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The Florida Vote: U.S. Supreme Court Decision Expected Today; State Lawmakers Poised to Appoint Bush Electors; Absentee Ballots Ruling Sought

Aired December 12, 2000 - 2:00 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: Yes, we're still on pins and needles five weeks after Election Day. It could finally be over today -- or not. The United States Supreme Court could, for all practical purposes, clear the stage for George W. Bush to assume the presidency, or it could bring Al Gore back from the near-dead again.

CNN national correspondent Bob Franken...

(LAUGHTER)

... is at the Supreme Court. Like the rest of us, he's waiting, too.

And you're waiting on pins and needles.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Do you know the word "hyperbole?"

(LAUGHTER)

The ruling, of course, as you point out, could, in effect, decide the election. The election could be ended if the recount in Florida is stopped by order of the Supreme Court. That is what the George W. Bush campaign wants, arguing that, in fact, the Florida state Supreme Court acted in violation of federal law, in violation of the U.S. Constitution, acted inappropriately.

The Gore campaign, of course, argues that the recount is valid, that the Florida state Supreme Court was doing its duty, and in fact it should go on, which, of course, would give new life to a campaign which people are now already talking about being a thing of the past.

There's another possibility that many are discussing. And based on the questions the justices asked yesterday, one of the considerations may be a recount that is administered under rules that they set up. They were quite perplexed about coming up with some way that, in fact, the recount would be equally applied across Florida. Or they could come up with something that we're not anticipating. All of those are possible.

We are anticipating, and have been anticipating, that there would be a decision today for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that the law that provides for the certification of the ballots provided a deadline of today. And the justices have indicated that they're aware of the sensitivities of time.

Inside the press room there is quite a bit of angst as the reporters are all waiting to get that decision and rush out to tell the world. But thus far, there has been none and no indication yet that there will be one.

I should point out that there will be no indication, Lou, it will suddenly just happen.

WATERS: And, Bob, there was anticipation this would happen super quickly. There were those predicting that the decision would come down shortly after the oral arguments yesterday. This seems to be taking a lot longer than many people anticipated.

FRANKEN: Well, you've got to understand that we're talking about taking much less time than virtually anytime in the Supreme Court history. Only a few times has there been a ruling the day after arguments, which of course this is. But among those who made that mistake was this reporter. So some of us were predicting that they would in fact decide to make the fastest ruling they ever did. Now they're just going to make one, if they would do it today, that happens in lightning speed, but not the fastest.

WATERS: OK, we're going to have a camera on you. We'll be watching you. Bob Franken up there at the Supreme Court -- Natalie.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, after midnight tonight, federal law allows the Florida legislature to name a slate of electors to the Electoral College. The Republican-dominated legislature is on that path.

CNN national correspondent Mike Boettcher is in Tallahassee with that story today -- Mike.

MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Natalie, they've been debating for about four hours. They should wrap up around 3:00 in the House of Representatives. And at that point, they will vote for a slate of electors for George W. Bush.

Now, most of those Republican legislators there had hoped that they would hear something from the Supreme Court before now. They had indicated earlier that they would recess the session in order to study what the Supreme Court had handed down. But it hasn't come so far, so it looks like, unless we get something within the next hour, they will have to vote before they hear about the Supreme Court unless there is some last-minute juggling. But there's no indication that they would back off in the leadership.

Tomorrow, the Senate in Florida takes this measure. They will pass that concurrent resolution after about four or five hours of debate as well, and then the legislature is finished. It's been a polite but tough day of debate, both sides speaking their minds. Republicans saying that we need to do this because we do not have a certified list of electors, that the court actions on the state and federal level have thrown their electors into the wind and in doubt. The Democrats argue that there is a slate of electors that was signed in a certificate of ascertainment sent by Gov. Jeb Bush about three weeks ago to Washington.

So the debate has gone back and forth, but the bottom line is almost two-thirds of the members in the Florida House are Republicans, so it will pass when they vote on it -- Natalie.

