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The Florida Recount: Both Bush, Gore Campaigns Set to Contest Votes; Palm Beach County Continues Manual Tally

Aired November 24, 2000 - 1:01 p.m. ET


NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Thanksgiving is over, Christmas is coming, and sometime between now and then we should learn who will be the 43rd U.S. president. But it won't happen Sunday, and here's why.

Even though the Florida recounts are up against a 5:00 p.m. Sunday deadline, both campaigns will contest the final certification. The Bush camp is taking issue with overseas ballot disqualifications; the Gore camp is challenging the lack of a recount in Miami-Dade.

The Bush camp still hopes the U.S. Supreme Court will call all the recounts off. For now, though, the process continues in Palm Beach and Broward, ballot by questionable ballot.

In Washington today, the Bush team filed its response to the Gore team's response to the Bush team's Supreme Court petition to overrule the Supreme Court of Florida. Got all that? I couldn't even say it.

CNN's Bob Franken does, and he joins us now to explain it -- Bob.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Could you repeat that, Natalie.

ALLEN: I can't.


FRANKEN: Well, let's try here. The Supreme Court, first of all, has been asked by the Bush campaign to expedite it's procedures; that is to say, to speed up the normal process and immediately take on this case and take on the claim by the Bush campaign that the hand recount should be stopped in Florida because it is a constitutional violation.

This has been the argument that has been made at all levels of the federal judiciary all week long for the last several days. The fundamental issue is, is this a matter for the federal courts or should it be in the state courts? The Democrats say that, in fact, the states are the ones who are in charge of each of their presidential elections. As a matter of fact, they used these words: If the Supreme Court was to get involved, it would be, quote, "a significant intrusion."

The Republicans argue back that, as a matter of fact, there are limitations on the states' rights to conduct just about any business. They say, quote, "these granted powers are always subject to limitations."

So now you've got the fundamental arguments that are going back and forth. The Supreme Court justices have to determine whether they'll take the case, whether they'll take it on this expedited basis, or whether they'll say, let's just go the normal, slower route and take it back to the appeals court in Atlanta, which is considering the core case. These are the decisions that are supposed to come.

Now, as convoluted as some of the legal arguments may sound, most legal scholars will tell you that this is a pretty simple, fundamental issue giving rise to the hope that the justices might make a decision pretty soon, even today. They don't have to. They really have a deadline. That is December 18, when the Electoral College meets -- Natalie.

ALLEN: And, Bob, has any state vote ever been appealed and heard before the U.S. Supreme Court?

FRANKEN: Well, there are a variety of times that the Supreme Court has gotten involved in election matters. You can point out, for instance, the "one man, one vote" decision by the Supreme Court. That was one. There have been many civil right violations that have become federal matters. It is a question of whether this is, quote, "a federal issue." In other words, has the Constitution or federal law been compromised by the conduct of the state officials? The argument by the Democrats is that state officials have primacy here. But if the federal courts do get involved, of course, the U.S. Constitution always trumps state law.

ALLEN: OK, Bob Franken, thanks for explaining it all outside the Supreme Court.

Now to Stephen.

STEPHEN FRAZIER, CNN ANCHOR: Those same state officials are watching the clock in Tallahassee, but officials there are well aware that whatever they certify Sunday will be second-guessed by a judge, possibly many judges, in the days ahead; all of which means a lot more overtime for CNN's Bill Hemmer, who's going to join us now from the capital with the latest goings-on.

Bill, it's been a long run for you there.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: That it has. No overtime here, though. I should have negotiated that before we came on board in Tallahassee. Stephen, good afternoon to you.

Listen, we're waiting for a circuit court hearing about an hour from now. It's slated at 2:00 Eastern time here in Tallahassee. At issue is the Bush motion that was filed two days ago that deals directly with those military ballots that were not included in the deadline a week and a half ago.

We'll show you the 14 counties right now that the Bush campaign is contesting. As you can see on there, Leon County is one of them. That is where we are in Tallahassee. A number of these counties do have military bases in that particular county. Again, we expect the hearing to start about 2:00 local time.

The Gore campaign, from what we understand thus far, was expected to respond to this, but at this point we don't know if they have or not. Again, they have an hour's time. So we'll keep an eye on that one.

Basically, the Republican campaign is saying that some of these military ballots, if not all of them, were thrown out for what they considered technicalities -- maybe a postmark that was missing or possibly a few other items that were not included. They're fighting now to have those ballots thrown back into the mix. And Sen. Bob Dole was in southeastern Florida, in Broward County, a few hours ago pushing, again, for the different counties here and pushing for the courts, also, to go ahead and put these ballots into the total vote count in Florida.

That's the first thing that's happening. Number two, the state supreme court a bit quiet today. We though it would be quiet yesterday, and lo and behold we were surprised once again. The Gore campaign petitioned the court to try and get Miami-Dade to keep counting its votes. The court dismissed it quite quickly yesterday afternoon. And what we know now is that the Gore campaign says that after certification late Sunday, they will contest the results in Miami-Dade on Monday. They have a protest leading up to the certification. After certification, we enter what's called a contest phase. So expect that on Monday.

Again, certification slated right now through the state supreme court 5:00 local time on Sunday. But it does not appear to be over at that point. We may find out more from the Gore perspective coming up 3:30 local time. David Boies, the lead attorney for Al Gore, will be here, will be inside the senate office building here in Tallahassee. We'll hear from his perspective coming up then. We had expected this at 12:30, then it slid to 2:00, and now it's at 3:30 local time. So I guess about two and a half hours from now, we will shake down more from Mr. Boies at that time.

