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CNN Today

Election 2000: Despite Bush's Florida Victory, Long Road of Legal Challenges Lie Ahead

Aired November 27, 2000 - 2:00 p.m. ET

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

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, the race for the White House again our top story. Almost from the beginning, it's been about two men, George W. Bush and Al Gore. Three weeks after the voters had their say, Florida has certified Bush the winner by 537 votes. That would give him the state's 25 electoral votes, enough to take the White House. But not so fast. There are numerous legal challenges pending that could take this all the way to the nation's highest court. The justices could hear Bush's case Friday, but right now the focus is on Gore's legal strategy.

From Washington, our senior White House correspondent John King -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Natalie, the Gore team going to court today in Florida to officially contest the election results, they say not every vote was counted and therefore they say the certification process is essentially a fraud, a rush to judgment in their view. They're asking the courts now to intervene and to count as many as 15,000 ballots they say have never been counted in the first place.

Now, while that legal challenge unfolds, a major public relations challenge for the vice president and the Democrats to convince the American people that this is not over despite what they heard from the secretary of state of Florida last night when she certified the election, despite what they've heard from Governor Bush, who says he's full-speed ahead now with the transition.

So as part of the Democratic effort today to convince the American people this is not quite over yet, the vice president and his running mate Joe Lieberman on a conference call with Democratic congressional leaders down in Florida, Dick Gephardt, the House Democratic leader, Tom Daschle, the Senate Democratic leader.

The vice president making the case that this is not a waste of time, that he believes if every vote is counted that he actually won the state of Florida. The vice president saying that is his over- riding principle here. He's making the distinction now that this is not about recounting votes previously counted, but in his view, about keeping track of votes that -- again, in the Democratic view, have never been counted in the first place.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What we're talking about involves many thousands of votes that have never been counted at all. And if we ignore the votes that have been cast, then where does that lead? The integrity of our democracy depends upon the consent of the government freely expressed in an election where every vote is counted.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, this call designed to counter the claims from Republicans that the vice president lost on Election Day, has lost in these recounts, and is now trying to somehow manufacture a victory in the courts. The vice president trying to convince the American people that he has the right to appeal under Florida law, again, that he believes the votes are there for him to win if all of them are counted, that an attempt to convince the American people that this is not a waste of time, not to give up.

As we saw from that one individual in the open of the show, the great fear of the Gore campaign now is that even Democrats around the country will see the results have been certified in Florida and believe this is over. The vice president appealing not only to the courts in Florida, but also to the American people to give this another week to 10 days for him to once again press to have some votes in Florida that he believes would turn the election his way officially counted -- Natalie.

ALLEN: John King in Washington.

Now for more, here's Lou.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Legal battles aside, Bush prepares to move to Washington. The Texas governor already has a White House chief of staff and a transition team ready to go to work. They're still waiting for some government office space though.

More from Eileen O'Connor, who is covering us in Austin, Texas.

Eileen, what's new?

EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, according to General Services Administration, they're not ready to release the funds for the transition and the keys for the transition office, but the Bush campaign say they're going ahead anyway; that if they have to, they will get their own office space to move forward.

Now, the White House, though, is saying that they are preparing for the transition, they're going to keep both of these men apprised of important national security-related information and do whatever necessary and give them whatever information necessary they will need to conduct this transition.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAKE SIEWERT, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: At this point, given the unclarity of the elections and the lack of a final winner, and given the ongoing litigation that's being pursued by both sides, we can't provide information to just one candidate, but we're going to do everything we can to proceed on a parallel track and make sure that the eventual winner has the information that he needs to conduct their business.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'CONNOR: Governor Bush, as you can see, has just come back to the governor's mansion. Now, he spent several hours today at the state capital working on the transition with his new chief of staff Andrew Card. He then went to the University of Texas to work out.

Bush aides believe that they now have public opinion on their side, they're pointing to opinion polls that say 6 out of 10 Americans believe that this should be over, and they are also pointing out that, that means since this was a split race that some of Al Gore's supporters obviously believe that this should be over.

Also, you know, it wasn't a coincidence and it wasn't really a P.R. stunt necessarily that the Bush campaign and Governor Bush asked the vice president to concede. Bush campaign aides told me that they had a glimmer of hope at least, they did hope that perhaps he would concede. Although, they didn't think that was very likely. They do believe that because they had the certification in Florida, that he was given those 25 electoral votes, that they were right to have him come out and talk about the victory and talk about this business of transition and moving forward.

The strategy, you know, is very clear. They believe that by looking presidential, acting presidential, he is presidential; that he has won this race three times and that he should be allowed to act presidential. They also believe that Democratic support will start to crack for the vice president's efforts to contest this election. And also, they believe that when you go into the contesting stage obviously having already had those results certified that it looks more and more like the vice president is taking away the presidency from Governor Bush.

Governor Bush himself, though, is not saying that he should be called president-elect yet. He's still telling his aides, Lou, that they should call him governor -- Lou.

