the major parties would go back and perhaps vote for one of the major parties and turn the election around.


BLITZER: Welcome back.

Can it happen? A circuit court judge in Palm Beach County is expected to issue an opinion Monday on whether he has the order a county-wide revote. Hundreds of Gore supporters maintain they were confused by the ballot and may have voted for the wrong candidate.

CNN's Mark Potter reports on today's hearing, which at times got emotional.


MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At the start of the hearing, Judge Jorge LaBarga, a Cuban immigrant, said he understands very clearly and personally the sanctity of voting rights.

JUDGE JORGE LABARGA, PALM BEACH COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT: I think I have as deep an appreciation for the right to vote in this country as anyone else. My parents brought me here so I can have that right.


LABARGA: So it's a very precious right to me.

POTTER: At issue is whether a local judge has the power to order a new presidential election in Palm Beach County. The question was raised in lawsuits by local residents who say they lost their vote.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Respectfully, Judge, the buck stops here.

POTTER: Lawyers for the plaintiffs argued the judge should order a new election, because they say the now-infamous butterfly ballot was configured illegally, costing Al Gore thousand of votes.

GARY FARMER, PLAINTIFF'S ATTORNEY: The form of the ballot, the use of the butterfly format -- left, right, left, right -- violates a number of statutes.

POTTER: But the judge noted that while he might be able to order a new election for some candidates, he questioned his right to do it in a presidential election.

LABARGA: The president and vice president is different. It is the only national election we have.

POTTER: Addressing the court by speakerphone, the lawyer for George W. Bush agreed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The remedy is not for a court to do anything. The remedy is provided for by Congress.

POTTER (on camera): Judge LaBarga said he will issue a written ruling early next week so he can have the weekend to mull over this very emotional argument.

(voice-over): And indeed, emotions flowed at the hearing's end. A voter who filed one of the lawsuits said he did so after he saw an old man crying because he had miscast his vote, and asked the judge to consider that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know that in your good wisdom you will do the right thing. Thank you.

LABARGA: As I said earlier, if I rule the Constitution does not allow for a new election, it will be the hardest decision I will ever make.

POTTER: Mark Potter, CNN, West Palm Beach, Florida.

BLITZER: Joining us now from Gainesville, Florida, is the University of Florida College of Law professor Jon Mills.

Professor Mills, thanks for joining.

You're an expert in Florida law, you know the Florida Supreme Court. Do you have a better sense what is about to unfold there the coming days than the rest of us who are strangers to Florida may have?

JON MILLS, UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA COLLEGE OF LAW: I'm not sure anyone should be involved in a whole lot of speculation at the moment, but I think what has happened is the Florida Supreme Court has focused us. There are really only two legal issues left. That is, is the hand recount that is going on a legal recount? Now they haven't decided that. If they decide that that recount is not legal, then this election is over.

The second issue is, what authority does Secretary Harris have to consider or reject? Now there are a couple of questions. First is her discretion and her criteria. And what I understand, the Gore campaign is going to actually argue some of the criteria involved in what Greta suggested could be a post-certification contest. That is, the failure to consider legal ballots which could result in a change of election, it seems to me, I understand that's one of the things they intend to argue that should be a criteria for the secretary of state.

BLITZER: A lot of people are wondering about this seven-member Florida Supreme Court. Is this what some would argue would be a political court? Would they pay attention to public opinion, the recount numbers coming in from those three Florida counties, and then make a decision about whether to accept those new numbers, or is this a court that is a strict interpreter of the law of Florida?

MILLS: I think this court is known as very judicious. This is a very even-handed court, and I don't expected them to be influenced by outside political forces or by political forces at all. They're going to interpret the law.

BLITZER: And if you take a look at what the arguments are on this issue, whether to accept the new numbers coming in from Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade County which could turn the election around, do you expect that they will favor that, come down on that side, that, yes, this recount is legal?

MILLER: That again would be speculation, but it seems to me we keep returning to that one phrase that is part of the contest, that is if those ballots are legal and if the circumstances show it would change the result of the election, that is a basis for a legal contest after certification. So they might want to consider that or they might consider that a criteria for the exercise of discretion.

I think you're going to see a lot of argument around that particular phrase.

BLITZER: And finally, we only have a few seconds left, professor Mills, how much longer do you think this will play out before the Supreme Court of Florida before we know who carried the state and its 25 electoral votes?

