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Miami-Dade County, Florida Canvassing Board Ends Recount

Aired November 22, 2000 - 1:27 p.m. ET


NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Miami-Dade County's canvassing board has just voted 3-0 to stop all recounts after a contentious morning there. And we'll continue to talk with our correspondent about those developments. But that perhaps puts all the focus on Palm Beach County and Broward County and the question surrounding those absentee ballots.

So let's talk for the moment about Palm Beach County. The Palm Beach courtroom of Judge Jorge Labarga was buzzing again today during a hearing over the fate of the dimpled chad. The Gore team apparently believes the only way it could come out ahead in this vote is if the dimpled chads are allowed to be counted.

Let's go to CNN's John Zarrella, who can tell us when we expect some kind of decision on this debate from Palm Beach County -- John.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Natalie, well, we expect that Judge Jorge Labarga will issue a written order sometime this afternoon, he says about 4:30 this afternoon. And now, in light of what's happened in Miami, it certainly becomes far more critical to the Democratic cause that he actually issues some sort of a ruling that would order or force the canvassing board here in Palm Beach County to include those dimpled ballots, those dimpled chads.

At this point what they are doing is going off of his ruling from a week ago. Judge Labarga ruled about a week ago that they had the discretion to do it. And their discretion was, well, in most cases, they're not counting those dimpled ballots at this particular point. The Democrats want the judge to actually set a standard. Now, that's a standard that the Florida Supreme Court would not even set, so it will be interesting to see what the judge does.

Now, Judge Charles Burton, who is the chairman of the canvassing board, took the witness stand today to explain to everyone the process by which they are determining whether to count a ballot or not.


JUDGE CHARLES BURTON, PALM BEACH COUNTY CANVASSING BOARD: We're looking at the card, we're looking at the card in total to see if we can determine the intent of the voter. If the only mark is on that first column and every other hole is punched out, our interpretation of that has been that does not show the clear intent of the voter. If on cards where a couple or two or three or four -- and we don't have any set numbers -- also show indentations or not quite full punches, then we've taken the position that does show the intent of the voter in that this person obviously had difficulty punching out.


ZARRELLA: Judge Burton also maintained and stated the frustration they have, the difficulty they are having in determining, quote, "the intent of the voter."

The Republican Party actually sided with the canvassing board here today, saying that they, in essence, felt that they were taking the right approach -- that being the canvassing board -- taking the right approach to determining the intent of the voter. And, in fact, Judge Labarga at one point asked the Democratic attorneys, well, who am I to tell the canvassing board how to work this out when I'm here and they're the ones that are looking at the ballots? So if that's any insight into what he might do, it's hard to say.

But, again, Judge Jorge Labarga expected to rule at about 4:30. And it is critical to the Democrats that they get a favorable ruling from him because, right now, without getting those dimpled ballots included in Palm Beach County, Vice President Gore is only up about three votes, and they had believed that there could be hundreds of additional votes for him if those partially punched, dimpled ballots were included in the count.

So critical now, even more so in light of what happened in Miami- Dade County -- Natalie.

ALLEN: And, John, one question for you. If this -- if Judge Labarga comes back this afternoon and says, I'm not going to tell the canvassing board how to count these ballots, then what?

ZARRELLA: Then we assume the canvassing board will proceed on with what it has been doing, finish its recount. They say they'll have it done by the deadline on Sunday, and that they will continue with what Judge Burton had just outlined for us as to how they are handling it.

And the Democrats say there are about 500 or 600 that they already know of that would be votes in favor of the vice president if the process were to include those dimples, and about 260 for Gov. Bush. So a clear edge there would go to the vice president. But at this point, if he does not change his position from a week ago and does not order the board, the canvassing board, to change its policy on counting those dimples, then clearly they will go on with how they've been handling things now. And it's not likely that there would be any marked change in the number of votes that would go to the vice president, which would, again, be a clear, clear defeat for Vice President Gore and the Democratic camp -- Natalie.

