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Election 2000: Florida Supreme Court to Hear Arguments on Hand Recounts

Aired November 20, 2000 - 1:00 p.m. ET


NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: A key hearing is scheduled to begin in one hour in Florida that could go a long way in determining who will be our next president. The Florida Supreme Court will hear arguments about whether the hand recounts going on in several counties should count in the final vote total. And, we're sure you know, whoever wins Florida will win the presidency.

Those manual recounts are moving forward today in Broward and Palm Beach Counties, and people began counting votes by hand this morning in Miami-Dade County.

One other big development today: In Palm Beach County, where there's been all that controversy over the so-called "butterfly ballot," which many say they couldn't understand, a circuit court judge ruled against holding a re-vote in Palm Beach County.

The way things stand now, if you don't tally in all the recounts, George W. Bush leads Al Gore in Florida by 930 votes. Of course, Bush wants to hold onto that lead. That's why today's hearing is so important.

We begin our coverage with CNN's Bill Hemmer, who's outside a very wild supreme court. The scene looks quite incredible, Bill.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: We're starting to pack them in, Natalie. Hello to you from Tallahassee. We are about an hour away from the point where two weeks ago, a number of legal analysts throughout the country thought we would be eventually. That's taking the case of Florida and the issue of the recounted ballots to the state supreme court.

Behind me, again, the crowd has started to gather here and, again, they will proceed inside over the next 60 minutes time. Some names you want to keep in mind that you will become all to familiar with in about 60 minutes. For the Gore team, the Democrats: David Boies, Dexter Douglas and Paul Hancock. For the Bush team and the Republicans: Michael Carvin, Berry Richard and Joe Clock. This place is crawling with attorneys today.

Let's bring in one more, CNN's Greta Van Susteren, co-host of CNN's "BURDEN OF PROOF," our legal analyst, now with us here in Tallahassee.

If we can go ahead and get a camera on you, Greta, we can go ahead and talk to you.

Steve, why don't we bring that camera over and bring Greta on here. There she comes into our picture right now.

Quickly, let's talk about this thing as we get under way here. We're waiting for ruling ultimately. Now, will that ruling be ambiguous in any sense or will it that ruling be clear and concise?

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think what most people think is it's going to very decisive. And the Supreme Court knows that the people of Florida, the people of the nation, the people around the world, want an answer -- what is the correct process? So we can continue to figure out, who is our president. If they give us an ambiguous decision, we're going to be right back for clarification.

HEMMER: I just went through this list of attorneys. You know some of them. Some of them are new to you. Anything strike you?

VAN SUSTEREN: David Boies of course we know. He was hired by the government to go after Microsoft. He was a successful lawyer on behalf of the government against Microsoft. What's interesting about the team, the Republican team, Berry Richard and Michael Carvin, who is going to argue today?

Now Barry Richard is a local lawyer; he's from the state of Florida. Michael Carvin from Washington D.C. And lawyers always wonder, do you want to get an out-of-town lawyer to argue the case, or do you want to get someone who knows the court, someone who has likely been there before and can sort of take the hints, the cues, from the justices to know how to answer the questions. So they may even split up the arguments. You know, both sides have an hour, and it may be the lawyers behind the scene. Everybody wants a little piece of this case. They may split it up a little bit.

HEMMER: We've been talking now for about six hours today, and I've asked you this several times, so I want to know again, when you're listening to the arguments that we'll be watching live on television here on CNN, what are you listening for questionwise?

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, you know, first, it's intriguing. And it's really guesswork. You listen to find out, what is it that has caught the justices attention? What are they fixated on? Are they spending a lot of time on one particular issue? Are they spending a lot of time on the big picture issue of right to vote, or are they spending a lot of time on the wording of the statue, to find out exactly what the statutes mean.

Now having said that, that doesn't mean that that's going to give us any indication what the justices will ultimately decide. You know, we pick this apart much like commentators pick sporting events apart. We don't always win in the end, but it's fun analyzing and looking to see how we got there. And sometimes we go out on a limb and make wild guesses, and we're dead wrong. Sometimes we're lucky, we get it right.

HEMMER: And you get the sense here the drama is building here in Tallahassee. As an attorney, and you've covered a lot of cases, a lot of big cases here, especially with our network, is this kind of like the Super Bowl for a lawyer?

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, it is, , but I mean. they're all exciting. I mean, you represent someone in court, when it's your case,it's always exciting. But of course, you can't deny that this isn't exciting. We've got so many microwave trucks here. We've got so many lawyers here. The stakes are so high. It's the president of the United States. So yes, it is the Super Bowl. You can't think of any case more fascinating or more interesting than this. And I'd love to be arguing it.

