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Miami-Dade Ballots Arrive at Leon County Courthouse

Aired December 1, 2000 - 1:46 p.m. ET


LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: And we've seen the lead escort car from the truck trek from Miami-Dade to the Leon County Courthouse in Tallahassee, Florida. The ballots from Miami-Dade have arrived.

Here's Mark Potter.

MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, we can't see them yet, but I suspect something big is going on because we can hear helicopters. We just heard some sirens and this is exactly what happened yesterday right before the trucks came down -- before the truck yesterday. It'll be trucks today, too -- came down Calhoun Street to the back of the courthouse. There's one of the choppers right over us right now.

These trucks will go to the back of the Leon County Circuit Courthouse and they will back into that area. Very heavy security along the way, that long trek from Miami. The trucks were accompanied by a patrol of cars from Miami-Dade County and they are being received by officers from the Leon County Sheriff's Department. And the trucks will back into the sally port area, the basement area of the courthouse.

And they -- the public will be sealed off and then back there the officials, you can see that area now, the officials are standing by there to receive these ballots and the procedure is that the officials involved in that process will examine the ballot boxes and make sure that everything is there and then eventually they will sign off and then the ballots can be taken off of the truck.

We are seeing the truck coming in right now. And as I said, this is going to take some period of time before the truck is opened up and before the ballots actually came out. There are 654,000 ballots from Miami-Dade County that are being brought in here. Also, one voting machine. That represents 82 boxes of ballots. They will be carried from the area downstairs where you just saw those trucks up to the third floor, where they will be placed in a secure vault at the supervisor of election's office.

Now, there is another set of ballots already in the building, as you're aware, that happened yesterday. They came up from Palm Beach County and they were placed in a vault downstairs that's used to house microfilm and other public documents.

The big question, of course, as we've seen all of this process, all this fanfare, all this security, all of these legal moves is whether these ballots will actually ever be counted. That's not certain. That's a subject of the hearing tomorrow before Circuit Judge N. Sanders Sauls. That is expected to be an all-day hearing and may even go longer than tomorrow. We just don't know. And the judge will determine whether those ballots are to be counted. It's the result of a lawsuit filed by Vice President Al Gore contesting the election and asking that those ballots be counted. We don't know if indeed that's going to happen.

There is a lot of activity here at the courthouse today. While watching these pictures again, I can tell you that upstairs, some judges are busy or are getting ready to be busy.

Right now, there's a hearing going on involving the lawsuit in -- filed again against the elections canvassing board and the Republican Party in Seminole County asking that 15,000 absentee ballots there be thrown out because of alleged irregularities in the handling of absentee ballot applications.

There will be -- that hearing actually is underway now. Another one is expected to begin in 10 minutes. That's an emergency hearing in advance of the big hearing tomorrow that's before Judge Sauls. The attorneys for Al Gore are asking the judge to sort of light a fire, if you will, under the attorneys for Governor Bush to try to get them to move faster and to shorten up their case, so that this can all be done in a day or so.

And then there's another lawsuit that was filed today involving absentee ballot questions in Martin County, that's near Orlando, and we're expecting that hearing at 4:30 this afternoon. And when we arrived at courthouse this morning, there was nothing going on. But now we have a lot going on and we can see that the officials are surrounding the truck and everybody is paying a lot of attention here. And this is going to go on for a while. If past is prologue, this is exactly what we saw yesterday with Palm Beach County.

One other point I'll note, is that anyone who's ever made that drive from into Florida coming, let's say, from Michigan, you hit the Florida border and you think you're there and you go into Miami. Then you hit the realization that you have nine more hours to go before you get to South Florida. It's a long peninsula, and that's why it took so long today to get from Miami to the state capital. It's a very long state but they made it.

WATERS: And Mark, while watching this, did I hear you report earlier that there are more ballots being requested by attorneys from other counties?

POTTER: Yes, some attorneys -- the attorneys for Governor Bush suggested that we might need to see the ballots from three other counties. And their theory is that if Al Gore can ask to count the ballots from Miami-Dade and from Palm Beach County, then they have a right to request the ballots to come up from the counties where they have questions. And that's Palm Beach, Volusia, and Pinellas, another 1.2 million ballots. We don't know if that's going to happen. The attorneys for Al Gore are asking the judge not to allow that to happen, claiming that those counties are not involved in their original lawsuit. So, they're opposing that. We don't know if that's going to happen. But -- I don't know where the in courthouse they would hold ballots from three other counties.

WATERS: And do you know anything, Mark, about the protocol here; the chain of evidence; how they guarantee that what was loaded in the truck in Miami comes off of the truck and is preserved properly in Leon County?

POTTER: Yes, they're very serious about that here. The officials are here to confirm that. I understand representatives of the parties are here to look at the boxes, number by number, serial number by serial number, making sure that everything is there and then they all have to cross sign the paperwork, signing off on the document and then the officials take it up to the secure vault. They are very concerned about the chain of evidence here. That's been an issue in the courts, whether the handling of these ballots -- and they certainly don't want to add any more to that already contentious argument.

WATERS: And then once the vaults are -- once the ballots are in the vaults, they're under 24-hour security, correct?

POTTER: Yes, they're very serious that nobody gets in there to deal with that, and until the judge in this case says we are going to have another recount. But again, I want to stress, that determination has not been made. That is the core of the argument between the lawyers for Vice President Gore and Senator Lieberman and the lawyers for Governor Bush. That's the core of that hearing that we're going to witness tomorrow.

WATERS: All right, Mark Potter down there in Leon County as we watch the 654,000 ballots about to be off-loaded from two trucks that made the journey today. They've just arrived at the Leon County Courthouse. Yesterday's Palm Beach votes -- Palm Beach County votes are already secure. The court hearing about these ballots is tomorrow.



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