ALLEN: OK, all right, thank you. John Zarrella in Palm Beach County. And, again, the judge set to issue a statement in three hours. Thanks.

Now to Stephen. STEPHEN FRAZIER, CNN ANCHOR: Natalie, all of what John Zarrella just explained was complicated, but it did seem to be a little bit consistent. Not so, as we've seen just a few moments ago, in Miami- Dade County where the canvassing board there just voted to reverse itself once again and has elected not to proceed with a hand recount. This is a momentous event and the shock waves have been felt as far away as Washington, D.C.

And that's where we're going to go next to turn to Frank Sesno, our Washington bureau chief, for some sense of how that city is reacting to all of this -- Frank.

FRANK SESNO, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: Well, Stephen, let me tell you how the campaign is reacting. A campaign official tells CNN that preparations are being made to appeal the decision of the Miami-Dade Canvassing Board there. It was a unanimous one there to stop the recount. We are told preparations are being made to appeal that to Dade Circuit Court. So the Gore campaign is working right now as we speak to reverse what the canvassing board just decided.

Now, I'm joined here in the studio by senior White House correspondent John King. Our Chris Black is working this story too. I think she's going to be joining us.

But, John, first to the significance of Miami-Dade, and specifically what was and what is at stake there as far as the Gore campaign is concerned.

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, first, a great sense of disappointment that they would not try to recount all the votes, 600,000-plus. Then they still felt confident 10,000-plus disputed ballots, many of them -- the majority of them, we're told, from African-American precincts. The Gore campaign confident that if those votes were reviewed -- more than 10,000 -- that the vice president would have a significant net gain of votes.

This decision now means they will not go back and look at those ballots, so it shrinks dramatically the universe available as the vice president tries to make up votes. There are about 2,000 contested ballots in Palm Beach County, several thousand -- 2,000 in Broward county, several thousand, maybe 3,000 or 4,000, in Palm Beach County, difficulties there with the standard, as John Zarrella was just saying. So take 10,000 votes out of the pool -- the vice president needs to make up about a thousand -- it's simple math -- this is troublesome.

They're on an emergency conference call right now. Bill Daley, the Gore campaign chairman, was about to come out and make an upbeat public statement about how they thought this recount was good for the vice president. He was about to make that statement when this decision came down. He went back inside. They're on an emergency conference call. Kendall Coffey is their lead Florida attorney on this issue. He is likely to be appealing this in court by as early as this afternoon.

SESNO: Now, John, let's put this in perspective. We spoke yesterday with some of the vote counters within the Gore campaign and they were saying flatly that they were optimistic provided that these very votes, both in Miami-Dade County in these other counties, were included in a recount.

KING: That's right. They've had lawyers in the room, remember. As these ballots have been looked at and as they have made these manual recounts in the three counties, there have been Democratic and Republican lawyers in the room when they've said, OK, this is a contested one. It has a dimple, maybe, or a marking but we're not sure. Let's put it over here and count the others and we'll come back to it.

So they know what's in those stacks. And they believe in those stacks are 1,500, perhaps even more, votes for the vice president. And especially in Miami-Dade, where most of the questionable ballots, we're told, come from Democratic, largely African-American precincts, they were confident that that was the treasure trove they've been looking for.

SESNO: John, it's worth noting that one of the things that we've been hearing a lot from Republicans in their outrage here is precisely what's been happening in Dade County. I mean, they point to the fact that Dade County votes one way then another way. This morning, a number of Republicans I spoke with were furious that Dade County said, we're going to just go to -- in the recount -- to those 10,000 disputed ballots and put the previous ongoing recount to the side. This is what they cite as these changing rules and standards that has them so very upset.

