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Florida Supreme Court Hears Arguments on Manual RecountsAired November 20, 2000 - 8:00 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: Tonight, the legal arguments that will decide election 2000.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID BOIES, GORE CAMPAIGN ATTORNEY: This is a process that if people will simply get out of the way and let it continue can be done in a matter of days.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You set a firm deadline and you make sure that everybody gets their votes in at the same time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: Florida's Supreme Court hears from Bush and Gore attorneys, as the candidates anxiously await the outcome. The hand recount in three Florida counties presses on. The legal points, expert analysis, and the political fallout from the battle in the courts ahead in this special edition of "THE WORLD TODAY: The Florida Recount."
Reporting from Washington, here's Wolf Blitzer.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening.
Election 2000 fell into the lap of the Florida Supreme Court today. The seven justices heard arguments for 2 1/2 hours, then recessed for deliberations. When and what they will decide is anybody's guess.
Today's arguments in a nutshell: Republicans say the secretary of state was right to enforce a certification deadline of November 14th, and results from hand counts after that deadline should not be considered.
Democrats say there is time for a recount. They insist the only deadline is December 12th, just six days before the Electoral College meets.
While the high court deliberates, the hand counts continue. Here's where that stands: Tallying is under way in Palm Beach County, Broward County and Miami-Dade County -- three Democratic-leaning southern counties with large populations. Roughly a quarter of those votes have been counted with small gains for Gore. But again, we don't know whether the state Supreme Court will allow the new figures to count.
Florida's Democratic attorney general, meanwhile, says lack of a postmark should not prevent overseas absentee ballots from military personnel from being counted. And a Palm Beach County judge denied a request for a whole new election there.
Now for a fuller accounting of today's arguments in Tallahassee, let's go to CNN national correspondent Mike Boettcher.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye, the Supreme Court of the great state of Florida is now in session.
MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In session with the whole world watch -- a fact not lost on Chief Justice Charles Wells.
JUSTICE CHARLES T. WELLS, FLORIDA SUPREME COURT: The court is certainly aware of the historic nature of this session.
BOETTCHER: With the presidency hanging in the balance, the justices cut to the chase. They didn't want to hear formal arguments but they had plenty of questions.
PAUL HANCOCK, ATTORNEY FOR FLORIDA ATTORNEY GENERAL: The presidential candidates nor the parties that support them...
WELLS: Excuse me for interrupting you. But let me ask you if...
BOETTCHER: Democrat lawyers argue that the state still has time to add hand-counted ballots to the state's final tally. But some justices seem concerned it could be done in time.
WELLS: What's the date, the outside date that we're looking at, in which puts Florida's votes in jeopardy?
HANCOCK: December 12th, Your Honor, it's my understanding. The Electoral College meets on December 18.
BOETTCHER: When will it all end? Vice President Gore's attorney David Boies faced that question and others.
JUSTICE MAJOR B. HARDING, FLORIDA SUPREME COURT: Do we know how long it's going to take to do these things, or are we just going to reach up from some inspiration and put it down on paper?
BOIES: Well, Your Honor, if I were sitting in your chair that would be a difficult question for me. It is an even more difficult question standing where I am.
JUSTICE BARBARA PARIENTE, FLORIDA SUPREME COURT: What do say to the -- Governor Bush's argument and secretary of state's argument that for those counties that did not have manual recounts but also have punch cards -- because I guess not all counties have the punch cards -- that if those votes did not get manually recounted that that is unfairly giving certain counties a greater voice in this election than other counties?
BOIES: The first thing, Your Honor, is that any candidate could have requested a manual recount in any county, so that the manual recount provision is something that by statute is given to the candidates.
BOETTCHER: Then came the Republicans turn. Joseph Klock, the attorney for Florida's secretary of state, Katherine Harris, who is seeking to certify the election without the hand count, also faced pointed questions.
JOSEPH KLOCK, FLORIDA SECRETARY OF STATE COUNSEL: She asked for input on the kinds of criteria that would be appropriate for her to exercise her jurisdiction.
PARIENTE: Is that rather unusual as for a way to an agency head to come up with a decision in this state, to just come up with something within a few hours as to whether to allow something or not allow something?
KLOCK: Well, Justice Pariente, I was kind of refreshed because the agency head actually asked for legal advice on it and what the legal standards would be for her to properly exercise her discretion, and she was pushing against a deadline. So I considered it excellent, frankly.
PARIENTE: But she didn't really exercise her discretion. What was said was that a reason to -- that she was not going to recognize as a reason for late filing, manual recounts being conducted in accordance with 166. That was no discretion exercised, it was in accordance with her prior legal decision that recounts that were not based on machine errors were not going to be allowed. And that's what she announced the day before.