MILLER: That again is more speculation, which no one seems to be doing very well at. But I would think if they have oral arguments Monday, they could decide as soon as Tuesday. But if a decision is those are legal ballots, then the recount, I suppose, as it currently stands would take about six days from now. So maybe we can have Thanksgiving dinner with the president.

BLITZER: All right, at least the president-elect. Jon Mills, thanks so much for joining us on our special edition of "THE WORLD TODAY."

I want to go back to West Palm Beach now, where CNN legal analyst Greta Van Susteren is standing by for more on the Florida Supreme Court -- Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, Wolf, there's so much mystery to all of us, even us who practice law, as to what goes on behind the scenes in many of these courthouses. Of course, the Florida Supreme Court is the main focus of our attention here in Florida and across the nation.

Joining us tonight from Tallahassee to help us understand that is Tom Hall, who's the clerk of the Florida Supreme Court.

Tom, thank you for joining us.


VAN SUSTEREN: Tom, tell me what happened -- tell me what happened today. How did your court first learn that the Democratic Party wanted to appeal? What was the first thing you got? Did you get a written notice?

HALL: Yes, well, we got -- first was we got notice from the 1st District Court of Appeal, which is the intermediate court here in Florida, which is right down the street from the court, that somebody had filed a notice of appeal over with their court of Judge Lewis' order.

VAN SUSTEREN: Did it get faxed to your court?

HALL: Yes. Actually, they called us and told us that it had been filed over there, and then they faxed us a copy. But of course, we had to wait before the court could actually do anything. That was more informational. We had to wait until they actually entered an order certifying the case to the Supreme Court.

VAN SUSTEREN: Now what do you actually do with the order when it comes? The clerk of the court, what happens to this order?

HALL: Well, what we have to do is we -- of course, as you're probably familiar with as an attorney -- we have to docket it in. We enter it in our computerized case management system, and then, because there's so much attention on this -- and actually, we do this in most every other case as well -- is we then, if we've got a fax of it, we scan it into the computer system, and then, we immediately put it out on the World Wide Web so that people are aware of what's going on.

From there, we make copies, get it up to the court, and in the last few days, we then run a couple of hundred copies and start handing it out to the media as well.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is there anything different about with this case, other than speed, when it's an emergency application, as this one is? Do you do anything differently?

HALL: No, we're not doing anything differently other than just having to take into account dealing with the public and the press and all the interest there is. You know, we've opened up a different room for the press. We normally have a press room at the court. This time, we've moved it into a different room that's a lot larger to accommodate the press.

But we're really trying to operate just as we normally would in any other case, and we're operating internally. Of course, because of the interest in this case, we're obviously going through a lot more paper. I was just telling somebody earlier we've used almost 20 cases of paper in the past two days.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Well, Tom Hall, the clerk of the court, thank you very much for joining us tonight.

We're going to take a break, but when we come back, those absentee ballots, what -- how are they being looked at. Stay with us.


VAN SUSTEREN: Welcome book. You know, we've had so much discussion about the hand count that's going on in the various counties, including West Palm Beach, which is right behind me. But they're not just looking at ballots; they're looking at the absentee ballots And I have a guest here joining me, Ben Kuehne,who's had a chance to look at that absentee ballot to help us understand.

Ben, are the absentee ballots that are being looked, are they being treated differently from the ballots that are being hand- counted?

BEN KUEHNE, DEMOCRATIC ELECTION OBSERVER: Well, they're process differently. Absentee ballots come in big envelopes. They're oversized envelopes. They come from overseas, and they're stored until the fateful hour, 5 o'clock tonight. They started to be processed, looked at, and opened.

VAN SUSTEREN: Why weren't they looked at before 5 o'clock tonight?

KUEHNE: Sealed ballots. The law says wait until all the ballots come in, and you do it all at one time.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Now, when you unseal them, tell me the process. Who's there? How is it unsealed?

KUEHNE: Everybody sits around a table. Who's everybody? Six people: three members of the canvassing board, the officials who count the ballots. There is an assistant who helps from the division of elections, two observers -- a Democrat and a Republican -- and a lawyer for either side. And the chairman of the commission opens up each envelope, first looks at each envelope to see if the information on the envelope is accurate. Does it look like an absentee ballot? And they have to check off the various items to make sure that the ballot is valid, that it's not a fraudulent ballot.

VAN SUSTEREN: And what -- is there some sort of technical stuff that must be checked out in order to pass muster so that it can be counted?