KING: Well, the Republicans believe that if they -- the Republicans did not want the 600,000-plus counted. But once the court imposed the five-day deadline, the Republicans thought, OK, well, if you're counting all 600-plus and we object a little bit, we can run out the clock, and then at the end the canvassing board would have no choice to do what it just did: recertify, tell the secretary of state, never mind, accept the numbers we sent you previously -- numbers not enough to help the vice president make up ground.

SESNO: And John, we'll come back. Let's go over to Chris Black now who, as I said before, has also been talking and following the Gore campaign very closely -- Chris.

CHRIS BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Frank, the Gore campaign officials that I've been able to reach are just stunned by this setback, the decision from the Miami-Dade officials. They say they believe that the Miami-Dade County officials have been intimidated by the Republicans, that there was a near-riot this morning at the courthouse where they were trying to count those ballots. And they believe that there's no question there's a relationship between that near-riot this morning and this decision. They say this is part of a pattern of Republican obstructionist tactics, and this is one of their greatest concerns the Republicans will try to slow down if not stop this count before the deadline on Sunday -- Frank.

SESNO: Now, Chris, as we reported a moment ago, the Gore campaign is looking at this. John was just talking about how they're on this emergency phone call. We've been told that they are going to challenge it. Any expression that you've been able to discern yet as to any degree of, you know, prediction as to how that challenge, that appeal may go?

BLACK: No decision really made yet. They clearly want to reverse this and would probably have to go to court to do it. But they do have a lot of faith in the fact that the highest court in the state of Florida has basically ruled in their favor and said that these recounts should go on, and, in fact, sent a very strong signal that voter intent should be the standard that the ballots were judged by. So they think that their ace in the hole ultimately will be the fact that the Florida Supreme Court, so far, has been on their side.

SESNO: John King?

KING: I would only add, though, the Florida Supreme Court was on their side but said the counties have the authority to conduct these recounts. That has been the Gore campaign argument all along, and if Gov. Bush wants recounts he should go to canvassing boards. This canvassing board just voted unanimously to shut it down. All along, the Gore campaign has been saying these are decisions to be made by the canvassing boards.

SESNO: And, you know, the irony here, John -- it seems to me it's a real irony -- is that the Florida Supreme Court decision was hailed as a giant victory within the Gore camp, and yet it is what the county officials cited when they said, we can't do it all by that time and we can't, we don't feel, go back to the court and file for additional time. So in a sense, it was a double-edged sword.

KING: Well, that was the one concern they did raise last night. Even as they were celebrating this victory, they raised concern about the time frame, especially in Miami-Dade because they knew, because Miami-Dade officials had said this would take well into the first week of December, that they could not count all 600,000-plus by the Sunday deadline.

They thought, OK, this morning, that not great but acceptable that they were only going to count I believe it's 10,700 of the contested ballots -- again, those were the marked but not punched all the way through -- because most of those ballots come from predominantly Democratic precincts. Now, they've just taken 10,000- plus votes out of the table if this ruling stands, if this vote stands, and the vice president would have to look to Broward County and Palm Beach County. And while they think there are some votes for them there, they'd have a hard time saying that they would be as optimistic as they were this morning that they can make up the lost ground.

SESNO: And so presumably another round of court battles and more time taken up while the clock ticks to the deadline that the Florida state Supreme Court imposed/

KING: Exactly. And, again, the Gore campaign is the one that has argued consistently that this is the power of the canvassing boards. It is their decision whether to have a recount. Yet now they have to argue that the canvassing boards, the very canvassing boards they have argued have this authority, made the wrong call in voting to shut the recount down.

SESNO: Well, we hope you all have your scorecards out and are following this because this one's getting more complicated all the time. But the bottom line is that this very important Dade County decision coming just a few minutes ago really on the heels of the Florida Supreme Court to let the recounting continue. Dade County saying, no, we can't do it under any circumstances, we can't meet those deadlines, by 3-0. The canvassing board there said they're not going to continue with their recount.

Quite a bit of news. And we'll digest it some more.



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