KLOCK: Well, Your Honor, the decision -- the opinions that come out from the division of elections, Mr. Roberts' group, is not exactly the secretary. The secretary is the one that had the obligation under the statute to exercise her discretion in this case. And what she basically did was she looked at the various criteria in challenging an election and she looked at other criteria as well, and she said that a manual recount that is undertaken solely to solve voter error is not the kind of thing that is sufficient to allow a breakdown of that deadline scheme. That was the reasonable exercise of her discretion.
BOETTCHER: After two plus hours of debate, the judges retired to their chambers, where the real debate begins.
Late this afternoon, they announced they will not have a decision by this evening -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Mike Boettcher in Tallahassee, thanks for joining us.
Now for some analysis of the legal maneuvering, we're joined by CNN's Greta Van Susteren, also in Tallahassee. Greta, in these kinds of situations, as you well know, both sides make compelling arguments. Is it fair to assume that this is not a slam dunk decision for either side, as these Supreme Court justices consider what to do next?
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You know, Wolf, I don't think it's a slam dunk. When I first read the Gore brief on Saturday, I thought they had a very powerful argument. But I've been around the block enough in this business to know that I had to see the other side. The Bush brief was due following day at noon. I read the Bush brief, and then suddenly I thought, I don't know what they're going to do.
The one thing that was very clear, though, from reading both briefs is that the blame, if there's blame to be cast, really should on the legislature in the state of Florida. They're the ones who write these laws, and then of course the two campaigns have to follow them. And when they're confusing, when the statutes conflict, it's the Supreme Court behind me that has to sort of sort it out.
The problem in this case is that the statutes are confusing. They allow for a hand count, but they may only allow seven days, which may be very impractical. So it's the justices who are going to have to sort out what the legislators have written as the law.
BLITZER: Some analysts after the two-and-a-half-hour hearing, Greta, thought that the justices, or at least some of them, were tougher on the Bush side than the Gore side, and some gleaned, thought they gleaned a sense that they were leaning towards accepting the hand recount. Is that a dangerous assumption to go into this process with?
VAN SUSTEREN: I think so, Wolf. They don't teach lawyers in law school how to read minds, although that doesn't stop us from attempting to read minds. You know, they were just a very aggressive bunch. They were very well prepared for this. These facts were very well known. In fact, they even dispensed with hearing from the facts.
Usually in appellate arguments, the lawyers give the facts, and then they give the law. And right from the beginning the chief justice said, you know, basically, I don't want to hear the facts. We know the facts. Let's hear the law, let's hear the issues. And they were just very aggressive. And I suppose that the Bush team probably thinks that they were tough on the Bush lawyers. The Gore team probably thinks they were tough on the Gore team.
Frankly, being in the middle where I am, I thought they were just -- the entire bench is rather aggressive, interested and obviously had done their homework.
BLITZER: And as far as getting a sense, we know there's no decision coming out tonight. But do we assume it's going to happen tomorrow or even Wednesday? What is the tradition in the Florida Supreme Court?
VAN SUSTEREN: Well, we can do all the assuming we want. In Florida, typically decisions are released at 10:00 on Thursday morning. But, of course, that's Thanksgiving in the United States. I don't anticipate we're going to get it Thanksgiving morning. But maybe with our luck in the media, that's when we will get it, I say very facetiously.
But I think we'll probably -- this is, again, I think -- we'll probably get it before Wednesday when everyone leaves for the holidays because this is so important. The clock is ticking. One of the issues in this case is whether or not they have time to complete the hand count. And if the Supreme Court here is slow in rendering a decision, that may have an impact on the speed of the hand count. So I suspect -- and I underline suspect -- that we're going to get a decision quite quickly in this case.
BLITZER: All right, Greta Van Susteren. And this note: Greta will be back on this program later. She'll be talking to some attorneys on both sides of this case.
Greta, thank you.
There were brief appearances today by both Al Gore and George W. Bush.
With reaction to today's legal proceedings from the two camps, we're joined by CNN senior political correspondent Candy Crowley in the Texas capital, and senior White House correspondent John King in Washington.
Let's begin with Candy.
Tell us what they're saying in Austin, Candy, as a result of these dramatic hearings today in Tallahassee.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, not a lot of talk out of Austin, Bush, about the deliberations now going on or the court proceedings which went on today in the Florida Supreme Court. One aide explained, we want to be respectful of the court's right to deliberate.
We did have a number of governor sightings, as George Bush moved back and forth throughout the day.
This evening as he left the state capitol, he was full of answers -- but not to the questions being asked.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: How are you all doing?
QUESTION: Hey, governor, how did the hearing go today?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (OFF-MIKE) Cold.
BUSH: Yes, I'm cold, too. QUESTION: How did the hearing go today, governor?