KUEHNE: Some easy ones. For example, is it postmarked? And you know since some of these absentee ballots come from overseas, sometimes it's hard to figure out what the postmark is. Have you ever seen a Japanese postmark? VAN SUSTEREN: No.

KUEHNE: So they've got to figure that out. Also, this time was kind of funny. One of the ballots came in and it was soaking wet. It actually had been dipped in water somewhere, and most of the writing was smudged. So they had to figure out, does this look like a real signature?

VAN SUSTEREN: Hod could it have been dipped in water? Hasn't it been in the custody of the state of Florida for at least, I don't know, a week or two?

KUEHNE: Well, we've had some great weather and sunshine, but it does rain here once in a while.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I mean, that's a little bit unusual, though, that it wouldn't be maintained in a dry container of some sort.

KUEHNE: It was probably moist coming over here and it got smudged.

They'll also look for other things. For example, do you know in Florida you have to have a witness when you send in your ballot? Some people send in their ballots without witnesses. So here they voted from some other country, spent all the time to send it over, and their ballot probably won't be counted. Their vote won't be counted because they didn't have a witness for it.

VAN SUSTEREN: And I suspect that now we've learned so much about voting, next time they won't have that problem, but that's all the time we have. Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Greta. Always appreciate it.

After the break, some election perspective from a presidential historian. Stay with us.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Only in America could this go on and not have tanks in the streets and armed people running around. It just shows our democracy is working and it will continue to work.


BLITZER: Welcome back. Joining us now the is the distinguished presidential historian, Robert Dallek, who teaches at Boston University. Professor Dallek, thanks for joining us. You probably saw "Time" magazine's cover. They had a headline that said "the wildest election ever," something along those lines. Give us some historic perspective. How wild is this presidential election?

ROBERT DALLEK, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, it's pretty wild, Wolf. We haven't seen one like this in a long time. I think you have to go back to 1876 and you can even back to 1800 and 1824, 1888, all those were contested elections, very close. I think the one that's closest to this one was 1876 when Hayes for the Republicans against Tilden for the Democrats and Tilden won be a quarter of a million votes and Hayes got the nod by one electoral vote. And we may have a similar outcome this year with Gore ahead by some 232,000 votes in the popular column and then Bush could win by one or two electoral votes. So you have to go back quite a way to find one that is as close as this one.

BLITZER: My impression is the American public seems to be pretty calm about all of this. That there doesn't seem to be much panic if any panic at all. They're sort of waiting patiently, waiting for the outcome, waiting for the officials in Florida to decide who won that state?

DALLEK: Yes, I think, Wolf, it speaks volumes about the stability of our system. I think back to Thomas Jefferson in 1800, the first transfer of political power in American history and he said in his inaugural speech we are all Federalist, we are all Republicans, indicating that this was a constitutional government, that we are were not going to have extra-constitutional action when a new party came to power and we've been living that way ever since.

Of course, we did have the Civil War. That was the great breakdown in America's political democratic system, but we do accept these contests as they develop and I think people are calm, and justifiably so. And I think people know that the institution of the presidency will go on. It will be a bit diminished, but it will go on.

BLITZER: What does the winner of this election have to do in order to make sure that he has the legitimacy to support the effort to heal the country, despite the fact that it's calm, there's going to be some bitterness?

DALLEK: Oh, without question there'll be bitterness. There are going to be angry people. But the president who wins, the man who comes to the office is going to have to offer an olive branch. He's going to have to be something of a conciliator and that's not uncommon in American politics, either. Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s practiced bipartisanship. He had Democratic Congresses to deal with, Lyndon Johnson in the Senate and Sam Rayburn in the House, and they worked together for the good of the country.

Of course, you did have a Cold War, and what makes it more difficult now I think is that you have no outside concern of the kind that you had the '50s or the '60s or even as recently as the '70s and '80s. So it makes it tougher for a president to pull the country together. But nevertheless, that's the great political challenge and if a president comes in under this kind of cloud and can manage to pull the country together, and I think ti will want to pull together, he can get another term.

BLITZER: Robert Dallek, always a pleasure. Thanks for your insight. Thanks for joining us.

DALLEK: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you and when we come back some late breaking developments in that presidential race in New Mexico. Stay with us.


BLITZER: A final note on the presidential vote in New Mexico. The Associated Press is now reporting Al Gore has won the state and its five electoral votes. With 100 percent of the ballots counted, Gore leads by 481 votes. The total will not be official until November 28th. And that's all the time we have for this special edition of THE WORLD TODAY. I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington. "LARRY KING LIVE" is next.



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