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Special Event

The Florida Recount: Canvassing Boards Race to Complete Recounts Before Deadline

Aired November 25, 2000 - 8:00 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: Twenty-one hours and counting until the big deadline: Florida's manual recounts must be signed, sealed and delivered in the race for president.

Meantime, in Palm Beach, they may be pulling an all-nighter, painstakingly recounting each and every vote by hand.

And when is a deadline really a deadline? Our Bill Schneider separates what some call fact and fiction next.

Good evening from CNN Center in Atlanta, I'm Joie Chen. Thanks for joining us.

At this hour, the story boils down to a long day's journey into night -- another night of counting, another weekend in Florida's vote- counting controversy.

We begin with a look at the latest developments. Five p.m. tomorrow Eastern is when all Florida counties must get their final vote tallies in to the secretary of state. She's expected to certify the results and declare a winner at some point, possibly as early as tomorrow night.

On the eve of that deadline, thousands of ballots still are being counted, one by one, by hand in Broward and Palm Beach counties. And the question remains, will the recounts matter? The Bush camp says they should not, and the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments about that on Friday.

There has also been a development regarding those controversial military ballots. The Associated Press reports that George W. Bush has filed suit in five Florida counties to get them to reconsider overseas absentee ballots. These ballots were invalidated because they weren't post marked or signed properly.

And here's the latest on the hand recounts: Bush has an official statewide lead of 930 votes in Florida, but eight counties have revised their totals, resulting in a net gain of 91 for Bush. Now the ongoing hand counts give Gore a net gain of 535 in Broward County and Bush a net gain of seven in Palm Beach County. So the unofficial Bush lead for this moment is 493. The numbers released by canvassing boards do not include about 316 disputed and absentee ballots in Broward County. Palm Beach County must still review about 215,000 ballots that are counted but not finalized and as many as 8,000 disputed ballots.

Based on Florida's Supreme Court ruling, results must be submitted to the Florida secretary of state by 5:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow to be included in the official state total.

It is crunch time then for Broward and Palm Beach counties. The ballot counters in both communities face tomorrow's 5:00 p.m. deadline.

CNN's John Zarrella is for us in Broward County.

First, though, we'll check in with Bill Delaney, who's following the count in West Palm Beach -- Bill.

BILL DELANEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Joie, long night ahead here. You know, we do have about half the precincts now recounted. So are far no dramatic change, no swing toward Vice President Al Gore. In fact, at this point, George W. Bush, the Texas governor, is up by a handful of votes.

But, Joie, we have a long night ahead of us.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): All night if we have to -- words that hovered in the air at Palm Beach County's emergency operations center, as recounting many had counted on to be finished by 5:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time Sunday became problematic. It was Palm Beach County Canvassing Board Chairman Judge Charles Burton Saturday afternoon who announced the possibility of a recount all-nighter, despite for days indicating the deadline set by the Florida Supreme Court would be met.

The urgency leaking out amid what remained a generally remarkably composed, good-natured atmosphere. Democrat and Republican observers watching the historic high wire act said however it turned out next time around, there needed to be a better way.

GOV. CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN (R), NEW JERSEY: I do believe every vote should count. But you don't get to count every vote again and again and again and again.

ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON (D), D.C. DELEGATE: In our country, in order to get a major change it takes a crisis. We do not -- we do not do changes on a routine, as-needed basis, and a change is needed here.

DELANEY: Agreement on the need for change, while outside the gates ringing the recounting center, lots of disagreement, Bush and Gore partisans, not much mingling, keeping a few blocks apart for the most part, just maybe symbolic of how far apart two sides may remain no matter who the next president turns out to be.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DELANEY: Now we're looking at live pictures of the recount here in the emergency operations center, this difficult, meticulous work that's gone on for so many days now, a process that will still be going on when dawn streaks the sky here Sunday morning, and beyond that until 5:00 tomorrow afternoon.

Let's listen in for a moment.

JUDGE CHARLES BURTON, PALM BEACH COUNTY CANVASSING BOARD: No objection.

Undervote. Undervote Republican.

I mean, undervote -- sorry.

That's a ballot. That's a ballot.

That's all?

Undervote Democratic.

DELANEY: You're watching history at work here. It's slow, ponderous work. It wasn't supposed to go all through this Saturday night, but the pace of the thing has just turned out that way. Three members of the canvassing board, Democrat and Republican lawyers, looking over their shoulders. Later in this hour, we'll have a conversation with a spokesperson for the canvassing board as it enters this extraordinary night here in Palm Beach County -- Joie.

CHEN: Before you go here, Bill, let me ask you, it looked to us as we were watching all this that they're moving long pretty well. I mean, this is something they've been at for a while. Does it seem that at this point they're getting faster at looking through and coming to agreement, or are the objections taking any longer to handle than they were earlier in the process?