BUSH: It's a beautiful day, though, isn't it?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: The Bush campaign has now left the public speaking, at least out of Austin, to Governor Mark Racicot of Montana. He did make some public appearances, said he thought that the Bush team did a good job in the state Supreme Court in Florida. But when asked what he made of some of the tough questions out of the Supreme Court justices in Florida, Governor Racicot declined to read the tea leaves.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. MARC RACICOT (R), MONTANA: I learned a long time ago that you can't discern very much from the questions that are asked by justices. They're testing their own beliefs. They're testing the arguments that are presented by both parties. And as a consequence of that, it's been my experience that it's very, very difficult to discern anything.
I think what you can discern is that they were very well-prepared and obviously recognize that this is a matter of grave, grave importance. And I believe that they're ruling will reflect the kind of precision that is needed under the circumstances. And we feel good and confident about our case in that regard.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: Now, just because they are saying very little doesn't mean that they are not hoping a lot. Aides say that obviously what they hope is that the Supreme Court will uphold the circuit court decision, which upheld the secretary of state of Florida's right to certify the election -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Candy, the Democratic attorney general of Florida, as you know, announced late this afternoon that those military ballots, ballots from overseas, from military personnel that perhaps didn't have the proper postmark could be considered, could be counted in this election, which theoretically could be a few more votes for George W. Bush, a few hundred more perhaps even. What's the reaction in Austin?
CROWLEY: Well, interestingly, they called this a political press release. They say this is damage control after the damage has been done.
As you point out, the Bush campaign has suggested that there was a systematic Democratic effort to sort of depress those military votes on the theory that many of them would favor George Bush. Now comes this statement from the Florida attorney general, and the Bush campaign says, look, this is a political maneuver because they were taking so much heat over this military ballot issue.
They point out that it is entirely unclear that the attorney general has any legal standing in this at all and they point out that the ballots have already been counted. So they see it as purely a political maneuver and a political press release -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Candy Crowley in Austin. Let's bring in John King now. He's here in Washington.
John, tell us how the Gore campaign has been dealing with all of these developments today.
JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as we've seen throughout this drama, a see-saw of emotions in the Gore campaign. The vice president actually went by his office briefly today at the White House for about 3 1/2 hours, addressed his annual family conference from there, an even he holds in Nashville, Tennessee. He did not go to Nashville today because of the high stakes arguments in Florida. He did joke at the top that he was grateful for the chance to address the Florida Supreme Court.
Then it was back to his official residence, where he watched the legal arguments from beginning to end on television with his campaign chairman, Bill Daley, at his side. He called David Boies, his lead attorney, and complimented him.
They feel upbeat about the court arguments, believing the judges asked most of their skeptical questions to the attorneys for the Republican secretary of state and of the Bush campaign.
But they're -- (a) they say it's unpredictable how the Supreme Court battle will turn out, and (b) they're increasingly worried about some other things that they see. Even if they win, what we're seeing so far in the results from the counties continuing the hand recount -- as of right now, the vice president has made up about 153 votes, a net pickup. He needs to pick up about a thousand votes. So they're not seeing as much progress as they had anticipated in the recounts in those counties. That's causing some alarm in the Bush (sic) campaign.
Also, increasingly, a bit of a case of jitters among Democrats now as this drags on, as that military ballot dispute you just discussed with Candy plays out. Many Democrats believe that was not only negative on the vice president, but might also reflect negatively on them and they don't want that: a growing consensus that this is it, that the Florida Supreme Court battle is it, win or lose. And if the vice president loses at this level, he will have no choice but to step back and then bow it.
If he wins, we go on with those hand recounts. But again, a great concern in the Gore camp that the numbers just don't add up right now -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And they're looking at those numbers. I think that they even have some consultants, some mathematicians or statisticians that are giving them some advice as this hand recount continues.
KING: They do indeed. And No. 1, they're disappointed, they believe their own math, their own estimates of what they would get, especially out of Palm Beach County, have been way off. And they're looking now -- one of the questions the Florida Supreme Court will address is intent, and you've had some of these counties say they will not count the ballots that are dimpled, not punched through at all, just that you can see the indentation in the ballot, but there's no punch through at all.
Many in the Gore campaign will privately say if those ballots are left out, if the Supreme Court does not say, you can say a voter intended to vote for Al Gore, say, by the indentation in the ballot -- it doesn't have to go all the way through -- many in the Gore campaign privately saying if they don't get that, they don't expect to win.
BLITZER: All right, John King, just back from Vietnam, thanks for joining us on THE WORLD TODAY.
And coming up at the half hour, Greta Van Susteren goes one-on- one with attorneys from both sides. Next here, though, insight on Florida's Supreme Court from its former chief justice and our expert on Florida election law. Also ahead, a progress report on the hand recount and the battle over military votes from overseas. You're watching a special edition of THE WORLD TODAY.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think it belongs in the hands of the courts, and I'm sure it doesn't belong in the hands of the lawyers. I think they've hand-counted it once, and at the end of this last count, that should be final.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Welcome back. Joining us now are two guests: David Cardwell, former elections state official in Florida, and Justice Arthur England. He's a retired Florida chief justice of the Supreme Court.
