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Florida Supreme Court Rejects Gore Appeal to Force Miami-Dade County to Hand Count Ballots

Aired November 23, 2000 - 2:39 p.m. ET


NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, in just a moment, we expect to hear from Craig Waters yet again for the second time today. He is the spokesman for the Florida state Supreme Court. Earlier today, he announced that the court had received papers from the Gore team: the Gore team asking the state Supreme Court to force Miami-Dade County to continue its recount.

The deadline, of course, is this Sunday, when the state Supreme Court said all of the counties that are doing recounts must be finished by 5:00 p.m. Sunday. Miami-Dade County says it could not count its votes by then. It had considered counting 10,000 questionable ballots and only counting those, but decided not do that either. The Gore team is fighting this decision again with the state Supreme Court. And apparently some of the justices have been meeting today.

Let's go to CNN's Kate Snow, who is outside the state Supreme Court, who can bring us up to date with what, if any, activity that we know, Kate, that is going behind those doors there.


Well, we don't know exactly what is going behind those doors. And we should note that we know that six of the justices of the seven have actually spoken to each other. Whether or not they have physically been in the same room, I don't know. I have been told that two of the justices did make their way over here -- Justice Lewis and Justice Quince -- to the building itself.

But the rest of them are sort of scattered around at various Thanksgiving dinners and at the families' homes. So what they have done is they have gotten in touch with them and faxed them copies of this petition that was filed this morning by the Gore team. I was told by Craig Waters a short time ago that the six of them had sort of spread out the papers on their family tables and their in the living rooms, whatever they happen to be.

They can talk by conference call. And with a quorum of five they are able to -- with six -- they are able to make some sort of decisions. Only one of the justices is out-of-pocket. She is on an airplane somewhere and they can't get in touch with her. But the six of them could come to some sort of decision. That may be what we are going to hear out of Craig Waters when he comes out now. But we are not entirely sure. He may also tell us to stand down. Let's listen to Craig Waters.


CRAIG WATERS, SPOKESMAN, FLORIDA SUPREME COURT: ... reach all seven of the justices. So all seven have participated in this proceeding. We also will be posting the document I am about to read you on our Web site as soon as I leave here. And paper copies will be available at the door here.

I am going to read the statement and I will not take any questions afterward. This is an order of the court: "The court has considered the petition for writ of quo warranto, writ of mandamus, prohibition or such other writ the court deems appropriate under its all-writs authority, an alternative emergency petition for writ of mandamus. And the writ is denied without prejudice to any party raising any issue presented in the writ in any future proceeding. No motion for rehearing will be allowed."

It's signed unanimously by all seven justices. Thank you.

ALLEN: OK, a quick...

SNOW: Well, Natalie, we just heard -- we just heard from spokesman Craig Waters with the Florida state Supreme Court. They have denied "without prejudice" -- his words -- the petition that was filed this morning by Gore -- by Vice President Gore's legal team. That is certainly going to be a disappointment to the Gore team. What they had asked the court to do was to step in and ask -- tell Miami- Dade County that they need to continue with their recount.

By this order -- this unanimous order from the Florida state court -- saying: Look, we're not even going to -- we are going to deny this on its face. We're not even going to take this petition into consideration. They have effectively said: We are not going to order Miami-Dade County to continue with the recount. This will certainly be seen as a victory -- a legal victory -- by the Bush team -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Thanks, Kate Snow.

And we have Ken Gross back with us, whom we talked with earlier -- elections expert.

Ken, what do you think of this reaction today -- and such a quick one -- from the state Supreme Court? I have a feeling you are not surprised.

KEN GROSS, CNN ELECTION LAW ANALYST: I am not surprised. The -- again, this is another way of saying that it was discretionary with the Miami-Dade canvassing board to decide not to recount these votes. Now, they did dismiss it without prejudice. What that means is that is not a final determination on the merits.

I suppose it leaves it open for an extraordinary circumstance to come back. But I think, under the timing and the circumstances of this, it's as good as a final determination that the Miami situation is not going to be recounted.

ALLEN: And does this put the state Supreme Court -- does this give them the holiday through Sunday? Can there be anything else that comes before them before this deadline on Sunday at this point?

GROSS: I can't think of another case right now that is pending that is likely to come up. So I think they can have their Thanksgiving dinner in peace, at least for the remainder of today.

ALLEN: So this probably means we can expect more pressure, perhaps, on the canvassing board there in Palm Beach County. And we've seen some kind of dust-up in Broward County this afternoon between an observer and the canvassing board there. We haven't been able to talk with Susan Candiotti about this. But certainly, so much pressure on these two counties now.

GROSS: There really is a lot of pressure. And it raises the stakes even more. And there is still this dispute about the standards that are being used in Broward County. And we've seen no reluctance on the attorneys to come forward with emergency relief. So I think the justices will have their dinner in peace. But I don't think they have disconnected their phones either. There is an outside chance something could dust up by the end of the day -- but unlikely.

ALLEN: OK, Ken. Stephen Frazier has a question for you now -- Stephen.

STEPHEN FRAZIER, CNN ANCHOR: Ken, I know you were saying earlier that this is pretty much a state matter. But we have seen things that we thought were resolved in the past then get lifted up to the United States Supreme Court. Is there any provision for yet another filing on this particular matter?

GROSS: Boy, it would be a tough one. Basically, they would have to -- the Gore people would have to escalate this further and say somehow there was a federal question in this denial. Presumably, it would be based on the First Amendment, that somehow people's right to vote is interfered with because they haven't had a full counting of their vote -- real stretch.