DELANEY: Well, you know, Joie, Judge Charles Burton did come out a couple hours ago, and he sort of skated around that question a little bit. Reporters were asking him, have you picked up the pace or not? He said, well, look, we do -- we're getting in more of a groove. We've been doing this for a few days. We know there's a sense of urgency. So he implied that, yes, they are starting to move through these ballots at a quicker pace.

Same time, though, Joie, I have to tell you, if you do the math, they were doing about 165 ballots an hour or so yesterday. If they continued that pace or even a pace just a bit faster than that, they may not make it through all the thousands of disputed votes they still have to get to by 5:00 tomorrow afternoon Eastern time here in Palm Beach County -- Joie.

CHEN: With all of us watching. Bill Delaney in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Meantime, in Broward County officials had hoped to wrap the counting up by mid afternoon today. Now they, too, may be burning the midnight oil. Our John Zarrella is there.

John, do they think that the 5:00 p.m. deadline tomorrow is something they can reach? JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, yes, Joie. At least here in Broward County, they can see the finish line, the light at end of the tunnel, all those cliches. They have about 500 absentee ballots to count and about 200 of the contested ballots that they still have to go over. That was as of a couple hours ago. We believe they've whittled that number away, as well. They had thought about perhaps getting wrapped up tonight. They may still do that, planning to go to 10:00 or 11:00 p.m. If not, they will wrap up tomorrow.

And, of course, the big story though today, besides inside counting, has been all the hullabaloo here outside, with protesters from the Democratic Party to the right of me and protesters from the Republican Party to the left of me. And in middle of all this all day has been CNN's David Lewis.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID LEWIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It all seemed to start so calmly, as the Broward County Canvassing Board attempted to finish their hand count.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Those of you that have been watching process this morning, it has actually picked up a lot of speed.

LEWIS: Dimple after dimple, chad after chad, the process seemed to be taking it's final steps toward resolution.

But outside the courtroom where the vote was being counted, a different scene. Several hundred Bush supporters exercised their right to free speech, a of handful Gore supporters responded in kind.

But the noise on the street was just the sideshow. The real action was upstairs. And things didn't stay so calm up in the courthouse either, as the board began to consider how to count some 500 absentee ballots that had been challenged or could not be read by a machine. Republican observers tried to object to counting any of the dimpled ballots. They said there was no way to determine the voters's intent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've told these lawyers to go bring you more votes. And I assume we're going to keep bringing them to you until such time as you've got a thousand votes. I think that's what you are looking for.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll go ahead recess. I'll ask the deputies to clear the courtroom, and Mr. Scherer is not welcome back in this room. He can watch the proceedings from outside.

LEWIS: Afterwards, each side put their spin on what had happened.

GOV. FRANK KEATING (R), OKLAHOMA: This ballot, as Governor Racicot pointed out, to suggest just bumping it is a vote, just touching it is a vote is a manifest injustice.

CHARLES LIGHTMAN, ATTORNEY, FLORIDA DEMOCRATIC PARTY: The bottom line is the process is continuing. It will continue. We have counted votes, we will count votes.

LEWIS: As the day wound down, protesters maintained their noisy vigil, and the locals in charge of keeping the peace hoped for it all to end.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're hopeful that very soon they're going to go back to their homes.

LEWIS: David Lewis, CNN, Broward County, Florida.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZARRELLA: Now you're looking at a live picture there of the Republican side demonstrators. I have to comment on the resilience of both sides. I got here at 1:00 this afternoon, seven hours ago. Neither side has stopped chanting at each other for seven solid hours at least.

The only moment of solidarity between the two was just before we went on the air, when the Republicans began singing the National Anthem, and everybody, both sides, sang together -- perhaps a good sign for democracy, at least at work a little bit here in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Back to you, Joie.

CHEN: All right, John Zarrella reporting on least some show of national unity for us from Broward County, Florida.

As we have said, the critical hour is now less than 21 hours away, when the Florida Supreme Court has mandated the counties turn in their totals to Tallahassee.

On the significance of the deadline, here is CNN's Kate Snow.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KATHERINE HARRIS, FLORIDA SECRETARY OF STATE: Governor George Bush: 2,910,492. Vice President Al Gore: 2,910,192.

KATE SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It seems so long ago, but we've been here once before. On November 14th, Secretary of State Katherine Harris certified Florida's vote. This time, as ordered by the Florida Supreme Court, counties have until 5:00 Sunday to submit their totals. If they're not in, they're not counted.

Some, like Volusia County, will stick with the numbers they sent in more than a week ago. Counties that have revised their totals will deliver the counts by hand, send them through overnight mail or fax them to an office on the 18th floor of the Florida legislative complex.