And I want to begin with you, Mr. Justice. You watched these 2 1/2 hours of testimony, of hearings before the Florida Supreme Court. Give us your sense of what we can learn from what we saw today.
JUSTICE ARTHUR ENGLAND, FORMER FLORIDA CHIEF JUSTICE: You don't get any indication of which way the justices are thinking, because you saw them pressing both sides I have to say very hard. They were very well-prepared for the argument, and I noticed that all seven participated in the discussion today actively, which is not all that usual for the court.
What you saw were two polar positions, which were being explored by the court. On one side, Governor Bush saying that there's a seven- day requirement that has to be honored in the statute, and the vice president's lawyers saying hand counting is necessary for an accurate count of registering all the votes.
Each side was saying the court has to do that which the other side said can't be done: to invalidate the statute in one portion or another. And the court was struggling to get an answer in how to reconcile these positions: struggling very hard and not always getting the answers.
BLITZER: David Cardwell, is the basic decision before these justices whether the secretary of state of Florida, Katherine Harris, exceeded her discretionary responsibility in saying the hand recount of the ballots from that manual recount won't be counted? Is that the basic issue before the Supreme Court?
DAVID CARDWELL, FORMER FLORIDA STATE ELECTIONS DIRECTOR: It's certainly the basic issue, Wolf. They've got to determine if the secretary exceeded her authority and abused any discretion she may have with making that decision in advance of receiving any returns from the counties that are conducting manual recounts.
I thought it was interesting during argument today when questioned by the justices, one of the counsel for the Bush side of the argument, said that if the manual recounts are received on time as was the case with Volusia County, they should be included within the count. But if it was received after the seven days, too late, too bad. It's not included.
So, it really comes down to whether something can be included in the counts after that seven-day deadline.
BLITZER: Justice England, you noticed that the chief justice made a major point of this December 12th deadline for certifying the electors to the Electoral College from Florida. They meet -- the Electoral College -- December 18th. He was groping -- he seemed to be searching for some way, perhaps, if you're reading between the lines -- to make sure that Florida's votes, Florida's 25 electoral votes are counted, but perhaps find a way to continue the hand recount.
Was that your sense as well?
ENGLAND: There's no question he was probing and asking the attorneys on both sides. How could we be sure that Florida's votes are going to be counted in the Electoral College. That obviously is an objective of his and rightly so. It was interesting that this process is across all election lines for legislators, it would have been for governors, for senators, Congressman, and it's only because of this presidential deadline of December 12th that the issue comes up of when this seven-day statute must be adhered to or not. In all other cases it really doesn't matter.
And the court brought that out today and wondered, and asked for help from the lawyers, with this one federal requirement overriding Florida statutes, how do we make it work? That's what they were struggling with.
BLITZER: David Cardwell, on the decision by the attorney general to allow these military ballots from overseas ballots to be counted even though they perhaps weren't postmarked, is that highly extraordinary to have a new, if you will, definition of what is acceptable perhaps in the middle of the game?
CARDWELL: Well, Wolf, in the case of the overseas ballots there has been a great deal of confusion because there are really three standards that have been followed on how to count those ballots and it never really was very controversial until this year. There was a consent decree in federal court from the mid-80s which said no postmark was required at all as long as the ballot was received in the county supervisor's office on time.
There was then a statute passed as well as a rule of the Department of State which seemed to be somewhat in conflict. The statute passed in '83 implementing the consent decree says that there must be a postmark. But then the Department of State rule says that it's a postmark or the elector signs the ballot and dates it no later than the election day.
But the attorney general said today in his memorandum that went to county supervisors and election canvassing boards, is if it doesn't have a postmark, you can count it if it's signed and it's dated no later than November 7th.
So, the attorney general hasn't said, count it if there's no postmark. He said count it if it's no postmark but it's signed and dated no later than November 7th. So, he's basically following the Department of State's rule.
BLITZER: And finally to you, Justice England, I know there's an enormous pressure on the seven justices to come up with a speedy decision. If you had to, give us your sense how quickly will we get to know what their decision is?
ENGLAND: Well, I knew they wouldn't have one today. I would expect a decision anywhere from 10:00 tomorrow morning until possibly Wednesday night. I think they want to get it out before the Thanksgiving holiday, but they also want to get it right.
I think your viewers should know that the motto of the Florida Supreme Court, it's a Latin expression, but the English translation is, soon enough, if right.
BLITZER: All right, let's hope it is soon enough and let's hope it's right, whatever right means.
Thank you so much, Arthur England.
David Cardwell, thanks for joining us.
And up next: the big picture from inside the Beltway. Washington bureau chief Frank Sesno with the political whispering that's going on. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that the length of time is appropriate for the closeness of the race itself. It could take a week, months. I'm willing to wait as long as it takes, really.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: But is everyone as patient as that person? Joining us now with some perspective from Washington insiders, CNN Washington bureau chief Frank Sesno.
