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Conservative Group Inspecting Palm Beach Punch Ballots

Aired November 28, 2000 - 2:32 p.m. ET


NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Butterfly ballots, questions about election audits, and the methods and standards used for hand counts: These are some of the ingredients for political turmoil in Palm Beach County today, and we have two reports to cover it all.

CNN's Jeff Flock and Bill Delaney are in West Palm Beach with new developments, and we'll start with you, Jeff.

There are questions about the properly audited vote tallies?

JEFF FLOCK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Indeed. You might have guessed, Natalie, that when they got in such a hurry on Sunday night before that 5 o'clock deadline, that maybe some things fell through the cracks. Well, it appears now that maybe a few things did.

Now, I'm not sure if this a nonstarter or not, but here's what we know. Apparently, some of the results that were submitted on this document that went into Katherine Harris at 5 o'clock, which is the result of the manual recount, some of those were apparently not audited. That doesn't necessarily mean they were wrong and maybe they hadn't been checked all the way.

They are still in the process of coming up with a final result of the manual hand -- the manual recount. They still haven't done that. About 50 precincts left for them to audit and put into the report. We still haven't got that. We're still waiting for it now, 2:30 Eastern Time. And today is Tuesday by my count.

Now, on the question of that overvote -- I should say the undervote. These are the 3,400 ballots that the Bush -- or that the Gore campaign is now asking to recount. These are the totals. You can't see them here, but on the undervote. They started out with about 10,000 undervote in Palm Beach County, about the same as in Miami-Dade. When they got done the manual recount, they still had about 8,000. The Gore campaign clearly feels that at least 3,400 of those are Gore votes, they believe, with some sort of a dimple on them.

Now, here's what happened today. They're trying to win a PR battle on this as well. I'll show you some pictures from a couple of hours ago. A group called Ballot Express -- they're bringing symbolic ballots to Tallahassee, 10,000 of them from Miami-Dade, with question marks on them, symbolizing ballots they think haven't been counted and they don't know about. They talked to one of the local officials here in Palm Beach County, as well, who says that her district that she represents here in Palm Beach County, Florida, had a tremendous problem with both undervote and overvote.

Let's listen.


ADDIE GREEN, PALM BEACH COUNTY COMMISSIONER: I have a city in my district that's the largest city. Over 14 percent of their votes were thrown out. Those people want to be counted.

I feel that as long as we stand here and do not do what is supposed to be done, we are sending a message to the world that the United States of America cannot vote fairly.


FLOCK: But you know, we went back in and checked the precincts that Addie Green referred to there, and we found that yes, those people were in some ways were disenfranchised with their votes thrown out, but most of them were overvotes. That is voting for more than one candidate on the ballot, and there doesn't seem to be any way that you do anything about that. There are no ways to divine those people's intentions.

They clearly think, the Gore campaign does, that it was a result of the butterfly ballot, that people got confused and voted for two candidates. But nobody has come up with a way to try to make that right except for a revote. Who knows where that stands?

I'm Jeff Flock, CNN, reporting live from Palm Beach County, Florida. Back to you folks.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: And yet, another group is putting the Palm Beach ballots under a microscope today. Some conservative watchdogs called the Judicial Watch are checking for possible fraud or other problems. They started at about 10:00 a.m. Eastern this morning.

CNN's Bill Delaney is watching all that go on. Bill, what's going on?

BILL DELANEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, just to make things a little more complicated, yes, Judicial Watch Incorporated is here and they've gotten permission to re-examine ballots, right here in the Emergency Operations Center, where the manual recount was supposedly concluded, was concluded Sunday night.

They are back in the same room and they're back there with Theresa LePore, the election supervisor. Theresa LePore, the only person who's allowed to touch ballots, but the Judicial Watch group is there examining ballots, primarily at the moment a group of ballots which are described as disputed ballots. There are about 5,900 of them: 3,300 Democratic, 2,600 Republican. Now, those were ballots that were disputed by either the Democrats or Republicans. They were counted, Lou, but they have been put in separate envelopes in each precinct as a group of ballots that eventually could be used as evidence in the contest phase of all this that's now going on in Florida.