The director of the state's division of elections, Clay Roberts, will deliver the results to the first-floor office of Secretary of State Katherine Harris. Harris, a Republican, and Roberts, a Democrat, along with Republican Agriculture Secretary Bob Crawford, make up the state canvassing board. Crawford took over after Governor Jeb Bush recused himself.

All three will independently check the numbers, verifying the math.

JIM SMITH, FORMER FLORIDA SECRETARY OF STATE: There will be great care in looking at the county totals, and they'll probably double and triple and quadruple check the numbers.

SNOW: Jim Smith was secretary of state in Florida for seven years. He says normally the process of certifying the vote is a yawner.

SMITH: You couldn't get somebody from a local newspaper to come down and watch the certification. You know, now everybody in the world will be very, very interested in what's happening in Tallahassee.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: The plan to have some sort of signing ceremony sometime after 5:00, when they finally certify those results. About the only thing that could happen to stop that, a court-ordered injunction -- highly unlikely, but as we've seen thus far in this case, anything is possible.

Kate Snow, CNN, live, Tallahassee, Florida.

CHEN: Now looking more closely deadlines at the deadline ahead, CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider joins us.

OK, Bill, we talk about this notion of a 5:00 p.m. Eastern deadline tomorrow. But is that really a deadline? How hard is that?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think that the secretary of state fully intends to come out and announce that if George Bush is ahead, she's going to give the vote, and she's going to say, this is the second time I've announced that he's the winner. And this will be an official certification.

The Democrats are already kind of pre-spinning this -- deadline schmeadline, it doesn't make any difference, they're saying. How can they say that? Well, in the first place they're saying the only recount that really took place was in Broward County, where it happened they gained -- made a net gain of about 500 votes. The other counties didn't really do a full recount, and anyway the matter lies before the courts.

Gore intends to contest the results, and the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case. So the Democrats, anticipating that Gore will still be behind, is going to say, don't pay any attention to that deadline. This matter is still being resolved.

CHEN: Now why is it so important for the Gore camp to spin it this away ahead of the game already?

SCHNEIDER: I think the Gore camp is nervous that when voters who are beginning to tune out of this a little bit -- the story has gone on for more than two weeks now -- that the voters are going to say, well wait a minute. I heard her say a couple weeks ago that Bush was ahead by 300 votes. And then she says on Sunday night that Bush is still ahead. And they've had this recount in the time the Supreme Court gave the Gore campaign to count the ballots. So he's been declared the winner twice?

And a lot of people are going to say, all right, enough is enough. It's time for Gore to concede. And Gore has got to say, no, no, no, this wasn't a full and fair recount.

CHEN: Now, as you point out, there are some in the Bush camp who are already saying, look, this is once, twice, how many times too does it take? Who is the most effective person on the Gore camp side to make the case that, no, we shouldn't view this as an end?

SCHNEIDER: Well, that's the problem. I mean, Gore has a lot of allies here. George Mitchell, who's a respected member of Congress, is trying to speak up for the Gore campaign. He has a lot of spinners out there, but I'm not sure how particularly effective they are.

Actually, the Republicans are being very clever about this, I think, because, you know, they aren't presenting the nasty face of the Republican party that they presented during impeachment. There's no Newt Gingrich here. Notice who they're presenting: Christine Todd Whitman, a Republican governor, respected, a moderate. She's down there looking at the vote. Marc Racicot, a largely unknown governor of Montana, very soft spoken. We just saw Governor Frank Keating. Bob Dole, a senior statesman, was there on the street protesting the failure to count all the military ballots.

The Republicans are doing some very tough and aggressive things that the Democrats find outrageous, but yet the face of the Republican Party is not Newt Gingrich anymore.

CHEN: Bill Schneider following all this from Washington, we're going to ask you to come back a little bit later in the program, Bill. We have some other questions to ask you about spinning and winning the hearts and minds.

When we return here, we will check in live with both the Gore and Bush campaigns to see what kind day they have had.

First, though, some other deadlines you should know about in this battle for the nation's highest office.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHEN: The once and still candidates and contenders spent at least part of this holiday weekend at work. Al Gore and George W. Bush have been busy mapping out their ballot strategies on a number of post-election fronts.

Updating us now on the Gore camp, CNN congressional correspondent Chris Black from Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRIS BLACK, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Vice President Al Gore got in another kind of licks, heading out for an ice cream cone at a neighborhood shop in Washington with members of his family.

QUESTION: ... Court is hearing the case, sir.

ALBERT GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Chocolate chip.

BLACK: But on this holiday weekend, his lawyers and campaign operatives are preparing to contest the Florida election results after certification, arguing every vote should be counted.