HEMMER: Just got word from the Gore campaign, the Secretary of State Warren Christopher will actually be inside the courtroom. In addition, about 28 members of the media, 28 journalist inside, and 148 very lucky Floridians to be inside, as well as members of the public.

Greta, thanks. We'll watch it just less than an hour away from here.

More coming up from Tallahassee shortly.

Back to Atlanta now and more with Natalie and Joie.

ALLEN: And just a couple of questions, Bill and Greta. How long do they expect to go this afternoon? And is it unusual that each side is getting such a long time, an hour, to present its case?

VAN SUSTEREN: You now, Natalie, it's an interesting question, because in a death penalty case, each side may only get 30 minutes. It is unusual, not of course unheard of, that you get an hour. Every time it's an important matter, the justices can say we'll make it one hour as opposed to a half an hour.

Now they have said, it's going to be one hour. Everyone expects to be one hour. But, remember...

HEMMER: That could slide, though.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... the justices, they get the make the rules in this case. It's unusual for them to say one hour and then go an hour and 15 minutes, but if they start pummeling the two sides with questions and sort of chewing up the time, so they, in essence, deny the two sides a chance to argue the particular case, they will extend the time. But we're expecting one hour each time. And what we also expect is that the Gore people, who will go first -- they have an hour -- they'll probably reserve some of that hour for rebuttal. They may take 45 minutes in initial argument, an hour for the Bush people, and then the Gore people get back up and do 15 minutes. You always want to save some time, because you always want to have the last word.

HEMMER: I think the other intriguing thing with all that is when the seven justices are finished, they go into a room by themselves and hatch this out and talk about -- based on what they hear in court today.

VAN SUSTEREN: That's right. And of course, they've also read the briefs. They know an awful lot going into this.

HEMMER: Greta Van Susteren and Bill Hemmer live here in Tallahassee.

Natalie, go ahead.

ALLEN: They had a lot of briefs to look over as well. Thanks. We'll see you guys later.

Now to Joie.

JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: The tedious process of hand-counting ballots began this morning in another county. In Miami-Dade county, there are concerns about more than 10,000 ballots the voting machines apparently missed.

CNN's Charles Zewe is in Miami -- Charles.

CHARLES ZEWE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Joie, here in Miami-Dade County, the count, as you said, began this morning, been under way for four hours now, in the count that will involve looking individually at 653,000 punch card ballots that were cast on election day. So far, there have been few, if any, problems at all in the recount. It's all gone rather quietly but intensely, on the 18th floor of the Stephen P. Clark building in downtown Miami, where the tabulation center is setup.

Republican and Democratic observer teams have been carefully watching the process. Republican teams in particular have challenged a number of ballots today, submitting those challenges to the three- member, Miami-Dade canvassing board for an appeal. In most cases, I observed, and other people observed, those challenges were turned down.

As you mentioned, there is particular concern about 10,750 so- called undervotes, votes in which the computer punch cards recorded no vote for president at all. The canvassing board is looking at each of those ballots individually, and during the time I was in the tabulation room today, in almost every case, the canvassing board ruled that there was no vote period, and so the vote cast aside -- didn't go to Al Gore, didn't go to George Bush.

We have yet to get update today from the canvassing board officials on exactly how many precinct have been gone through so far. We have no word yet on whether Vice President Gore or Governor Bush has picked up or lost a single vote here.

Meanwhile, there will be yet another court hearing no matter what the Florida Supreme Court does or doesn't do today. At 8:00 a.m. Eastern Time tomorrow morning, Republican attorneys will be back in court here to challenge the entire recount in Miami-Dade. They say it is illegal and a mishandling of the ballots -- Joie.

CHEN: Charles, let me ask you about the 10,000-some-odd votes that didn't apparently get cast for either candidate, or didn't get recorded for either candidate. Are they telling you whether that's an unusual number to be left out or, is this really something to be expected?

ZEWE: It happens in every election just about everywhere. Some voters go into the polls, Joie, and as everyone knows, don't like the choices, choose not to vote. In some counties, in some areas of the United States, that invalidates the vote. You must vote in each category that's on the ballot. Here, that does not invalidate the vote, necessarily, but they're going back, looking for any little thing that might indicate that perhaps the voter didn't push that stylus all the way through the punch card; you know that famous pregnant chad that we've been talking so much in the last two weeks voters.

But in a lot of the cases where I saw this morning, voters simply didn't vote. There was no recorded vote for president at all.

CHEN: Charles Zewe for us in Miami.