Frank, I know you have been talking with a lot of people, Democrats, Republicans, all sides of this story. Take us behind the scenes. Tell us how anxious the two camps are getting right now.
FRANK SESNO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I would say they are plenty anxious and getting more so. Obviously they, like everybody else, watching the Florida state Supreme Court now for the benefit of Washington and probably the rest of us. Most elected representatives are back in their own districts trying to get ready to celebrate the Thanksgiving Day holiday.
But I would tell you this, attitudes are hardening. It's quite clear. One top Democratic aide put it this way: Our people are contemptuous of Bush. They think he is not very smart. But their people really hate Gore. And that kind of puts it in a nutshell really, as either side contemplates what may come down the line, which ultimately is a new president.
In the meantime, though, there is a great deal of consternation, as they say, as to what's happening at the state Supreme Court. Fundamentally, the Republicans say if George W. Bush is stymied, if he doesn't get what he needs at the Supreme Court, he pushes on, he challenges it, he takes it to the next level, whether it's political or judicial.
On the other hand, top Democrats across town say if Al Gore is frustrated at the state Supreme Court, that's pretty much it for him, as you heard John King report earlier, echoing what's happening within Gore camp itself. According to one top Democrat here in town who's been in touch with the Gore campaign, this person's view, if Gore doesn't do well in front of the Supreme Court, he has got to pull the plug.
BLITZER: And so the exit strategy would be what. What kind of exit strategy would Gore have to come forward with if he wants to remain political viable, let's say, in 2004.
SESNO: Well, an interesting, an interesting little bit in all of this, Wolf. As it turns out that William Daley, the former secretary who's really been handling a lot of Al Gore's work here, had been seen as the tough guy for a long time. But what I'm told by those who have been talking with those in the campaign is he's really emerged as the political pragmatist here. And he is telling some that -- and he may be out farther in front than others in this -- that if Al Gore is rebuffed at the court, he needs to be realistic, think of his own political future and the party's political future and his exit strategy would be to say, look, we think we won, we didn't, play the role of the wounded prince and move forward.
As far as George W. Bush is concerned, something similar there, but George W. Bush, according to the Republicans I've spoken to, they really feel that he is the winner here, and they feel he should act that role and fight on.
BLITZER: All right, Frank Sesno, our Washington bureau chief, thank you very much.
As Florida's Supreme Court deliberates on whether the hand counts should be included in the state's final result, those recounts continued today in three counties. Here are the latest unofficial results: According to elections officials in Miami-Dade County, Al Gore has picked up 37 votes with 46 of the counties 614 precincts reporting results. In Broward County, Gore is said to have picked up 117 votes with 535 of the 609 precincts counted. Broward hit a setback today when the county's only Republican canvassing member quit. A judge was appointed to replace here.
And in Palm Beach County, with roughly half of the 531 precincts reporting, election officials say Gore has picked up just three votes.
The uncertified state results show Bush ahead now by -- ahead of Gore by 930 votes. Meantime, the partial recount results from Miami- Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties give Gore a net gain of 153 votes. Keep in mind, the hand-count results are unofficial and subject to the Florida Supreme Court ruling.
One other note from Palm Beach County, a judge there denied a request for a new election. At least, eight lawsuits were filed over confusion about the so-called "butterfly ballot." Now, let's go back to today's arguments before Florida's Supreme Court.
Our legal analyst and co-host of "BURDEN OF PROOF," Greta Van Susteren, is in Tallahassee. She joins us once again right now -- Greta.
VAN SUSTEREN: Wolf, it's been an exciting day here in Tallahassee. Right behind me is where the arguments were held before the Florida Supreme Court. And I'm joined this evening by Ron Klain, who's one of the senior legal advisers for Mr. Gore.
Thank you for joining me tonight, Ron.
RON KLAIN, GORE CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Thanks for having me, Greta.
Ron, tell me, I mean, you have -- under Florida law, you have a protest, then you have a certification, and then you can have a contest. What difference does it make to Vice President Al Gore whether he's challenging the election through the protest or the contest?
KLAIN: Well, Greta, I think in the end it may not make much of a difference except in a legal sense, but I think it's important to get the result right the first time. There's no reason for the secretary of state to issue a certificate of election if it's wrong.
Florida law is very clear. She's supposed to issue a certificate to the candidate who gets the most votes, and we think you can't know that until you actually count the votes, which is the first step under Florida law. VAN SUSTEREN: But if you get -- if you (UNINTELLIGIBLE) certification quickly and you get to court under a contest, which is sort of a second stage, you can ask for a remedy. You can have the judge order a recount, can you not?
KLAIN: Well, you could, but again, I don't see why we need to delay this process any longer than it's been dragged out by the Republican lawsuits and the various legal opinions from Katherine Harris that have contributed to this delay. The counting is going on now. The certificate hasn't been issued yet. Let's finish the counts, let's get some totals, let's add them to the tallies, and then we can get it right the first time.