GEORGE MITCHELL (D), FORMER SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: The overriding objective of all concerned should be a full, fair and accurate count of the votes. Because in our Democratic society, the will of the people is and ought to be, in the words of the Florida Supreme Court, the "paramount consideration."

BLACK: Gore campaign lawyers say they are certain to contest the results in Miami-Dade, where the recount was canceled, and Nassau, where a machine recount showing a Gore gain of 52 votes was thrown out, and almost certain to contest Palm Beach County results. They are charging county officials are ignoring the standards set by the court for judging ballots.

DOUG HATTAWAY, GORE CAMPAIGN SPOKESMAN: We fully expect to file a contest under the Supreme Court's guidelines by the end of Monday at the latest.

BLACK: So far, Democrats standing with the vice president, with some members of Congress lending a hand in the public relations war, complaining GOP-organized demonstrators caused Miami-Dade to stop counting votes.

REP. ALCEE HASTINGS (D), FLORIDA: What happened in Dade County is stunning. It smells. There's something drastically wrong when bullies can override ballots. That to me doesn't sound like the America that I know.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLACK: Campaign officials say the gains Gore is making in Broward County proves they should contest the results in other counties. And, they say, by scheduling its hearing on Friday the U.S. Supreme Court has done the campaign a favor, by giving them a few more days to make their case for a full recount of the votes in Florida.

Chris Black, CNN, reporting live from Washington.

CHEN: Meantime, George W. Bush is expected to be at the Texas governor's mansion in Austin when the Florida vote certification comes down. That is expected sometime after 5:00 Eastern tomorrow evening.

CNN's Tony Clark has been following the governor in Austin and in Texas and has more now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TONY CLARK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Governor George W. Bush arrived back in Austin to the cheers of supporters who encircled the governor's mansion.

Though the demonstrators' signs called for Vice President Gore to give up and Bush to become president-elect, the Bush campaign has made public no plans to declare victory or conversely to begin challenging election results once Florida's votes are certified Sunday night.

DON EVANS, BUSH CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: We won the count twice, and, you know, I think we'll win it again a third time tomorrow night.

CLARK: Campaign Chairman Don Evans and strategist Karl Rove thanked supporters for coming out Saturday. Meanwhile, Bush lawyers were preparing their briefs for the upcoming legal battle in U.S. Supreme Court and changing the arena for their state court battle over counting military ballots.

MINDY TUCKER, BUSH CAMPAIGN PRESS SECRETARY: There are counties where the Democrats are still very active in keeping the canvassing boards from going forward. And even when the canvassing boards decide to go forward, the Democrats are protesting those votes. So instead of -- instead of filing suit against all the counties here in Leon County, we're going to the individual counties where we haven't been able to get action yet.

CLARK: In addition to the courtroom press on the counties to reconsider excluded military votes, the Bush campaign upped the public pressure, bringing out Medal of Honor winners to make their case.

RON RAY, MEDAL OF HONOR WINNER: I believe that actions must be taken immediately by our county canvassing boards to ensure that our servicemen and women are treated fairly in this voting process. Anything less is totally, totally unacceptable.

CLARK: Demonstrations have become a key factor in this public relations war. While Bush supporters in Florida have been accused by Democrats of trying to disrupt the recount process, Saturday's marchers in Austin tried to show that anger over the recount isn't limited to Florida.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CLARK: It is much quieter right now outside the governor's mansion. In fact, just about 30 seconds ago the governor left with some of his family, we are told, to head off to dinner.

Once those ballots are certified in Florida tomorrow night, you can expect feelings here as well as in Florida to be running very high.

Tony Clark, CNN, Austin, Texas.

CHEN: Well, now we've heard from the campaign headquarters.

Next up here, the key players from both sides join us from their ground zeros. Their version of the good, the bad, the ugly, the live here on this special edition in our coverage of the Florida recount.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHEN: Election 2000 promises to keep the legal teams busy for quite a while, yet lawyers for both campaigns are plotting action in Florida courts, and of course there's Friday's hearing at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Mr. Gore's senior legal adviser Ron Klain joins us this hour from Tallahassee, as well as Ben Ginsberg, who's an attorney for the Bush- Cheney campaign. We'll hear from him in a few minutes from West Palm Beach.

Ron, we're going to begin with you and talk about tomorrow. A lot of us as viewers and voters have been looking at the possibility of those final tallies coming into Tallahassee and a certification from the secretary of state as maybe being a final chapter. Should we view it that way, and why or why not?

RON KLAIN, GORE SENIOR LEGAL ADVISER: Well, it's obviously not a final chapter. The U.S. Supreme Court is going to hear this case on Friday, and both campaigns have filed claims challenging the results assembled thus far. In fact, the Bush campaign just filed new litigation this afternoon. So I think tomorrow obviously is not the end point.

