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CNN Today

The Florida Vote: State Lawmakers Consider Appointing Electors; Thousands of Disputed Ballots Headed to Tallahassee Courthouse

Aired November 29, 2000 - 2:21 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: If all of this is not settled in the courts by December 12, Florida lawmakers could take over. Right now, they're meeting and talking about a possible special session to choose electors.

And our national correspondent Mike Boettcher is keeping a watch on all of this near the statehouse in Tallahassee -- Mike.

MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, definitely it was -- it would be a debate of historic proportions here. And it's been going on most of the day. They are hearing now on a conference call -- if we can take a peek inside -- and they are hearing on conference call from legal experts at the present time. Those experts are telling them that, yes, they have the constitutional right to go ahead and proceed with this special session and to name electors. But the last two lawyers they've had on by this conference call are telling them that they really don't need to. Now, that contradicts lawyers they heard from yesterday.

Earlier, they heard from about 70 people, members of the public. Now, the Democrats acknowledge they paid for those people to come up from Miami-Dade and Broward County, but most of them were very critical of the legislature's consideration of this and said that they believe that the Republicans in the legislature were trying to steal the election.

(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 no better than the thieves that walk into a bank and rob that bank with a gun.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOETTCHER: Now, Gov. Jeb Bush talked earlier today, and he indicated that he supports anything the legislature would do in this regard. He thinks it may become necessary. Let's listen to his comments.

Can we get this fixed?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. JEB BUSH (R), FLORIDA: So, you know, I think they're -- it's appropriate to have these hearing. 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. And so...

QUESTION: Would you be uncomfortable signing a bill that they would produce from this session?

BUSH: I mean, it kind of depends on what the bill is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOETTCHER: Now, we have a new timetable from this committee. It appears that they will adjourn later today after more debate. They will then have their staff write up a written report.

One of the reasons they want to vote on this now, tomorrow, is they'd like a more quiet setting. They were afraid of some confrontation, people in the audience, those who testified earlier today. So they're going to do it tomorrow, stick with the procedure. And then we could have a special session called probably for Tuesday -- Lou.

WATERS: All right, Mike Boettcher in Tallahassee.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, under police escort, thousands of contested ballots soon will be on their way to Tallahassee. Nearly 11,000 are from Miami-Dade County, another 3,300 or so from Palm Beach County. The ballots in question showed no vote for president when they were tallied by machine, either on Election Day or in the statewide machine recount. This morning, a Palm Beach judge refused to allow a conservative legal group to continue its inspection of disputed ballots, which included the ones he ordered shipped to the capital.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY KLAYMAN, CHAIRMAN, JUDICIAL WATCH: The public has a right to know. And if your honor wishes to do that, I would ask your honor to recommend to the judge in Leon County that at the appropriate time and place before this case is ultimately decided in Leon County, that judicial watch have an opportunity to inspect the ballots up there. We'll go to Tallahassee. I will file a motion to intervene on behalf of Judicial Watch and ask for access there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ALLEN: So these contested ballots must be in Tallahassee by Friday, where a state judge may or may not order them recounted. WATERS: Keep in mind, this is just one of the legal challenges. You heard the quote from the judge earlier: it feels like we're being nibbled to death by a duck.

In charge of keeping everything straight for us, our point man in Tallahassee, Bill Hemmer.

Straighten it all out for us, Bill.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Quack, quack, huh, Lou?

(LAUGHTER)

Excellent quote from the judge last evening.

We'll back up just a little bit. Our viewers may remember last night the Gore campaign went to circuit court here trying to speed up the trial. This was the case that the Gore folks brought against Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Nassau counties. Well, that motion was denied and the judge put forth a trial to begin on Saturday morning.

Now, in addition to that, you were just talking about the ballots, 13,000, that are expected here in Tallahassee by late Friday. It's our understanding now there'll be a hearing in about an hour and a half from now, 4:00 local time in Tallahassee, requested by the Bush campaign to actually bring more ballots up to Tallahassee by this weekend.

Let's talk more about that with David Cardwell, our elections analyst here and the pro on everything that moves here in Tallahassee.

Hello to you.

DAVID CARDWELL, CNN ELECTION LAW ANALYST: Hey, Bill.

HEMMER: This hearing, the Bush request: surprise you at all? We heard a little bit last night in the hearing. What now?

CARDWELL: Well, yesterday during the course of the hearing when the two sides were debating about bringing the ballots up to Leon County, counsel for the Bush campaign told the judge that they thought it was not appropriate for just the disputed ballots to come up; that there was no way that the judge could accurately look at those ballots, if he should decide to do a recount, when that was all he had was the disputed ballots. He needed to look at all of the ballots so he had some context.