ALLEN: So there is the chance that there could end up being two sets of electors if this happens in one hour from the state of Florida?

BOETTCHER: Well, it could, Natalie, but the electors that they've chosen under this concurrent resolution are the same names that were on the original ascertainment list. It's the same group of people.

ALLEN: OK, Mike...

BOETTCHER: So might be two lists, but the same names.

ALLEN: OK, Mike Boettcher, thanks in Tallahassee. We'll wait and find out what happens there today.

Now to Lou.

WATERS: And Democratic voters are asking the Florida Supreme Court to overturn those circuit court level rulings on absentee ballots from Seminole and Martin counties.

CNN's Susan Candiotti is in Tallahassee again today following that aspect of the story -- Susan.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Lou.

Florida's seven Supreme Court justices are at work and may very well at this hour be poring over that foot-high stack of briefs it received yesterday involving that case of absentee ballots out of Martin and Seminole counties. Officially, of course, the court has no comment on its schedule and we don't know when a decision will be forthcoming.

The question, again, whether to throw out those 25,000 absentee ballots after Republican operatives were allowed to add information to the ballot applications. Democrats charge that gave the Republicans an unfair advantage. Republicans argue that they were simply doing what they were allowed to do and that no one was treated unfairly and that the sanctity of the ballot was not affected.

Now, Vice President Gore is not a direct party to that lawsuit. However, if the U.S. Supreme Court ruling should go against him, a favorable ruling in this case could possibly help tip the scales in Vice President Gore's direction.

Now, in another matter, late yesterday the seven justices also released a 6-1 decision requested by the U.S. Supreme Court in which the high court asked these justices to clarify why they extended the deadline for a manual recount in Florida last month. The high court, you will recall, vacated the Florida Supreme Court order and wanted to know if the Florida court changed the rules in midstream, as charged by the Republicans. And very pointedly, this court said, absolutely not, that it was simply following an interpretation of existing Florida laws passed by the legislature.

And here is a quote from their conclusion: "Not surprisingly, we have identified the right of Florida citizens to vote and to have elections determined by the will of Florida voters as important policy concerns of the Florida legislature in enacting Florida's election code."

Now, Chief Justice Charles Wells was the loan dissenter in that 6-1 decision. He said that he did not think the court should rule on any matter until Bush v. Gore is decided. And of course, Lou, that's a decision that everyone is waiting for.

WATERS: Absolutely.

CANDIOTTI: Back to you.

WATERS: Susan Candiotti in Tallahassee today -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Well, we're now beginning many federal deadlines relating to this election. Today, of course, a day that states are to choose their representatives to the Electoral College. Are all of these deadlines etched in stone? Some folks say not necessarily.

Here to help explain this is our election law analyst Ken Gross, who is never far away.

Hi there, Ken.

KEN GROSS, CNN ELECTION LAW ANALYST: Hi, Natalie.

ALLEN: Well, as we wait to hear from the Supreme Court, we want to talk about these deadlines and what they mean and if they are etched in stone. Let's talk about today. This is the day all 50 states are supposed to choose their representatives to the Electoral College and submit those names to the National Archives. So is this going on in all 50 states today, then?

GROSS: Yes, it is. They're certifying the electors now in each of the 50 states if they have not done that already. And then they'll -- and that's what's happening on today, Dec. 12.

ALLEN: So -- and Florida might be just electing a whole new slate?

GROSS: Well, and Florida is, of course, a unique situation. And we already have a certified slate of electors. Katherine Harris, the secretary of the state, has certified a slate of electors based on the law of Florida, which is the same in every state; that is, based on the popular vote of the state. So that's what slate is going forward at this point. What the Florida legislature is doing is really preparing another slate of electors in the event that that first slate -- there's a problem with that first slate. But it's the very same people, it's just another slate of electors that are the same electors.

ALLEN: OK. All right, let's talk next, in about a week, these electors are to meet in their state capitals and they select our next president and vice president. That will take place. Is that a firm deadline?