The whole problem with this election is people have wanted to call it time again before the votes are really counted. Let's get the votes counted before the Florida secretary of state tries to purport to say who won the election.
VAN SUSTEREN: What do you make of the fact that one county asked the court today to consider the issue of standards? There's been a lot of the discussion about that different counties may apply different standard as they're looking for the intent of the voter.
How did it end up in the Florida Supreme Court when it wasn't before the trial court?
KLAIN: Well, the case -- that issue has been raised in two trial courts in Florida, and both trial courts have said that the standard is the intent of the voter, that they're supposed to be looking at those ballots to try to see did the voter try to express a preference.
Everyone knows this issue is going to wind up in the Supreme Court of Florida sooner or later. I think it would be wise of the Supreme Court to decide it sooner. That's why the Palm Beach County asked the court to resolve it, Broward County asked the court to resolve it today.
I think the law on this is very, very clear in Florida. Voting isn't supposed to be some kind of game or technicality. It's an act of democracy. And if someone goes into a polling place and indicates their preference on a ballot, that preference is a vote and that vote should be counted.
VAN SUSTEREN: Yes or no, did you win today?
KLAIN: I'm not going to predict an outcome in the court. I don't think that's a very good practice.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right, Ron, thanks very much for joining me.
KLAIN: Thanks, Greta.
VAN SUSTEREN: I'm also joined tonight by Ben Ginsberg. Ben is the national counsel for the Bush-Cheney ticket.
Ben, first to you: Does it make a difference to you, to the Bush- Cheney ticket, that if there's a certification, do you care if the voting -- if the manual count goes on in light of the fact that the Gore people could go into court and probably get a manual count?
BEN GINSBERG, BUSH CAMPAIGN COUNSEL: Well, what we care about is that the Florida law not get rewritten here by Vice President Gore's attempt to take this election. What's clear is there has been one count: Governor Bush won. There's been a recount: Governor Bush won that. And now that, as your graphics just showed, Vice President Gore is not getting enough votes out of the current count, they keep wanting to open up more boxes and more ways to change the rules in midstream.
VAN SUSTEREN: Well, wait a second: change the rules. The way I understand the Florida law -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- you can lodge a protest, and according to your team's side, is that within seven days of the election that the secretary of state shall certify it. But once she certifies it, then Gore could go into court, contest it, and petition a court for a manual recount. So we could get a manual recount.
Is that rewriting the law?
GINSBERG: Sure, it's rewriting the law. Where the laws are being rewritten is in the three heavily Democratic counties where a new standard, heretofore unknown to the state of Florida, the indentations on the ballot, is being put into law by Democratic canvassing boards. Never been adopted in Florida law. What this is an attempt to give the ballots to Democratic officials to use their intent to be able to pick up votes.
VAN SUSTEREN: Well, what about -- is it solved, in your mind, then if one of the issues before the Florida Supreme Court is to set a standard on how you look at these chads, how you determine the intent. If the Florida Supreme Court determines that x will be the standard, do you have any objection to a manual recount going through at a post- certification in a contest proceeding?
GINSBERG: Now, I've seen Greta Van Susteren litigate before, and she knows that issues that have never been raised in trial courts, never been briefed should not come before the Supreme Court of the state of Florida.
VAN SUSTEREN: So you think they're wrong to hear this? They agreed to hear that issue. Do you think they're wrong?
GINSBERG: The case -- the case that they agreed to hear they were absolutely right to. That issue was raised only in the reply brief, not the brief in chief, but the reply brief of the Gore campaign: again, an attempt to change the rules in midstream.
VAN SUSTEREN: Do you think, though, that it makes sense in a time when we have so much confusion to have them at least set standard once and for all for determining when a vote should be counted when you're doing a manual recount?
GINSBERG: Well, I think the standard that ought to be set is the discretion of the secretary of state, which is plain in Florida statute: the certification language, the statutory timeframes that are set by Florida law, that seems to me to be what's important, and that is not changing the rules in midstream when the whole world's watching a presidential election.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right, Ben Ginsberg, thank you very much for joining me. We'll be right back, and when we come back, we're going to take you behind the scenes of the Supreme Court. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think we have to get on with our life and we have to get on with the electoral process. And I think it's ridiculous, they've both just fighting with each other, and I don't really care who wins at this point..
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VAN SUSTEREN: Welcome back. I'm joined by Craig Waters, who probably knows more about the Supreme Court than just about anything, about the justices on the Supreme Court. He even co-authored a book on it.
Craig, thanks for joining me.
CRAIG WATERS, AUTHOR: Certainly.
VAN SUSTEREN: Craig, take me through this. As soon as the justices said "Thank you" to the lawyers and left the bench, what'd they do?