But for now, that's what we have in a rather windy Tallahassee today, on this Friday.

Stephen, back to you now in Atlanta.

FRAZIER: And, Bill, that hearing you mentioned that you're keeping an eye on, the first thing you told us about, takes us back into a familiar courtroom, doesn't it? It's Judge Terry Lewis?

HEMMER: Yes, actually there are four circuit judges here in Leon County and Terry Lewis drew the long straw on this one. The guy who drew the short straw is L. Ralph Smith. He's decided to come on in. He's going to hear that case again in about an hour's time. Again, it should be noted the court's closed. They did not think they were going to be working.

But you may remember the name Terre Cass also. She's the clerk over there across the street. She's the one who read the initial ruling from Terry Lewis on camera in front of all of our national viewers here and international viewers around the world. But L. Ralph Smith is the judge on this case, one of four who could be called into duty anytime here in Tallahassee -- Stephen.

FRAZIER: Bill, thanks. We're glad you've been called into duty to keep us straight on all that. Thanks a lot.

The bottom line is changing by the hour, so let's check the latest numbers now. The official statewide lead for George W. Bush remains 930 votes. But three Florida counties, as we've been telling you -- Dade, Clay and Nassau -- have revised their totals, resulting in a net gain of 58 votes for Bush. The ongoing hand count in Broward County gives Gore a net pickup of 280, while the Palm Beach recount gives Bush a net gain of 14. Put all those together and they make for an unofficial Bush lead of 722 votes.

Counters in Broward still have roughly 1,400 disputed ballots to pore over, and in Palm Beach about 300,000 ballots remain to be finalized, while 10,000 of those remain in dispute.

ALLEN: Three canvassers, six eyes, hundreds of punch cards -- whatever the final total, the outcome will likely be the same for the ballot recounters in Broward: aspirin and eye drops all around. The process is simple: each card is stared at for as long as it takes to determine whether a vote for president was attempted, and if so what it was meant to be. Democratic and Republican lawyers are watching the canvassers' every move, and news cameras are watching them all.

And this guy gets our vote for being the best starer of all as he always pores over them. We are happy to say that these canvassers do get breaks. In fact, you're watching a videotape because they're on their lunch break right now.

FRAZIER: Judge Rosenfeld (ph), we saw there, Republican canvasser.

Recounters in Palm Beach took the holiday off, but they're back on the job today -- no holiday on Friday. And also on the job is our Jeff Flock.

Jeff, how are things coming along today?

JEFF FLOCK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Stephen, no lunch break here in Palm Beach County at this hour. We thought maybe they'd have broken for lunch by now. But let's take a look back inside. They're still at it, have been since 9:00 a.m. local time. And as perhaps you can see, there is Judge Burton at the start. And you see judge Roberts there poring over a ballot. That is, as you report, what they have been doing all day. And we're trying to get a count on how many they've done. As you report, upwards of 10,000 is how many they have to make their way through.

Now, unlike what we saw in Broward County various stages, this has been a fairly friendly affair. Even though each of these judges is a Democratic judge, they've all gotten along pretty well with the lawyers from both sides and everyone seems to be fairly happy with the process as it has been unfolding thus far. Now, what happens once they get done here, if we come out -- back outside here, I'll show you what they're doing. They are taking the results -- I got it backwards here. Pardon me. That is the manual recount sheet that the counters would have done, the people that worked over the past week or so counting the ballots. They would enter their totals for number three, which is George Bush; number five, which is Al Gore.

Then the disputed ballots are what they're working with today. And pardon the wind, but this is what the disputed ballot tally sheet looks like. Again, the disputed ballots get tallied here by the canvassing board. They then sign their names at the bottom and that becomes set in stone, at least until some court comes along and says otherwise.

Some other people saying otherwise today are not too far from where I stand just out on the street corner. Let's take a look. Protesters have come out. You know, we saw earlier Democratic protests pushing for recounts and for the fair vote counting. Now we see a group of Republicans out here, reasonably well organized. They've been smaller groups of protesters earlier in the week. This is a pretty good number of them out here now. And they have been chanting all morning, attempting to have their voices heard as well.

But the real voices that we need to listen to are the ones back inside there. And perhaps if we have a moment, we can just listen in and give you a bit of a flavor of what this whole process is like. As we said, fairly calm, people seem to be getting along. But listen in. You can judge for yourself. Let's listen.




BURTON: Republican objection to this one.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, that's the...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't see it from that angle.

BURTON: That's the...



BURTON: What's the number on the ballot.

FLOCK: Just so you understand what they are doing out there, number five, so you know, is for Vice President Gore; number three is for Gov. Bush. And these three people that you see sitting at the table, they are the members of the canvassing board. It's Judge Burton, Judge Charles Burton who is at the middle of it and chairing it, and then behind perhaps you see those attorneys that are very carefully watching.

I've lost track of the number of complaints that they've made, or protests, of each of the ballots, but a lot of protests filed on either side, which indicates that either side will be ready to take these ballot, which, when they protest, they get segregated out. They counted, but they also get put aside -- indication that there are a lot of protests that could come down the pike up in court for further review.

For now, we will review what's going on now and get back to you later.

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

ALLEN: All right, Jeff, thanks.



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