We'll get to the end in Florida when a simple things done: When all the votes are counted fully and fairly accurately, we'll know who got the most votes, and that person will be our president.

CHEN: But you surely must understand the frustration of voters watching all this and seeing, what, another round?

KLAIN: I do, and I share it. And I think we all are very sympathetic to it. The reason it's taken so long is a very simple fact: The Bush campaign has done everything possible to delay and derail the counting of votes in Florida. They've filed almost a dozen lawsuits and issued legal opinions through themselves and their allies to try to stop the counting of votes.

Last week, Vice President Gore made it very simply. He said this, count the votes in these three counties and we'll drop all the lawsuits, all the litigation. We're all very frustrated it's taken this long, but there should be no doubt as to why it's taken this long. There's a concentrated, concerted effort to block the counting of ballots in these three South Florida counties.

CHEN: We're going to hear more on this, I think, in a moment from Mr. Ginsberg, but I want to ask you about these latest filings in Florida. There have been some filings apparently with regards to this military overseas absentee ballots. Do you have an objection to those filings being made at this point? KLAIN: No, this is, I think, by our count the sixth or seventh set of lawsuits the Bush campaign has brought. They brought a lawsuit yesterday on this very issue. The judge was about to rule against them, so they pulled their lawsuit and launched five new lawsuits.

Look, our position on this is very simple. Any military officer, man or woman in uniform, who mailed in a ballot before the election with either a postmark or a date on it, any evidence that came in before the election, that ballot should be counted.

The Bush campaign is trying to stuff the ballot box, now that the election is over, with ballots from overseas civilians, ballots cast after the election was over...

CHEN: But they should be counted. Wouldn't you want the Bush filing to work in these countings? If they should be counted, isn't this filing to try to enhance that possibility for these individual counties?

KLAIN: Well, if that's what the Bush campaign was seeking in these lawsuits, it would be great. But, of course, what the Bush campaign is seeking is for ballots by civilians, not just military folks, even votes cast after the election was over to be counted, ballots without witnesses, affidavits, all kinds of things. It's just a legal effort to stuff the ballot box with overseas votes cast by people -- some of the people don't even live in the counties they're voting in...

CHEN: All right.

KLAIN: And so I think that's the real issue here.

CHEN: I'm afraid I'm going to have to interrupt you there, Mr. Klain. Ron Klain for the Gore campaign, the Gore legal team, in Tallahassee Florida.

I want to move now on to the Bush campaign. The attorneys there reportedly filing lawsuits in several individual counties related to these absentee military ballots.

Let's move on immediately to Ben Ginsberg, who is in Tallahassee, Florida, with us.

I'm sorry, I said earlier that you were in West Palm, but I guess you're in Tallahassee...

BEN GINSBERG, BUSH CAMPAIGN ATTORNEY: I am indeed.

CHEN: Appreciate that, we've been following around the events in Florida.

Let's get immediately to what Ron Klain is saying. He suggested that the Bush campaign is trying to stuff ballots by bringing these additional actions in the counties. How do you respond to that?

GINSBERG: Well, I think Ron was pretty wrong on his facts and even more outrageous in his claims.

Make no mistake about it. These suits should not have had to have been filed. We asked the Gore campaign to join with us in being certain that all validly cast ballots by our overseas military personnel should be counted. In point of fact, we had to file these suits because the Gore campaign, and indeed as recently as last night at canvassing board hearings, was challenging the rights of the overseas military to join in.

We've never asked -- this suit was not about civilian ballots, as Mr. Klain stated. He's wrong about that. In point of fact, the authentication for military ballots we agree with. But when there were mistakes made on postmarks that were not the fault of our fighting men and women overseas, those ballots should be counted. The Gore campaign consistently objected to that, and it's a shame that instead of making these wild accusations the Gore campaign doesn't just join with us to get these ballots counted.

CHEN: Can we ask you to confirm just the news element of this, is it a fact now that your legal team has made filings in, we are told, four counties in the state of Florida regarding these particular kinds of ballots?

GINSBERG: I believe it's five counties, but that's correct because we do believe in the principle that our service personnel overseas should be able to vote. The postmark issue is one where soldiers and sailors and airmen do not put the postmarks on the ballot themselves. It's a mistake that occurs not of their own making, and the Gore campaign objected to those ballots coming in sadly.

CHEN: And on that specific issue, the five counties that these filings you say are now in, do you anticipate any other counties that you would do this in?

GINSBERG: Not at this time, although we're looking at the possibilities. I think a number of counties have agreed that these votes should be counted, and so we are very pleased with that.

CHEN: Unfortunately, we're going to have to let go of you there, Mr. Ginsberg. Ben Ginsberg joining us on behalf of the Bush legal team from Tallahassee, Florida.

Thank you, sir.