Now, what -- now what Mr. Klayman says he's up to is simply creating a public record. He wants to look at every ballot, possibly 462,000 of them here, and make a description of them, create a public report which would say, this ballot was dimpled, that ballot wasn't dimpled, this ballot was perfectly punched.

It's not going to change any ballot counts here, but he wants to create a public record.

Now, what the Democrats are concerned about -- and there are Democratic observers in the room there -- what they're concerned about is re-examining these ballots could possibly damage them, and the ballots might be needed, as I said, in the contest.


DENNIS NEWMAN, DEMOCRATIC ATTORNEY: We have filed for a protective order. We have no objection to Mr. Klayman's group looking at these ballots. Our objection is looking at them today, particularly the challenged ballots, and that seems to be the ones that he wants to look at, because there is an election contest, as you know, and we want the ballots segregated.


DELANEY: So tomorrow morning, in circuit court here in Palm Beach, Judge Jorge Labarga will consider in a hearing a request by these Democrats to create a protective order. That will enwrap those disputed ballots, those 3,300 Democratic ballots they're particularly concerned with, and prevent them from being a part of this re- examination process initiated by Judicial Watch Incorporate.

I might add Judicial Watch apparently has pretty wide ambitions for the state of Florida. They've gotten permission for such re- examination in Miami-Dade County. They're at -- they're waiting for permission to do it in Broward County, and they say they may go to all 67 counties and re-examine ballots here, Lou.

WATERS: And how do they get this permission, Bill?

DELANEY: Well, you know, this is the Florida sunshine law. Any public -- any citizen is allowed to come into one of these election boards and say, I want to examine the ballots. You're allowed to do that.

Now, there was a court order involved here last Wednesday, Judicial Watch got a court order because they said that the canvassing board here was dragging its feet on giving them permission. Lou, it's been a tense atmosphere in the room there. Theresa LePore, election supervisor, not manifesting, obviously, to any degree a happiness at being back again holding up ballots to the light as she did for so many days and weeks not too long ago. She must have thought this was over. Well, it's not. And the atmosphere was quite tense in there.

At one point, she kind of scolded Larry Klayman, saying, look, you can't expect me to know exactly what all 462,000 ballots we counted here amounted to. And it got quite tense. It's kind of ironic considering that during the manual recount itself things were kept on such a generally light and jovial note.

So we're not crystal clear where all this is going. Eventually, the Florida Supreme Court, of course, could request the disputed ballots, and they would presumably have jurisdiction to bring them up to Tallahassee to be -- to be examined in the contest phase. But we will keep following this -- this interesting sideshow, if you will, here in West Palm Beach County at the Emergency Operations Center, something of a deja vu all over again for a member of the canvassing board, Theresa LePore.

WATERS: I think you answered my question. I was wondering about the consideration in Tallahassee yesterday that Judge Labarga -- Labarga?

DELANEY: Labarga, yes.

WATERS: Labarga has these disputed ballots under some sort a court order keeping them in West Palm Beach, but the Gore attorneys wanted those ballots up in Tallahassee, did they not?

DELANEY: Let's be clear on that, Lou. We have been trying to get -- to get an answer, and frankly, have not succeeded as to whether they would be able to keep them here in West Palm Beach for Judicial Watch to examine.

Now, it would seem that in this very critical contest phase the Florida Supreme Court would have more jurisdiction over these ballots than this -- than this non-legally binding re-examination we have here. But we're going to see and wait how that plays out. We'll probably get more answers on that tomorrow morning when Judge Labarga rules on this protective order, Lou.

WATERS: All right. We'll see you then if not before. Bill Delaney in West Palm.



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