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The Florida Vote: Dade, Palm Beach Ballots Moving to Tallahassee Courthouse; State Lawmakers to Consider Appointing Electors

Aired November 29, 2000 - 1:00 p.m. ET

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

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Lawyers for George W. Bush and Al Gore have filed so many motions over the past three weeks that one Florida judge says "it's like getting nibbled to death by a duck." That's a real quote. Soon, some 13,000 disputed ballots will be in motion as well, but they could reach a dead end.

Here's where we stand today. The ballots are moving from Dade and Palm Beach counties to the state court building in Tallahassee, but their fate after that depends on a court hearing Saturday. And we understand a late report is that the hearing Saturday has been appealed to the Supreme court already. The Gore team wants that date moved up. The Gore team was hoping up for a speedy inspection from the start.

A select committee of Florida lawmakers is meeting again to consider calling a special legislative session to appoint Florida's 25 electors. That, in effect, would take the decision away from the Florida voters entirely.

And the U.S. Supreme Court makes an unprecedented concession to the news media, allowing an audiotape of Friday's arguments before the court to be released later in the day. In that case, the Bush team claims the Florida Supreme Court usurped the power of state officials.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, keep in mind the Gore team is fighting not just the Bush team, but the calendar. Let's check the timeline now.

Well, between now and Friday, those ballots are due to travel by road and under heavy guard to the Leon County Courthouse in Tallahassee. On Saturday, a circuit court judge will hear arguments for and against inspecting those ballots, most of which the Gore camp considers uncounted. The Bush camp says they merely show no vote for president. 1 On Sunday, the side that lost on Saturday can appeal. And depending on Saturday's ruling, the ballots could be looked at. Whatever happens, the date set by Florida law for choosing the state's presidential electors is December 12, less than two weeks from today.

WATERS: And who'll be choosing those electors? Right now, it's still up to Florida voters, but the U.S. Constitution gives the ultimate authority to state legislatures.

And that brings us to CNN's Mike Boettcher, who's watching events today in the Florida capital.

What's new today, Mike?

MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, it's not so much a duck nibble here as a big old duck bite we've got going at the state capitol with the legislature.

You know, they're going into unchartered territory, but the Republicans, as part of this select committee, believe they have the U.S. Constitution as their compass. On the other hand, Democrats who are part of this who are in the minority think that the Republicans are choosing the path of political expediency.

But earlier today, Gov. Jeb Bush said he believed that the legislature had the right to call a special session and name the electors.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. JEB BUSH (R), FLORIDA: I think it's appropriate to have these hearings. I think that's a thoughtful way of going about this. The courts may decide this and clear all this up prior to December 12, in which case there may not be a need for a session. But, I mean, let's face it: if the electors are not -- if there's indecision about who the electors are by December 12, I think it would be a travesty not to have electors seated in the Electoral College from Florida.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOETTCHER: Now, in this special committee, they've just completed two hours of public hearings. Most of those who spoke spoke against it. The Democrats openly acknowledge that they paid for people to come up from Miami, Broward, and also some other counties -- Duval and Palm Beach County -- to speak against this. Here's a sample of one of the comments from those people.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm here today standing to ask you to do what's right. And as my grandmother used to tell me, sometimes the best course of action is no course of action. If you sit here today and put in your personal agendas and your personal will and try to force that on the people of this great state of Florida, then you will be no better than the thieves that walk into a bank and rob that bank with a gun.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOETTCHER: OK, so what is all the timetable for this? Well, I'm being told now that it looks likely that the staff of this committee will be sent out tonight to write a report that they'll come back tomorrow morning and then consider it. Now, that's a new timetable. Originally we were told they would vote on this this afternoon, that they would go ahead and recommend to the leadership in the house and senate here to have a special session.

When they do indeed vote, when would that special session be? We're told look for it probably Monday or Tuesday. There was some talk earlier from those in the house who wanted to get it done early to come in on Friday, but they're saying that's not going to work. Either Monday or Tuesday, with Tuesday being the most likely date for the beginning of a special session -- Lou.

WATERS: Is there some trigger for this that would make the legislature take a vote, say a ruling by the United States Supreme Court? Would that move things along faster for the Florida legislature?

BOETTCHER: Well, that's not really the timetable they're looking at so much. That's not -- to them, that's not the biggest factor. The biggest factor is this 12:01 a.m. deadline on December 12. And that's what's moving them along.

It takes them -- some estimate it could take them up to 12 days to pass a bill if that don't have the governor sign it. It can sit on his desk for 12 days. But now we're hearing initial rumblings that that is not a factor anymore. And the indication is that maybe the governor, Jeb Bush, the brother of Gov. George Bush, may sign this bill that names the electors. That's one of the possibilities out there, Lou.

WATERS: No matter what the courts do. All right, Mike Boettcher in Tallahassee keeping watch there over the legislature.

Natalie, what's next?

ALLEN: Well, Florida's highest court is still considering whether or not to take the case of the butterfly ballot.

CNN's Susan Candiotti brings us the latest on that -- Susan.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Natalie.

A second group of voters, this one involving three couples from Delray Beach in Palm Beach County, is expected to be filing a brief later today with the Florida Supreme Court. This -- these -- this group of voters will be joining another group who already filed briefs yesterday with the Florida Supreme Court, both of them asking for the court to give them a special remedy.

These groups are asking that the Florida Supreme Court overturn a lower court ruling and schedule a revote just in Palm Beach County because of confusion, they say, they claim to have had, over that butterfly ballot in Palm Beach County. You'll remember what it looks like. It's the one that involved a format of two pages with presidential candidates' names on both sides and the punch holes running down the middle.