I don't think it's -- I don't think it's likely that the Gore campaign will do that. But even if they do to it, it's very unlikely the court would grant relief -- the Supreme Court, the U.S. Supreme Court.

FRAZIER: Ken Gross, thanks once again for those insights. And don't go far. Things keep changing on us here.

Let's turn now to the campaigns themselves and see what this may mean for them. We have got Jeanne Meserve, as you know, covering things for us in Austin, and Patty Davis in Washington.

Jeanne, let's go to you first. This would be -- this would be pretty significant for Governor Bush.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. No official reaction from the campaign. But they will be very pleased with this development. They have opposed the hand counts from the very start, and just today made a statement in which they urged the Supreme Court to deny this motion, saying: "The court has already extended the statutory deadline for additional 12 days, and now Al Gore wants them to extend it yet again. It seems Al Gore wants the court to keep extending the deadline until he can count the votes enough times to change the results."

Of course, this campaign afraid that a count in Miami-Dade in particular, would reduce or perhaps eliminate George W. Bush's margin of victory in the state of Florida. They will be very pleased by this decision from the state Supreme Court. Of course, there are other matters pending. The Bush campaign itself has gone to the U.S. Supreme Court asking, in one petition, that the hand recount results not be included in Florida's final vote tally, and in the second petition, asking that those recounts being stopped all together.

So there is still plenty of legal territory to be explored here on the matter of the hand counts. And if I may, Stephen, I have a little bit of personal color here. I am told that Governor Bush and Secretary Cheney spoke -- Secretary Cheney of course in the hospital today recovering from a mild heart attack. Bush reported afterwards that Cheney was feeling well and he was looking forward to coming home.

But even more interesting, Secretary Cheney has been making some phone calls today. And one of the calls he made was to Joe Lieberman, his counterpart on the Democratic ticket, we are told, to wish Joe Lieberman a happy Thanksgiving. I asked, "Was there a phone call to Al Gore?" I was told only a phone call to Joe Lieberman -- Stephen.

FRAZIER: Jeanne, thanks for that insight. Now, there's another battle being waged here outside the courts. And that is the battle of public opinion. Would it be easier now for the Bush campaign to keep quiet about all this, because they can be magnanimous winners, in a sense, at this stage of the game?

MESERVE: I think we are going to have to wait and see on that one. I mean, there -- as I mentioned, there are many legal avenues still being explored and pursued. And I think we are going to have to see exactly where those end up. Today, certainly, it appears that the Bush campaign is going to have nothing more to say, at least in the form a verbal statement.

There may be additional written statements. But I would expect that, until there are further significant developments, they will not have any public comment on camera for us -- Stephen.

FRAZIER: Right. And let me clarify: When I said winners, I meant of this round only. We're not going to be doing any calling of elections today -- from this desk anyway.

MESERVE: Absolutely. Long way to go.

FRAZIER: Patty, let's turn to you now. You have been in touch with various spokesmen for the campaign for Gore campaign today. Have they given you any sense of whether they're playing chess and thinking several moves ahead and possibly anticipating this outcome we have just heard?

PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I had spoken earlier with spokesman Doug Hattaway, who, when asked: What happens if the Florida Supreme Court rules against you in this instance and doesn't compel Miami-Dade to go forward with the hand count? He said: Well, that is up to the Florida Supreme Court. So we don't know at the point. There is no official reaction since this came down exactly what the Gore campaign -- what the next step will be.

However, the Gore campaign was counting on being able to get some extra votes there from Miami-Dade County. Of course, it's the most populous county in the state of Florida -- heavily Democratic. The Gore campaign had been arguing that, in fact, the Florida law required that, if there were errors in the original count, that a manual recount was required. And they were hoping to add -- help Al Gore pick up some votes here if this went in their favor.

Obviously, it has not gone in their favor. It's very bad news for Vice President Al Gore. And what this means is that he will now have to rely on just Palm Beach County and Broward County to pick up all of the gains that he will need, some 931 votes, if he is to go ahead of Texas Governor George W. Bush in the final Florida vote tally -- so not good news here.

FRAZIER: Indeed. And, of course, not good news yesterday, Patty. When you spoke to spokesman Hattaway, how did he characterize Miami-Dade's abandonment of its count? It seemed just to be motivated by an inability to get things done in the time allotted.

DAVIS: Well, you know, that's an interesting -- it's an interesting question, because one thing that they did reference in this appeal today that they filed with the Florida Supreme Court -- and a point they were making -- is they felt that there was intimidation from Republican people -- from Republicans who were in the Miami-Dade canvassing center there where they were counting ballots.

There was something of a disturbance yesterday. They felt that that may have intimidated the canvassing commission officers there. And -- because they said that right afterwards that the county went ahead and dropped its bid for the hand recount. So they had referenced that in the filing today. Apparently, the justices, you know, didn't buy that argument.

FRAZIER: Well, Patty, it seemed to be pretty abrupt today: very brief and no questions for the spokesman from the court. So it's going to be difficult to interrupt exactly what they were thinking. Maybe later on we'll hear more of what the justice had in mind.

DAVIS: And Vice President Al Gore is -- what they're calling a total lid on him today. He is not going to be seen in public. So, at this point, we don't expect to hear from him. He is enjoying Thanksgiving in the official residence behind me. So we don't expect that we will hear officially from the vice president today. FRAZIER: Well, even though you are not enjoying Thanksgiving, we are glad that you are at the official residence to give us those insights. Patty Davis, reporting from Washington, thank you.



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