WATERS: The Democrats -- the big guns are out in Florida today, as you know. And the Democratic mantra now is not so much about recounts and disputed ballots -- although that certainly is part of the mix -- but about the votes in Miami-Dade, specifically up to 10,000 ballots that weren't even counted one time. How does a Bush people -- how are the Bush people responding to that argument?

O'CONNOR: Well, they are saying that they were counted, Lou, that they were counted twice by machine and that those are votes that were put aside because there was something wrong with them, but that they went through the counting machine at least twice. And they also point out, look, we did the machine count twice and then we also did those manual recounts that the vice president asked for and still, George W. Bush has been declared the victor. And they keep asking the question, count, recount, count again, how many times are we going to count? Are we going to stop counting only when the vice president has been declared the victor in this campaign? So they believe that that's disinformation, as they say, that those votes were never counted -- Lou.

WATERS: Are we expecting to hear from Governor Bush? We know that Al Gore is going to step out and make a national address tonight. Is Bush going to stay pretty much behind the scenes, or is he going to come out again?

O'CONNOR: I believe right now is that Governor Bush won't come out, but that it could be that the vice president will come out. Again, Bush aides are saying it all depends on what the vice president says.

You know, the person who will be coming out, though, very importantly is the vice presidential nominee Richard Cheney, he is going to be going before the cameras in Washington at 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time, from downtown Washington, the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center. He will be talking about the transition. But I'm being told by the governor's aides that they will not be making any announcements about cabinet appointments, although they have apparently been talking about that -- Lou.

WATERS: All right, Eileen O'Connor keeping watch in Austin with the Gore folks -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Well, as promised, the Gore campaign is contesting Florida's certified vote. About two hours ago, attorneys filed suit challenging the results in these three counties: Miami-Dade, Nassau and Palm Beach.

Let's turn to CNN's Gary Tuchman outside the courthouse in Tallahassee.

Gary, what's new?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Natalie, for the first time in a century and a quarter, a presidential election is being officially contested. We just learned less than a minute ago literally that at 4:00 Eastern Time today, court will be in session for the legal contest of Al Gore against three counties, against the secretary of state of Florida, and against George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. This is the 24-page complaint that was delivered to Al Gore attorneys, went into this courthouse at 12:16 p.m. to deliver it, and they have bluntly asked for the electors of Al Gore and Joe Lieberman to be selected in the state instead of the electors of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

Now, the 537-vote difference was entirely the result of five things, according to this complaint. Number one, rejecting the manual hand count in Palm Beach County. The complaint alleges that cost them about 215 votes. Number two, the Miami-Dade County Canvassing Board deciding to discontinue its hand count. That board said it did not have time. This complaint alleges that cost the Gore campaign 600 votes. Also, not certifying the votes that were counted in Dade County. Dade County did complete part of the count, but did not certify the 157 net votes that Al Gore got.

Number four, in Nassau County, Florida, which is in northeastern Florida by the Georgia border, the canvassing board there decided to use the original count from November 7 instead of a machine count, and that, this complaint alleges, cost Al Gore 51 votes. And finally, number five, not counting the dimpled ballots in Palm Beach County as liberally as Broward County did. According to this complaint, that cost Al Gore approximately 800 votes. If you add all those votes up, that's 1,800 votes that Gore lawyers say Al Gore and Joe Lieberman should have received.

A short time ago, we talked with Judge Charles Burton, he's the head of the Palm Beach County Canvassing Board, about those dimpled ballots.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUDGE CHARLES BURTON, PALM BEACH COUNTY CANVASSING BOARD: People talked about the dimpled ballots. I don't recall that many truly dimpled ballots. What we saw a lot of was barely discernible impressions, I mean, impressions that you could hardly see on the front of the ballot, and when you flipped it over, made a slight impression. Well, you know, the Democratic Party was arguing we should be counting every one of those, and clearly, you couldn't count those. I mean, that doesn't even rise to the level of a dimpled ballot. So for whatever the reason, sure -- I mean, the one thing we learned is there were an awful lot of votes that were not counted.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TUCHMAN: Democrats are asking for all the votes from Miami-Dade County, from Palm Beach County, from Nassau County, to be brought here to Leon County in Tallahassee to be counted by a special master. They want a special master appointed by the judge in this case. The judge is Judge N. Sanders Sauls, he is 59 years old. He will be presiding when the court begins today at 4:00 Eastern Time. It was thought the court would most likely not begin until tomorrow. But obviously, there is a fast track in this case.

Election law in Florida states that the defendants, the counties and George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have 10 days to respond to this. But the Democrats are also going to ask the judge to speed that up, obviously because the deadline is December 12.

Now, last night, when George W. Bush spoke on national television, he said that a contest was -- quote -- "not the best route for America" -- unquote. Well, Al Gore's attorneys certainly think it's not the best route for George W. Bush, but they do think it is the best route for the country, they believe this is a just cause.

Natalie, back to you.

ALLEN: All right, Gary Tuchman, thanks for that new information. Gary telling us again that court will be heard at 4:00 today to hear Al Gore's case for contesting this election. CNN will provide live coverage. We also heard CNN's Eileen O'Connor tell us that Dick Cheney will come out and talk at 4:00 today as well. We are making an effort to bring that to you as well.

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