HEMMER: Are we talking 1.2 million ballots here?

CARDWELL: Well, at least all of them in Dade and Palm Beach counties, which could be as many as a million-and-something ballots. And so what they apparently have done today with this motion that's going to be heard at 4:00 is that they have now put on paper what they said verbally yesterday: If you're going to bring some up, bring them all up.

HEMMER: How are they going to get them here? I mean, this is evidence in a case right now. How do you do it?

CARDWELL: Well, you have to keep the ballots secure. The supervisor of elections is the official that, by law, is charged with the responsibility of maintaining the security of the ballots. So what they'll do to ship them up here is they'll put them in what are called transfer cases, metal cases, seal them and keep the precincts separate so that you can go back and retrieve them and keep them straight. And they were planning to put these 13,000 in police cars and sort of have a police convoy coming up here from Dade and Palm Beach.

HEMMER: Hang on one second here. How much room does 13 ballots -- 13,000 ballots consume. Any idea?

CARDWELL: Well, remember -- I don't know. But remember, they're only ballot cards...

HEMMER: Right.

CARDWELL: ... so they can, you know, be fit in these boxes. But I think it will take quite a few police cars to get them up here.

HEMMER: OK, they get them to Tallahassee, where do they keep them?

CARDWELL: They'll go to the courthouse when they arrive here. The clerk of the court was charged by the judge with the responsibility of maintaining the ballots when they get here. The clerk of the court keeps evidence and other official records, has the ability to secure documents in a safe or some other place. And they'll undoubtedly be under guard once they're here.

HEMMER: So you think they'll be safe? I mean, this is evidence in a case, and some may suggest that there could be tampering involved here. How do you do it?

CARDWELL: Well, I'm sure not only will there be security, but they'll probably have a surveillance camera on them the entire time that they're here. So we'll see if anyone goes into the room where they're stored.

HEMMER: OK, that's the Leon County case in circuit court here.

CARDWELL: Right.

HEMMER: Now let's talk about the Seminole County case that's been moved to Leon County. In fact, we expected this hearing to start about 2:00 Eastern, which was about 30 minutes ago. What's important about this case?

CARDWELL: Well, in the Seminole County case, the allegation is that the requests for absentee ballots were changed by someone other than the person who actually submitted the request. The plaintiff has alleged that that's in violation of the law and that those requests, therefore, should not have been acted upon, the ballots that were sent in response to the request were not valid. What they're asking is that since you cannot now tell which are those ballots because they've been intermingled with all other absentee ballots, they've asked that all absentee ballots in Seminole County be thrown out. And so the Seminole County totals would be based solely upon the Election Day votes.

HEMMER: We're looking at a live picture now at that hearing inside a circuit court across the street from where we are here in Tallahassee. This is set for trial next week, midweek, correct?

CARDWELL: December 6.

HEMMER: OK, now let's talk about the special session which may or may not happen by the end of this week. Lawmakers in that special committee regarding the special session...

CARDWELL: Right.

HEMMER: ... got together for the second day today. They have not named it just yet. Perhaps tomorrow will they have movement on this or not?

CARDWELL: Well, we heard Mike report earlier about what's going on in that hearing. This committee is supposed to make a recommendation to the speaker of the house and the president of the senate, along with the report of what they've found is the authority of the legislature in this area. If they do recommend a special session, then the president of the senate and the speaker of the house can jointly call a special session and they can limit the cause to what it will be that they will consider. And undoubtedly, they'll limit it to just a action on appointing the electors from the state of Florida.

HEMMER: You've lived in Florida all your life, haven't you? You're an elections expert, used to head up the division here. How bizarre is it becoming?

CARDWELL: I'm not sure if bizarre is the world -- the word, but it's certainly different, it's certainly a bit crazy.

HEMMER: All right, David. David Cardwell, come on back tomorrow because we've got a lot more to talk.

CARDWELL: A lot more.

HEMMER: We haven't even talked about the butterfly ballots either across the street.

CARDWELL: That's a whole other case.

HEMMER: That's a whole other deal.

CARDWELL: Yes.

HEMMER: David, thanks again.

Back to Lou and Natalie now in Atlanta. ALLEN: Thank you, Bill. And we've just learned those ballots will be leaving for Tallahassee at 7:00 a.m. tomorrow morning. And as you heard the gentleman there, they will be watched carefully during their stay in Tallahassee.

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