Now on to another important front in the Florida recount: Palm Beach County. It's been a flashpoint since early, of course, because of that controversial butterfly ballot. Today a judge there said that there is one Election Day, and it is over.

CNN's Jeff Flock is there. He joins us with the latest -- Jeff.

JEFF FLOCK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's, right, Joie. The judge ruling that there will be no revote in Palm Beach County. But of course right now, the focus isn't so much on revote as it is on recount. That is manual hand recount.

We've got a live picture from inside the emergency operations center here in Palm Beach County. It's typically what they use to coordinate their hurricane efforts. I guess fair to say as planes fly overhead that this is something of a hurricane. Although, inside the counting area right now, it has not been too crazy, as some of the Republicans have charged.

You know, I tell you, Charles Burton coming over to us. There he is right now. We'll get the latest from Mr. Burton.

How are you? Jeff Flock live on CNN.


FLOCK: How is the effort going today.

BURTON: Pretty good. Making a lot of progress. And, we've got --

FLOCK: Can you tell us how far along you are right now? Everyone interested in what you have to say?

BURTON: Probably. And I'm trying to remember. I think we've gone over about 41 percent, and I'm sure we're getting up over 50 percent by now.

FLOCK: You think you're up over 50 percent as we speak. BURTON: That would be my guess.

FLOCK: Obviously, the key question is, what is the result of this? Can you give us any kind of indication of what the result is? We've heard reports that perhaps Governor Bush has made up a few votes. Can you give us some sense of that?

BURTON: I don't have a you know the exact information. But as we've been checking periodically, I mean, it's been very little change, quite honestly. And I have not seen a big swing in either direction.

FLOCK: What are the problems? Have there been any problems. Obviously, they've been charges about chaos and that sort of thing? It's not by our eyeball look at it, doesn't look like that's the case. Tell me your perspective from inside.

BURTON: Right, I'd rather some of the media report what they're actually seeing instead of what they're being told by the parties.

Look, I think these people -- there's an awful lot of people in there doing a great job, and they're working hard, they're working long hours for us. We couldn't get this job done without them. And you know, I've been saying all along, we have the Republican protesters, the Democratic protester, I wish they would all come back and help us count ballots, because I haven't been around lately. These people are working hard, they're doing a great job. I think it's unfair to criticize them. And to make it seem like it's some kind of circus in there when that's simply not the case.

FLOCK: The very active -- handling these ballots, according to some of these Republicans, is -- makes the process inherently unfair. Your perspective?

BURTON: Well, the problem in the repeated handling of the ballots has been all the protest, followed by first the Democratic Party who wanted a manual recount, and then the Republican who wanted another machine recount. You know, it's necessary to handle these ballots to do it.

FLOCK: As we watch them live -- we've got live pictures inside their. As we watch them do that, give me some perspective about how long you think will take.

BURTON: Well, we were originally hoping we would be done by Thanksgiving. It doesn't look like that's the case. You know, we're going to go back in and talk about scheduling. Yet I'm certain we're taking Thursday day off, and we'll probably give them Wednesday evening, but I think the canvassing board will hopefully be back Friday to catch so we can catch up going over all the questionable ballots.

FLOCK: You're not going to be done then by your target of Wednesday morning?

BURTON: It doesn't look like it. I mean, I'd be surprised, but we're working, we're going to see how far we get today.

FLOCK: What have the disputes been like today as compared to before? You said, initially, you had people that were -- there were some serious disputes going on. Has that be the case today, or has it been more calm?

BURTON: No, I think people are relaxing a little bit, and it's really going along smooth, and most of the teams are working very well. So, you know, we're seeing less and less questionable ones, and you know, that means these things are getting resolved, so that's a good sign.

FLOCK: And the last question I have for you is, the supreme court is set to hear arguments this afternoon very shortly. Will it change, whatever happens with the supreme court, will it change your efforts in there? Will you recount anyway if the supreme court were to say, these results will not be considered?

BURTON: Well, I mean, if the supreme court rules against what we're doing here, I mean the only other option would be to consider amongst the various parties if it's going to go to Supreme Court. But barring that, yes, I mean, we're going to abide by any order of the Florida Supreme Court, and we just have to wait and see.

FLOCK: Super. I appreciate it. I'll let you go to the rest of them. Thank you, sir, appreciate it. That's the latest from here.

Charles Burton, as you can see, everyone very, very interested in what he has to say, and as the pack moves in on that. As you heard him say, this effort is going reasonably well today. And they are they are now on pins and needles, awaiting what happens to the north in Tallahassee.

I'm Jeff Flock, CNN, reporting live from West Palm Beach.

CHEN: All right, thank you, Jeff.



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