And coming up here, it's live from Palm Beach, it's Saturday night. Next up here, we'll meet one woman who is probably going to be up all night trying to beat tomorrow's all important 5:00 p.m. deadline.

Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHEN: Now we get the very latest on the Florida recount.

It is a tedious but historic night for people going over ballots by hand in two counties in that state. In Palm Beach County, they are racing to meet tomorrow's 5:00 p.m. Eastern deadline.

We are looking at live pictures now, as the ballot counters continue their work. Officials only have about half of the precincts counted at this point, and as you see they are continuing to work even at this hour.

In Broward County, the hand count is stretching a little bit longer than had been expected, but officials are still confident that they will finish in time.

Whether these recounts do count, is an issue that will go before the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday. The justices will hear arguments in a case filed by George W. Bush, who is challenging those recounts.

We are left with a question, can't we all just get along? The presidential fracas in Florida has driven such an emotional wedge between Democrats and Republicans, how could it possibly not affect the presidency or the ability of Congress to get anything done?

CNN's senior analyst Bill Schneider joins us again this hour.

And, Bill, let's talk about that. Is the division now so great that there's no way to work back to the middle?

SCHNEIDER: Oh, I don't think so. I think there is a real center in American politics. You could see it in the election. I mean, Americans were not deeply divided over policy. There was a division in this election, and the division that exists is a division over values. It comes right out of the Clinton presidency.

Clinton brought Americans together on policy -- remember, he supported welfare reform, a balanced budget, he tried to cut taxes -- but at the same time the values differences became very pronounced. And you saw that in the vote, where you had sort of two Americas voting, the heartland of America versus the coastal areas, which were very Democratic. What the president has to do is find common ground, because it exists. And the first thing Bush or Gore would have to do is make a dramatic healing gesture and not assume there's any kind of partisan mandate, because there isn't.

CHEN: Well at this point we still have to get to the end of the election. Is there a voice a voice of reason in all this who could say, look, this is the end?

SCHNEIDER: That is the role of the Supreme Court. You know, in other countries they have a queen and a prime minister. The prime minister's the head of government, the king or the queen is the head of state. And the sovereign is supposed to be the voice that holds the country together.

Well, in our country there is only one institution that holds country together, and it's the Constitution of the United States. We don't have a king, we have a Constitution. And the Supreme Court is the agency that is uniquely authorized to interpret that Constitution.

In a situations like this, where there's bitter partnership on both sides, the Supreme Court, I believe, decided to hear this case because it realized that the partisanship over this ballot fight is dividing the country and is damaging the country. And the Supreme Court has really decided to play a political role, not just a legal role here. They want to try to be the voice of the common American, what the both sides really have in common, and they want to try to settle this. They are the voice of authority in this dispute.

CHEN: Until the Supreme Court does rule, though, as we watch the protests under way both in front of the counting arenas as well as in front of Mr. Bush's home and Mr. Gore's home, it's still sort of looking like a campaign is under way, at least campaign for hearts and minds.

SCHNEIDER: Oh, there is a real campaign. The campaign has just continued into the post-election season. And it's a public relations campaign, not just a legal campaign. And it's very frustrating for Democrats, because they are trying to create a sense of public outrage over the tactics that Republicans are using. And, frankly, I think some of them are a little bit outrageous to say that Gore is trying to "steal" the election, which has become the common Republican line, these efforts to try to intimidate the canvassing board.

But the Republicans have been very skillful about this, and they haven't presented a very harsh face. So I think the Democrats are having a problem. And in particular if tomorrow night the secretary of state declares that Bush is still ahead then a lot of Americans are going get very impatient with Vice President Gore and wonder, why is he continuing to protest, why is he continuing to take this to court. he's lost twice.

CHEN: Not only the people, but also lawmakers on both sides, particularly for the Democrats on behalf of Mr. Gore. Is there also always going to be a frustration there with him?

SCHNEIDER: Well, there may be. And the Gore campaign has made a serious effort to try to rally the Democrats to support Al Gore.

Interestingly, George Bush hasn't had to make that kind of effort to rally Republicans because they're hungry for power. They've been out for eight years, and they really want it -- for first time since 1954, they could have control of the Senate, the House and the presidency, and they haven't had that in almost 50 years.

The Democrats, if they're hungry for anything, congressional Democrats are hungry to regain their majority. And I think they realize that will be easier to do if George Bush is president than if Al Gore is president. So a lot of them are -- they've been difficult rally, and the Gore campaign is making a very strong effort to do that.

CHEN: Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider again with us from Washington. Thanks, Bill.

OK, we want to bring you up to date on the latest in the hand recounts here. Mr. Bush, has an official statewide lead of 930 votes across Florida, but eight counties have now revised their totals. That results in a net gain of 91 for Bush.

