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The Florida Vote: Seminole and Martin County Cases Get Under Way; Bush Campaign Confident of Victory

Aired December 6, 2000 - 2:00 p.m. ET


LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Democrats are in two Florida courtrooms today. They're trying to convince judges to throw out thousands of absentee ballots. If they prevail, the result could swing this election to Gore. And even though he's not a party to these lawsuits, Al Gore stands to be the beneficiary. One suit challenges 15,000 absentee ballots from Seminole County.

Democrats complain Republican election staff let GOP operatives illegally fill in missing information on absentee applications. Judge Nikki Clark indicates today's trial in her courtroom may well run past midnight. In an adjacent courtroom, Judge Terry Lewis is hearing a similar case from Martin County. He expects to resume this trial once Judge Clark finishes up with hers. Many of the lawyers are involved in both of those cases.

CNN's Bill Hemmer is keeping an eye on the courtroom drama from his post in Tallahassee -- Bill, fill in the blanks.


We had a very early morning court-wise this morning, just getting under way a little bit past 7:00 a.m. this morning local time here in Tallahassee. Two trials are under way today. The first one deals with Martin County in the courtroom of Judge Terry Lewis. He started this morning, went about an hour and 20 minutes, and then broke, handing it off to Judge Nikki Clark in another courtroom to talk about Seminole County.

Now, the Republican lawyers are defending both cases. That's why the trials have to run concurrently. But as we stand right now, Judge Nikki Clark broke for lunch. We're anticipating any moment right now the judge to come back to the bench and for that case to continue. In the meantime, though, let's shake everything down. We'll cross our t's and dot our i's with David Cardwell, election analyst right now here in Tallahassee.

First of all, for our viewers: What is the essential issue that we are examining on these two cases: Seminole County and Martin County?

DAVID CARDWELL, CNN ELECTION LAW ANALYST: Well, the allegation is that the absentee-ballot request forms -- not the ballots themselves, but the request forms -- were altered by someone other than either the person requesting the ballot or the supervisor of elections' staff. In the case of Seminole County, the allegation is that an operative of the Republican Party was allowed access in the office to the ballot request forms and was able to put on the voter I.D. number on those forms that had been missing.

If that number had not been put on those forms, those ballots would not have been mailed out.

HEMMER: All right. We had five hours of testimony this morning. What happened?

CARDWELL: Well, not a lot in terms of some real fireworks in the courtroom.

HEMMER: Your words. I didn't want to say it. But go ahead.

CARDWELL: But it was essential for sort of establishing the case. Again, these cases will undoubtedly be appealed. So they have got to build a record. But what they were doing with the early witnesses today was to show what happened, what didn't happen, and the different treatment of the Republican ballot requests and the Democratic ballot requests.

HEMMER: And that was one of two issues that Judge Clark said, at the very start of court today, she wants to know if all voters were treated equally. Do we know, based on the evidence in court, that all voters were treated equally -- or not?.

CARDWELL: Well, as we've seen with these trials, we've heard from one side. We haven't heard from the other side. Hear from the first side. It sounds like maybe was there was some different treatment. But the other side is going to put on some witnesses that show there wasn't different any different treatment, that it was a matter of one made the request and one didn't. And the one that made the request got it, you know, answered in the affirmative.

HEMMER: I got it. Now, in this case, the plaintiff -- the Democrats from Seminole County -- a gentleman by the name of Harry Jacobs is bringing this suit. Now, what we learned from earlier today is that there is a lot of talk about remedy. If the plaintiffs are to win this case, there's a number of different scenarios being talked about. Do you a: in Seminole, county take all 15,000 ballots and throw them out? Do you b: if you favor the plaintiff, figure out some sort of mathematical formula to determine how many ballots are in question or not?

Where does a remedy like that stand judicially in the history of courts here in Florida?

CARDWELL: Well, we've got some Florida Supreme Court decisions going back to the early 80s, where the court found, if there was such either fraud or wrongdoing that it so permeated the absentee ballots that you couldn't tell good ballots from bad ballots, that didn't have to show a specific number were bad, you could actually throw out all the absentee ballots and do with just the ballots cast on Election Day. But that's a very high burden, because you've got to basically convince the court that it was so much wrongdoing that the entire process was tainted of absentee voting.

HEMMER: All right, we're going to go back into the courtroom shortly here. But before we do, what can we anticipate over the next couple of hours here?

CARDWELL: Well, we're going to hear witnesses continuing to testify about what happened or didn't happen from the plaintiff's side, so that they can, again, show the disparate treatment of the parties. Then we're going to hear some rebuttal coming from the lawyers representing the election officials in Seminole County.

HEMMER: Pretty strange case, when you've got two different cases going on in different courtrooms...

CARDWELL: That's right.

HEMMER: ... on the same day using the same attorneys.

CARDWELL: That's right.

HEMMER: But, hey, everything has been strange in this

(CROSSTALK) CARDWELL: That's right. Well, we've got other court cases going elsewhere, too.

HEMMER: Well, we don't have time to talk about those, but thank you, David Cardwell, again.


HEMMER: Lou, we'll keep an eye on it, again. We do expect the judge be back at any point. We'll have it for you live in Tallahassee. Back to you now in Atlanta.

WATERS: OK, Bill -- now here's Natalie.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: The lawyers representing both the presidential contenders filed briefs this morning at the state Supreme Court. Gore is appealing Monday's lower court ruling against hand counting votes.

CNN's Kate Snow is there with the latest on that one for us -- Kate?