GROSS: Well, that will take place. It is in the law. It's Title 3, Section 5, which we've been talking about quite a bit over the last several days and what was an issue in the Supreme Court. That says that the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December, which this year happens to be Dec. 18, is the date that the electors actually cast their vote in their state capitals. And that's what will happen on that day.

ALLEN: So if there's a problem with the original electors that Katherine Harris certified in Florida, that's when this new set certified by the legislature will come into play?

GROSS: We could have two slates voting on that day. You could even have a third slate, perhaps, if the Supreme Court of Florida gets the counting again; in other words, if the U.S. Supreme Court upholds them. And, you know, lots of confusion can ensue from -- at that point in the state of Florida. Every other state, this is sort of just a sleepy exercise that no one ever pays attention to.

ALLEN: Right. Two days after Christmas, those votes have to be in the hands of Congress and the National Archives. That's Dec. 27. Anything unusual or exciting about that maneuver?

GROSS: Nothing particular exciting. Those were the days of the Pony Express and they thought, well, we better leave at least from Dec. 18 to Dec. 27, or that period of time depending on what the calendar was that year, to actually transmit the certifications and the votes.

ALLEN: And that's a great bit of history. Now we can e-mail instantly. Here you go.

GROSS: That's right. You know, we can get briefs from the Leon County Circuit Court now in a matter of seconds...

ALLEN: Right.

GROSS: ... throughout the world. But then in those days they had to allow time to actually get sealed and all sorts of fancy certifications from the state capitals up to Washington, D.C., which wasn't even that far then because there weren't that many states all over the place.

ALLEN: That's interesting. That's great.

GROSS: And that's the Dec. 27 date. ALLEN: Well, then we're up to Jan. 6. In a joint session of Congress, lawmakers count the votes. And is that where we could have a very interesting day, Jan. 6, if this continues to be confusing?

GROSS: That's right. We might see early fireworks this year in Washington, D.C. if there is still a dispute going on at that point, which there certainly could be on Jan. 6. I've heard different dates. They might actually meet on the 5th this year. They could -- there could be an objection.

But what really happens that day is that they open these ballots, these votes, to show who actually will be the president, and they get announced. If there objections, then that's when the process has to go to the full House and the full Senate to vote. And there could be a problem there because the House of Representatives, more chambers, more states are controlled by the Republicans than the Democrats, so presumably they would go for Bush. But as we also know, in the Senate it's split 50/50, and that's broken by the president of the Senate, who's guess who until Jan. 20? Vice President Gore.

ALLEN: It's going to be an interesting day Jan. 5th or the 6th. And of course finally the winner takes the oath of office on Jan. 20. And we will have a winner by then, won't we, Ken?

GROSS: Well, it's possible we won't.

ALLEN: Oh my.

GROSS: I mean, now we're really getting steeped into all sorts of scenarios. But if there's not, have no fear. We will have a president under the Presidential Succession Act, which was passed a number of years ago. If the -- who the next president or vice president will be is still unresolved, then it goes to -- it appears to go to the speaker of the House at that point.

ALLEN: And that would be -- OK. And that would be...

GROSS: And that would be Dennis Hastert.

ALLEN: ... Mr. Hastert. And if he didn't want it?

GROSS: If he didn't want it, we'd go to Strom Thurmond, who's the president pro temp...

ALLEN: President Strom Thurmond.

GROSS: ... who is a very elderly man. And after that, it would go to Madeleine Albright, the secretary of the state. I guess she still would be at that moment. But she's not a natural-born citizen, so you start working your way down.

ALLEN: Oh, for heavens sake.

(LAUGHTER)

We could just keep going and have all kinds of fun. Lou would be president before we.

WATERS: Get down to me, yes.

ALLEN: Ken Gross, thanks. We'll just wait for the Supreme Court for the next step.

GROSS: OK.

ALLEN: Thanks so much, Ken.

GROSS: Bye-bye.

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