Ongoing hand counts give Gore a net gain of 535 in Broward County, Mr. Bush having a net gain of 10 In Palm Beach County. So the unofficial Bush lead for the moment is 496.

Now the numbers released by canvassing boards do not include about 316 disputed and absentee ballots in Broward County. Palm Beach County must review about 215,000 ballots, which are counted though not finalized, and as many as 8,000 disputed ballots.

Based on Florida Supreme Court's ruling, the results must be submitted to the Florida secretary of state by 5:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow to be included in the official state total.

At this hour, Palm Beach County is playing an important game of beat the clock. Election workers in West Palm Beach have less than 19 hours now to finish their recount, and at this point they're still not sure they can do this.

CNN's Bill Delaney is live on the scene there -- Bill.

DELANEY: That's right, Joie. It's still very much up in the air here. It's quite quiet here, Joie, as compared to even a couple of hours ago. The protesters who were outside the gates here have pretty much disappeared. So have most television crews. It's gotten to be much more of a quiet scene here, very much like the scene in the building behind me, where the recounting continues. These three members of the canvassing board, the Republican and Democratic lawyers who are looking over their shoulders, beginning this long, historic night.

Now just a few minutes ago, Joie, we spoke to Denise Cote. Now she's the spokesperson for the canvassing board, and she brought us up to date on what's going on in the building behind me.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DENISE COTE, PALM BEACH COUNTY CANVASSING BOARD: I can tell you that the canvassing board reiterated its commitment to meeting that goal. They've indicated a willingness to work through the night and do whatever it takes to meet that goal at 5:00 p.m. on Sunday.

DELANEY: As I understand it, only half the precincts have been counted now and it's pretty late in the day. Can you count the other half of the precincts?

COTE: Well, the measurement that we're using is ballots, and there were 14,000 to 15,000 challenged ballots in total. And we're past the halfway point in counting, or reviewing, those challenged ballots. But there's clearly a lot of them left to do. We hope that the pace will pick up, that they can sustain their sharpness. I think they will, and they remain committed to meeting the goal.

DELANEY: How's the mood in there?

COTE: It's remarkably -- remarkably comfortable. There doesn't appear to be any stress. If folks feel that they're tired, they can nap down for a while if they want to. But there's a sense of jovialness to some degree, and folks are just getting along.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DELANEY: A night like no other here in West Palm Beach, in Palm Beach County.

Bill Delaney, CNN, reporting live from West Palm Beach.

CHEN: And so we turn to next Friday, when all eyes will turn to the U.S. Supreme Court. It will weigh in on whether Florida's Supreme Court correctly decided to allow hand counted ballots to be included in the states final tally.

The Supreme Court must answer three questions: Did the Florida court's ruling violate the due process clause of our Constitution by treading on the authority of state elections officials in Florida.

No. 2, did the Florida court violate federal law requiring disputes be resolved before the election? And if so, what are the potential consequences?

And third, did the Florida ruling violate Article II of the U.S. Constitution? That article directs state legislatures to appoint electors.

If this all sounds a little complicated, our legal experts will sort it all out for you when we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHEN: The nation's highest court has jumped into a political thicket that most experts expected it might avoid.

Our senior Washington correspondent Charles Bierbauer reports justices have focus their attention on the actions of the Florida Supreme Court.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHARLES BIERBAUER, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): The U.S. Supreme Court is not looking for dimpled ballots or hanging chads. It is not concerned how Florida's votes are recounted but whether Florida's Supreme Court mistakenly let recounts continue until a date set by the court itself, rather than by law.

SUSAN LOW BLOCH, GEORGETOWN LAW CENTER: State Supreme Courts decide state law, and the U.S. Supreme Court doesn't mess with that. What it looks at is, given Florida Supreme Court's interpretation of its law, did its procedures violate the federal statutes or due process or Article Two. BIERBAUER: In Article II the Constitution says states shall appoint electors in such manner as the legislatures thereof may direct. Federal statutes say disputes over electors must be resolved under laws enacted prior to Election Day.

Bush lawyers say the Florida Supreme Court usurped the legislature's role and changed the law.

BLOCH: The Gore people would say, this kind of interpretation goes on all the time. This statute contemplates it. And what the Florida Supreme Court did was interpret the law, not change it.

BIERBAUER: The justices added their own question: What would be the consequences of the U.S. Supreme Court finding the Florida decision does not comply with federal law?

NORM ORNSTEIN, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: The court had every opportunity to stay out of an enormous political and decided instead to jump right into the middle of it. And we're all dying to know what reasons the court had for getting involved here.

BIERBAUER: We may know better Friday when justices question Gore and Bush lawyers. But the U.S. Supreme Court, unlike Florida court, is not televised. News organizations, including CNN, have asked the justices to let cameras in.