KATE SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Natalie, a flurry of activity here just before noon. We are awaiting for spokesman Craig Waters to come out at any time now and probably just tell us about what was filed here this morning. I can tell you, it was briefs were due by noon today on that case that you mentioned, Judge Sanders Sauls' ruling on Monday, in which he denied Al Gore's request to basically challenge and contest the results from Palm Beach County and Miami-Dade and Nassau counties.

The Bush team, as expected, said that they wanted to uphold the decision from Judge Sanders Sauls. They said that Sauls made the right decision. Reading from their brief now, they say: "The best exercise of this court's discretion in Florida's interest and the in the nation's interest would be to decline to hear this appeal. Bring an end," in their words, "to the many weeks of election discord and uncertainty."

The Gore team, a very different view: They filed a 53-page brief with the court, arguing that Judge Sauls made the wrong decision. They say that he made -- quote -- "fundamental errors of law." And they, of course, want the seven justices to review some 14,000 so- called undervotes, some ballots from Palm Beach County and Miami-Dade. All this will be taken up again tomorrow in oral argument -- half-an- hour for each side at 10:00 a.m. tomorrow morning in this court.

Now, Governor Jeb Bush spoke a little while ago. And he says, depending on what happens in this courtroom, it could determine whether the state legislature should get involved.


GOV. JEB BUSH (R), FLORIDA: They're trying to figure out what the proper thing to do is. And I'm just going to let them do it. They don't need my advice anymore.

QUESTION: You have no big feeling one way of the other?

J. BUSH: My advice...

QUESTION: What was your advice to them?

J. BUSH: Well, I mean, what I've stated consistently, which is that the legislature should act if there's reason to act. And they shouldn't if there isn't. And that depends on if there's a certified slate of electors that exist. Today there are. But in the Florida Supreme Court today or tomorrow, there is going to be a hearing. Is it tomorrow?

QUESTION: Tomorrow.

J. BUSH: Tomorrow, there's a hearing. And based on that, that may all change. And prior to December 12, there may be a new certified winner. I don't know. And I think the legislature should be focused on their constitutional duties in the time of uncertainty, rather than if there's, you know, a certified winner.


SNOW: Again, Governor Jeb Bush expressing all of the uncertainty about what's happening here. It's moving so quickly in Tallahassee. If the Supreme Court of Florida were to decide to take up Gore's appeal, if they were to decide to perhaps count votes, that could determine what the legislature does. At this point, Republicans in the statehouse and in the Senate have talked about holding a special session, particularly those on the House side have been pushing for it.

We are told that Republicans are still considering doing this on Friday, perhaps holding a special session as soon as Friday. But again, it's yet to be determined -- Natalie, back to you.

ALLEN: All right, Kate Snow in Tallahassee.

The Bush campaign is watching the Tallahassee courts today, of course, while preparing for a possible move into the White House.

For the latest about that, here's CNN's Jeanne Meserve in Austin -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Natalie, Governor Bush continuing to display supreme confidence. He said today that he had -- quote -- "pretty much made up" his mind about his White House staff, but had made no formal offers to Cabinet appointees. We asked when might have some announcements. He says those would come at what he called the appropriate time.

Governor Bush made these comments as he held a meeting with Condoleezza Rice. She has been an adviser to the campaign on international policy, and is widely expected to be named by him to be national security adviser, should that appropriate moment for announcements come. Bush took the opportunity to talk about the need cooperation across the aisle on international policy.


GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We spent a lot of time talking about how to seize what I believe is a very unique moment in American history, to promote a foreign policy that is -- that is bipartisan. The great traditions of America has been that foreign policy has been bipartisan. That is, they used to say partisanship, when it comes to foreign policy, stops at the water's edge.


MESERVE: Well, bipartisan being one of the governor's current buzz words as he looks forward to governing a country that could be polarized -- certainly is sharply divided at this point -- transition and state business continuing to fill up his time, we believe, for the rest of the week. This afternoon, he's meeting with Andrew Card, the man he has designated to be his White House chief of staff.

He has, of course, been monitoring the legal developments in Florida. He had a conference call this morning with James Baker, the man who is honchoing the legal efforts on the ground for the Bush campaign there -- the governor expressing the opinion this afternoon that the law is on his side -- the governor expressing confidence again that, when all is said and done, he will be the president-elect -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Jeanne Meserve in Austin -- now to Lou.

WATERS: Now let's see what's new from the Gore campaign.

CNN's Patty Davis covering us in Washington.

PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, Vice President Al Gore left his official residence here in Washington about 45 minutes ago. He headed to the White House complex, where he has an office -- his spokespeople saying that he was going for a little office time. Meanwhile, his lawyers are appealing his case contesting the Florida election to the Florida Supreme Court.

They filed their briefs today, as Kate said earlier. The bottom line here is whether Judge Sander Sauls considered all the crucial evidence. And the Gore campaign doesn't think he did.


DOUG HATTAWAY, GORE CAMPAIGN SPOKESMAN: First and foremost, that the lower court ignored the most important piece of evidence, which is all those votes on the ballots here in Tallahassee that have not yet been looked at yet. You need to count the votes to determine who won the election. And that hasn't happened yet. Also, the judge made mistakes on key matters of law around the activities in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach and Nassau counties that we think were erroneous. And the court will agree with us.


DAVIS: The Gore campaign says that is optimistic that the Florida Supreme Court will see things its way. Now, as for those lawsuits, those trials taking place today over the absentees ballots over Seminole County and Martin County, the campaign is not, of course, part of those. But it still is saying it is outrageous, as they say, that the Republicans have an advantage in those situations -- Lou.

WATERS: All right, Patty Davis in Washington with the Gore campaign.



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