WATERS: They left the court room, and they go into the court conference room, where they begin initial discussions of what their impressions are of the case. The conference room, of course, is closed to everyone; I'm not even allowed in as staff member, so we don't know exactly what they're saying.
VAN SUSTEREN: Do we know long they're behind closed doors?
WATERS: They were behind for a while. I don't know how long, because I had to come out and actually tell the press that there was not going to be an opinion today. And then I was dealing with that, and so they were in conference and I don't know exactly when they ended.
VAN SUSTEREN: Are they going to tip us you off as to when they're going to deliver an opinion?
WATERS: Yes, we are planning a procedure in this case where, when we have an opinion, about 30 minutes before we'll make an announcement so that everybody can get prepared across the street here. Then...
VAN SUSTEREN: So we don't know, for instance, whether all the media's going to be home for Thanksgiving, right?
WATERS: Well, we don't know at this point. But I've been talking with the chief, and I told him about the importance of the Thanksgiving holiday. And if at all possible, if we know there's not going to be something until a day, say, in next week, the chief is going to let me go out and talk to the press and the public and say that.
VAN SUSTEREN: Now, you did something very innovative: not only do you have cameras in the Florida Supreme Court, you're on the Internet. Today, what happened with the Internet?
WATERS: Well, we completely maxed out.
VAN SUSTEREN: When you say "maxed out," what does that mean? Did you put the hearings right up on the Internet?
WATERS: Yes, we broadcast in RealPlayer, and we had the video and the audio going up there. And we have a 200-user limit on that; we completely maxed out on that. We had some rebroadcasters who were also rebroadcasting it; they maxed out as well. But, of course, we also had the satellite and, of course, that was going worldwide.
VAN SUSTEREN: How long have you had cameras in the Florida Supreme Court?
WATERS: Well, we've had cameras for many years, but the cameras we're using now we've had since 1997. And what we have are our own four, fixed robotic cameras that are operated by staff of the Florida State University who work with us. And they transmit this via satellite to stations around the world and around the state.
VAN SUSTEREN: Did you ever think that anything this exciting would happen to you as a public informations officer for the Florida Supreme Court?
WATERS: Never in my wildest imagination, Greta, did I ever think that something like this would happen. This is a really unusual and historic day, and it was really incredible.
VAN SUSTEREN: Is it fun?
WATERS: It is fun. I've enjoyed it. As you can tell, you know, it's very cold here and I've been working all day, and it's very tiring. But I can tell you, it's exhilarating. And we have a great staff across the street, and our justices are just wonderful people.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right, well, thank you, Craig Waters. Thank you very much for joining us.
Back to you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Greta Van Susteren in Tallahassee, thanks. We'll see you tomorrow.
When we come back, the case to count some absentee ballots that were thrown out, and how it plays in the politics of the military.
BLITZER: Welcome back.
One other element to this election controversy: overseas absentee ballots disqualified because of missing postmarks. In one county with a strong military presence, Okaloosa, election officials agreed to include in their final count 40 overseas ballots without postmarks. And there's a push to convince other counties to do the same, as CNN's Bob Franken reports.
BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's an issue that could be expected to strike a nerve: protecting the rights of the U.S. military forces far from home protecting the rights of all their countrymen. So now, the attorney general of Florida, Robert Butterworth has called on local election officials to reconsider their disqualification of about 1,400 overseas violations for violations that include the lack of a postmark before Election Day.
Butterworth's interpretation follows an uproar over the decisions to throw out ballots from members of the armed forces abroad.
JOHN SOMMER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, AMERICAN LEGION: It's un- American to disallow those individuals who are putting their lives on the line for democracy to not have their votes counted in an electoral process where they have a constitutional right to vote.
FRANKEN: About 40 percent of the overseas ballots were thrown out, including a substantial military vote which traditionally favors Republicans. So the GOP is relentlessly complaining that successful Democratic challenges over technical problems like the missing postmarks were an effort to sabotage a full count and the disqualifications a violation of federal law, which reads, "Balloting materials under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act shall be carried expeditiously and free of postage."
REP. STEVE BUYER (R), INDIANA: The purpose of the federal statute, was to enfranchise the vote, not disenfranchise it. And so what we have is the state of Florida that did not follow the federal law in a federal election.
FRANKEN: Ironically, it might have been the Republican secretary of state, that co-chair of the Bush campaign, Katherine Harris, who advised the county election boards that state law requires the overseas ballots must have a postmark.
The Florida attorney general insists it doesn't matter, that the ballots must be postmarked or signed and dated no later than the election.
(on camera): So far, the disqualifications have not been reversed. And many of those who are raising the angry objections say they're considering an all too familiar tactic, considering a lawsuit. Bob Franken, CNN, Atlanta.
BLITZER: Ahead here, Bill Schneider puts today's historic events into perspective.
And next, the rest of the news in THE WORLD TODAY, including Israel and the Palestinians trading attacks.