ORNSTEIN: A number of justices, including the chief justice, who are adamantly against having cameras in the Supreme Court, they know that if you let them in once and say, well this is the exception, that every major case is going to be another exception.

BIERBAUER (on camera): But everything about this case is exceptional, including the Supreme Court's pace to hear arguments and likely issue a quick opinion.

Charles Bierbauer, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHEN: In just six days, the focus of the presidential election will then turn to the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court.

To help keep it in focus, professor Viet Dinh of Georgetown University Law Center joins us at this hour. He's a former U.S. Supreme Court clerk for Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

We appreciate your being with us.

As we've heard from so many legal experts, this is the easiest thing in the world that the Supreme Court could have just stayed out of. Why do you think they decided to move ahead and say, yes, we will hear this?

VIET DINH, GEORGETOWN LAW CENTER: Well, we are obviously at a very troubled time for the last 18 days. And we are caught -- I think Norm Ornstein was correct to note that we are caught in a political thicket. And rather than characterize the Supreme Court as jumping into this quagmire, I think the Supreme Court here is trying to lift the country out of this morass and try to assert itself and its position as really the only remaining legitimate institution in our government, state or federal or otherwise, and giving its -- the country the comfort that the court will have the final say in this process.

So in a sense, I see it as an insurance policy, an insurance policy of time -- that is, the things will be decided quickly after next Friday, and an insurance policy of certainty and legitimacy, that the court will speak and will speak clearly.

CHEN: It's really interesting to me that you make this point, because what you're suggesting is, as we heard from our senior political analyst Bill Schneider just a few moments ago, that the Supreme Court understood we have a role to play in politics. We have a moral authority that we can apply to this situation that really no one -- there is no one else left to do this.

But the Supreme Court I've always seen as such an apolitical institution, it really seems to go against what their tradition is.

DINH: I think that the correct characterization is not they have a role in politics, but they have a role in our constitutional government. Here the allegations are clearly ones of federal law over which they have jurisdiction. It would be wrong for the court, for example, to get involved in this matter in a non-judicial capacity, as the court, or members of the Supreme Court, did in serving on the election commission that decided the 1876 vote.

And in that case, the court dragged itself into the political mess, rather than lifting the country out of the political mess by adjudicating the case in a judicious and, as you note, statesmanlike manner.

CHEN: And if that's the case, isn't that all the more reason for the camera to come into the high court for this particular case?

DINH: I think it is a very compelling case. This is probably the most compelling case of any in recent history. But I think several justices have very, very strong opinions about it, and I think one justice said publicly that only over his dead body would there be cameras.

We don't want a Supreme Court justice dying next week. The country is already in doubt.

CHEN: In a difficult situation, as it is. Professor Viet Dinh of Georgetown University Law Center, we appreciate your being with us

DINH: Thank you, Joie.

CHEN: And stay with us here. We've got a quick weekend weather update ahead for you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CHEN: They're picking up the pace in a Palm Beach County, as the Sunday deadline for recounting draws steadily closer.

Let's get another progress report from CNN's Bill Delaney. He is live in West Palm now -- Bill.

DELANEY: Well, Joie, members of the canvassing board here in West Palm Beach have taken a break. They're going to go get away from the recounting for just a little while, but they'll get back to it soon enough, we're told.

Continuing in that relaxed, jovial atmosphere we've been telling you about, it's remarkably laid back in that room, for all the meticulous careful work that they're doing. They're still not quite promising they'll make that 5:00 deadline tomorrow, Eastern time, but they say they're going to do everything they possibly can to get there.

And the discussions are really remarkable in there. They had quite a discussion just about a half an hour ago what a "skoofed" ballot is. As soon as we figure out what they mean by all that, we'll try get back to you.

But, of course, seriously enough, an awful lot at stake here in Palm Beach County tonight, and the members of the canvassing board say they're going to work through the night, they're going to do everything they possibly can to reach that 5:00 p.m. Sunday Eastern time deadline tomorrow -- Joie.

CHEN: All right, Bill Delaney for us in West Palm Beach, Florida.

And we want to note to our viewers we're hearing from CNN's John Zarrella in Broward County that officials there have decided they will continue to work through this night, continue to make their count until they are finished. They do expect that they will be able to finish by tomorrow's 5:00 p.m. deadline.

Moments away from now, a focus on the latest developments in Florida on the LARRY KING LIVE program. Tonight, CNN legal analyst Roger Cossack sits in for Larry. Roger's guests tonight include former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman and others from both the Bush and Gore camps.

And then for the very latest news on this ever-changing story, be with us one hour from now for a special report on the Florida recount.

And that's it for this hour's special coverage of the Florida recount.

For all of us here at CNN, thanks for being with us. Have a good evening.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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