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Special Event

The Florida Vote: Plaintiff Uses Closing Arguments in Seminole County Case to Plead for Elimination of 15,000 Absentee Ballots

Aired December 7, 2000 - 3:05 p.m. ET

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

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Martin Savidge at CNN in Tallahassee. We have been watching the developments coming out of, actually, two trials. Most recently, though, we've been watching the one from Seminole County that has to do, in both cases, with absentee ballot request forms.

And what the Democrats are changing was, perhaps, improper, maybe even illegal access that Republican election workers were given to these absentee ballot request forms. And the Democrats are changing that, as a result of that access, the entire absentee ballot process in two counties, Seminole and Martin County in the state of Florida was tainted and that the only relief that can be had as a result of that is to throw absentee ballots out -- perhaps as many as 25,000 ballots, certainly enough that could alter the outcome of the election for president of the United States.

David Cardwell now joins me as we take a look at the closing arguments that have been happening in Seminole County.

And what is the point that the Republicans are basically trying to make here? Do they believe that they cannot contest the question of whether there was impropriety or are they reaching for something more?

DAVID CARDWELL, CNN ELECTION LAW ANALYST: Well, they're arguing that there has not been what Gerry Richman, the lawyer for the plaintiff, has called disparate treatment, to where Republicans and Democrats were treated differently. They're saying that the supervisor of elections -- yes, allowed someone to come in and complete a form. That the voter was not at fault because it was a computer glitch when the Republican Party printed these forms, and normally it would have printed the voter ID number, but it didn't. It just printed the first digit of it and they merely completed it.

And the plaintiff is arguing that, no, that that was, in essence, tampering with the documents that were in the supervisor's office -- that that was a violation of the law in and of itself. And also, they had access to other records in the supervisor's office and that, they said, created the, quote, "opportunity for mischief," closed quote.

SAVIDGE: And this was an opportunity for Republican election workers to be inside the election supervisor's office, apparently with no one else there and they were there for days on end? CARDWELL: Well, they're saying up to three weeks they were there in a room to where people may have been coming in and out of, but there was no one constantly supervising them. There were computers that were there that were on. The was records -- the other absentee ballot request forms that hadn't been processed yet.

So they're saying there was an opportunity for some wrongdoing. But Judge Clark did cut in during oral argument by Gerry Richman to question him on that point. That she said, well I can't assume something happened if you didn't put it into evidence that it did happen. So she grilled him pretty good during his final argument -- in fact, cut in almost immediately to question whether or not this was, in fact, the right kind of case to be before her.

SAVIDGE: And then there was another issue this she was grilling the attorney on, and that was the question of the relief issue and who should be punished here? Should it be the voter that should be punished, in essence, if the absentee ballot is thrown out? Or should it be the elections supervisor that may have allowed these people into her office?

And that is a big decision for the judge. That seems to be as much weight as the very issues of who maybe right and wrong.

CARDWELL: Certainly; and I think she is concerned, from some of the questions that she's asked about the remedy going to the extreme of throwing out 15,000 ballots when there may have been only a problem with a few hundred or 1,000 of the ballots. And even then, it's only with the application form, not the ballot itself.

So Gerry Richman, anticipating that, offered an alternative remedy. They brought in a statistician to try to show that there could be calculated a much lower number and that it could be allocated to both Gore and Bush and then just take that number out. But then, when he made his final closing presentation, his last few statements, he said the remedy is to take out all 15,000.

SAVIDGE: He went right back to that.

CARDWELL: Yes.

SAVIDGE: All right; David Cardwell, thank you very much.

Our coverage of this trial is going to continue. We'll take a break and be back in just a moment.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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