Some voters claim they were confused by this and that it caused them to vote for a different candidate, in many instances Pat Buchanan instead of Al Gore. Now, the Bush campaign says scheduling -- has said that scheduling a revote would be unprecedented and uncalled for, and unwielding, to say the very least. They don't want it to happen.

The Florida Supreme Court might possibly rule on all of this today, but they still have that other brief outstanding. Once they read all these briefs, they could reject them outright, or the court could decide to hold a hearing about all of this.

And I just learned a little while ago from representatives with the Gore campaign that they are considering filing a brief with the Florida Supreme Court as early as today to ask that court to consider moving up the schedule involving that Leon County Court Judge Sauls regarding his decision on whether to conduct a manual recount, or a recount, of those contested races in other parts of the state.

So, again, the Gore camp is considering a filing with the Florida Supreme Court to encourage that judge to move up, to expedite his schedule.

That's it from here, Natalie. Back to you.

ALLEN: Well, Susan, are any court watchers or legal folks weighing in on the chances that the Florida Supreme Court might say, let's do it over again in Palm Beach County? Anyone think that possibly could happen?

CANDIOTTI: Well, of course, you know the old saying, anything is possible. Whether this court would decide to do that is really up in the air right now. They clearly have a lot of things on their plate now. In fact, they're hearing arguments about other cases today that are totally unrelated to this. So they have briefs to review, possibly one or two additional briefs to look over today. How soon they could get to all of this is really unclear.

ALLEN: OK, we'll leave it there. We won't jump too far ahead. Thanks, Susan Candiotti.

Now to Lou.

WATERS: Now, follow all of this: Two separate election cases are playing out on the trial-court level in Tallahassee. One, of course, was filed by the Gore campaign, the other by a Democratic lawyer challenging absentee ballots in Seminole County.

Joining us now with the latest on that, CNN's Gary Tuchman -- Gary.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, let's start with that Seminole County case. A hearing will be held at 2:00 Eastern time. This is not a part of the official Gore contest. What it is is a Democratic lawyer who's filed suit against Seminole County, Florida, the allegation that Seminole County allowed GOP workers to go into the election office and fill out missing voter ID information on absentee ballot applications. The allegation is these workers were allowed free rein in the election supervisor's office. Gore lost that county in absentee ballots to George W. Bush by about 10,000 to 5,000. What the plaintiffs want is for all those absentee ballots to be thrown out. So George W. Bush conceivably could lose nearly 5,000 votes if that would happen.

Republican lawyers say this is much ado about nothing, but they do have a full legal team fighting it. Once again, a hearing at 2:00. The full trial is scheduled to begin a week from today.

Meanwhile, we go to the official Gore challenge. And Gore attorneys are considering, as Susan Candiotti, my friend, just alluded to, filing an appeal with the Florida Supreme Court today. Very specifically, they are not happy that the judge in this case in the circuit court, N. Sanders Sauls, refused to immediately start counting disputed ballots. The Gore team is considering going to the Florida Supreme Court and asking the court to do just that.

However, Judge Sauls did say, I will take those disputed ballots and bring them to Tallahassee. There's about 14,000 of them in Miami- Dade County and Palm Beach County; over 10,000 of them come from Miami-Dade. These were ballots that went through the machine, did not register any vote for president. The Gore team thinks if they're checked by hand -- they were never counted during the hand count in Miami-Dade because they stopped the count -- but the Gore team believes they would yield about 600 votes for Al Gore. And by itself, they think, that would give Al Gore the victory in the state of Florida.

So those ballots will be coming up via police escort by Friday afternoon at the latest; also coming via police escort, voting machines from both of those counties.

Now, there is some confusion. The judge said in court yesterday he would hold a hearing tomorrow to discuss standards for how to count the vote. That's been a major point of controversy. Do you count dimpled chads, do you count indented chads, do you count hanging chads? All new vocabulary for all of us. Well, it appears now that hearing will be rolled into the beginning of the trial, which is now scheduled for Saturday.

But either way, the Bush team did not want a hearing about how to count the votes before the judge decided if he would count the votes. The judge says he won't count them immediately, but he will consider counting them once the trial starts.

Lou, back to you.

WATERS: Perfectly clear, Gary. Thanks so much, Gary Tuchman -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Well, another round of briefs is due tomorrow leading up to oral arguments Friday before the U.S. Supreme Court. We've left Florida now. But what's got reporters all abuzz is an opportunity never before afforded by the notoriously camera-shy justices of the United States Supreme Court. Not cameras in the court, but maybe the next best thing. And Charles Bierbauer is here to tell us about it -- Charles.

CHARLES BIERBAUER, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Natalie, the next best thing that you refer to is going to be a chance to hear the arguments at some point, probably Friday afternoon after they have taken place here at the U.S. Supreme Court.

As you say, the justices are camera-shy. Typically, we are able to convey these arguments with a sketch. Artists are allowed into the courtroom to draw the justices and the lawyers arguing before the court. I get to take a pad and a pen in with me to take notes. But what the justices have agreed to is allow the audio, a tape recording of the arguments to be released Friday afternoon, as well as a transcript, a written transcript, of the arguments. But still no cameras. They are indeed camera-shy. Very rarely do we see them in front of cameras, the feeling that it would change the decorum and the behavior of perhaps some of the people in the courtroom.

As for the substantive measure before us, Natalie, if you will, the justices, I can report today, heard argument in a case dealing with patent infringement. But now they've got the rest of the time between now and Friday to look at those hundreds of pages of briefs that were presented yesterday. And the basic argument being, should they allow the Florida Supreme Court ruling to stand which permitted the additional time to count votes, or should they, as the Bush camp is asking, overturn that and revert back to the automatic recount which was in place as of the 14th of November -- Natalie.

ALLEN: All right, Charles Bierbauer. A few more days they'll be before the United States Supreme Court. Thanks.

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