BLITZER: In other news in THE WORLD TODAY, a deadly spiral of retaliation in the Middle East. At least two people were killed tonight and 50 were wounded in Israeli helicopter raids in Gaza. The attacks follow the deaths of two Jewish settlers in a school bus bombing this morning.
CNN's Tom Mintier has the story.
TOM MINTIER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The first missiles were launched at targets in Gaza City just as darkness fell over the area. The first target: a five story building that houses the Palestinian Preventive Security Service. At least half a dozen missiles fired from Israeli helicopter gunships pounded the building for nearly 30 minutes.
A spokesman for the Palestinian Authority says at least 80 people including many children were injured from the missiles and taken to hospital, nearly a half dozen of them in critical condition. In Gaza City's hospital, dozens of children could be seen in the emergency room, many in these pictures seriously wounded or unconscious.
The first wave of the attack lasted more than two hours, at least half a dozen targets around the city, mostly offices of the Palestinian Authority Fatah political party or security facilities. Palestinian officials here claim that no advance warning was issued by the Israelis.
MOHAMMED DAHLAN, PALESTINIAN SECURITY CHIEF (through translator): I have a message for the Israeli people: this destruction, these attacks, will not bring hope and peace to both peoples, Palestinians or Israelis.
MINTIER: Some officials went further, calling the Israeli attack on Gaza the end of the peace process, that from Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority spokesman. An Israeli cabinet meeting authorized the attack, calling it a measured response to an incident earlier on Monday where two Israelis were killed and nine wounded from a bomb attack on a school bus. Israel blamed that attack on the Fatah faction, an accusation Fatah denies.
As the helicopters continued to hover and fire repeatedly, late into the night, the attack on Gaza could ignite even more violence than the region has seen for the past eight weeks.
Tom Mintier, CNN, Gaza.
BLITZER: Peru's political crisis comes to a head. President Alberto Fujimori resigned in a letter to Congress today. His 10-year administration has recently been shadowed by allegations of corruption and human rights violations. In his letter, Mr. Fujimori conceded that the country wants change. He is in Tokyo right now, and Peru's government has told the U.S. he plans to stay there indefinitely. It's not clear yet who will succeed him.
Wall Street posted significant losses today amid uncertainty over the presidential election and corporate earnings. The Dow Industrials tumbled 167 points to close at 10,462. On the Nasdaq, the composite index plummeted 151 points, more than five percent to end at 2,875, its lowest close in more than a year.
BLITZER: Joining us now, CNN's senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.
Bill, do you see any parallels today, historic parallels? what we saw in the Supreme Court in Florida and perhaps the impeachment hearings in Congress, the Clarence Thomas hearings? Do you see any historic parallels to any of this?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, these are all events of major public interest and importance, where people can see the inner workings of government for better or worse. Now, of course, Clarence Thomas and impeachment did have one element of human interest that's missing from this story and that was obviously sex.
But in this case, more than in the others, there's a direct connection to the voters. The voters are a direct party to this issue because the main issue here is, how to make sure the voters' voice is heard and respected. Our polling over the weekend shows that voters are bothered by the idea that the ultimate outcome of this election could be decided by a court.
So that's why I think the Florida justices today went out of their way to reassure people that they put the highest value on fairness to the voters, not on legal technicalities and not on partisanship. And that's a big difference between this case and the others. Impeachment and Clarence Thomas were heard before partisan juries. This court went out of its way to show it is not partisan, that it's an advocate for the voters of Florida.
BLITZER: But, Bill, how partisan is the public's response to all of this?
SCHNEIDER: You know, much less than I would have thought, much less than a lot of people thought, given the fact that this is a very closely contested partisan election. Eighty percent of Americans told us that they would be happy and would accept Gore as the legitimate president if Gore were declared the winner. And 86 percent said they would accept Bush as the legitimate winner if he's declared the winner.
But there is an interesting and I think very, very dangerous, partisan imbalance in that response and it's growing. A quarter of Gore voters said that they would refuse to accept Bush. And over 40 percent of Bush supporters said they would refuse to accept Al Gore as the legitimate president.
Congressional Republicans are reported to be furious at what they regard as Gore's attempt to steal the election. They may try to block Gore if he's declared the winner in Florida. They may refuse to work with him, some of them are saying, if he actually takes office. Democrats seem less hostile and resentful toward Bush, even though, you might argue, that Democrats have cause a bigger cause for resentment, namely that Gore, not Bush is the one who's been leading in the national popular vote -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Bill Schneider. our senior political analyst, thank you so much, once again, for joining us.
And that's all the time we have for this special edition of THE WORLD TODAY. More on "The Florida Recount" all night long.
One hour from now Jeff Greenfield hosts a special edition of "NEWSSTAND" and at 11:00 p.m. Eastern, Bill Press and Tucker Carlson open "THE SPIN ROOM."
For now, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. "LARRY KING LIVE" is next.
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