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The Electors Vote: Tennessee Casts Ballots for Bush-Cheney; Judicial Watch's Tom Fitton Discusses Efforts to Recount Disputed Florida Ballots

Aired December 18, 2000 - 10:00 a.m. ET

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

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: OK, let's do some of the math, here: 538 electors will meet today and cast their votes and finalize the presidential election. The first meetings are being held at this very hour in state capitals in Indiana and Tennessee. We'll be showing live pictures from there, just ahead. By the end of today, George W. Bush, presumably, will win the presidency with 271 votes -- that is just one more than he needs to get that job done.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: However, the defection of two Bush electors would plunge the race into a tie. At 269 to 269, three defections, would, technically, give Al Gore the White House. However, the vice president has said he would not accept any defectors who elect who elect on the electoral side.

KAGAN: Yes, and let's be honest: Even though we're talking about a big what-if, the odds of such a reversal are admittedly very low, but history has been a poor predictor of this year's bizarre presidential election.

We have a number of CNN correspondents monitoring the day's events: There's Ed Garsten, he'll have the latest from Tennessee; Susan Candiotti, checking in from Florida; and Chris Black, on Capitol Hill, where President-elect Bush is moving forward with his transition plans.

Ed Garsten, we're starting with you, in Nashville.

ED GARSTEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Daryn.

A chilly, frigid downtown Nashville, we are here in front of the state capitol. Just a few moments ago, Governor Don Sundquist began the ceremony, which he says should take about 15 or 20 minutes, and welcomed the electors, called this an historic occasion.

Right now, election commissioner Brook Thompson is in front of the electors in the House chamber; he will ask the electors to come up one at a time to place their votes for president and for vice president, and after the 11 electors have done that, then they will announce the vote.

Tennessee, which is Al Gore's home state, ironically, went for George W. Bush, giving him 51.1 percent of the vote. The folks here say that they think that Al Gore just seemed to lose track of what the people in Tennessee care for.

Why don't we take a look at this live.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... Dirks (ph) and Baker (ph) can come forward and take the spot here, as a duly elected elector.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor, we'll now present the certificates of elections here afterwards.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You'll come forward when you're name's called.

Lamar Alexander.

Lana Bowman Ball (ph).

Nancy Cunningham (ph).

Winfield Dunn.

Jimmy Exim (ph).

Jim Henry.

Rasha Jubram (ph).

Amy Kent (ph).

Patty Celeba (ph).

Namond Wright (ph).

GARSTEN: All right, Tennessee's 11 electors getting their certificates of election. They will cast those presumably for George W. Bush and for Dick Cheney, and that'll seal the deal here in Tennessee. And then those votes will go to the Senate, and that'll just go on its way to add to George W. Bush's electoral victory.

Ed Garsten, reporting live, from Nashville -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Ed, thank you very much.

There you have it, Al Gore's home state going officially to George W. Bush -- Bill.

HEMMER: And as we mentioned, at his hour, Indiana -- the electors there also meeting, in Indianapolis, at the statehouse there. Statehouse grounds, in the central part of Indiana -- the official balloting will begin there. As with most states, the Republican Party chose the electors in Indiana; they are quite unlikely to change their votes for the vote president, Al Gore. That state -- in Indiana -- holds 12 electoral ballots.

Time now to check in, though, with the one town in the one state that has been the absolute nerve center of this election -- until a few days ago, was my primary residence.

Susan Candiotti, live in Tallahassee, Florida -- Susan, I know exactly where you are standing right now. Good morning to you.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You're very familiar with the territory, here, Bill -- good morning to you.

It's been a very busy last hour for Florida's 25 electors. First, they bundled up against the cold weather here this morning and then left their hotel, which is just a few blocks away, to come to the capital, where they went inside and then had a very brief meeting with Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Then they called off their names -- a roll call of sorts -- and after that, he thanked for their service, and the electors made way back to hotel. They will return here at noontime to cast their ballots.

Now, many are party loyalist -- every one of them. Many worked on the campaign, others are politicians. And though some of the electors tell CNN they've received literally hundreds of letters and phone calls, even e-mails, trying to get them to change their mind, they say they will not defect, and political observers say that, indeed, is very unlikely.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't imagine it. These are Republican -- devout Republican people. And Al Gore himself has disavowed rogue electors; he doesn't want them, and I don't think you'll see them -- not in Tallahassee, and not elsewhere.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The legislative session sort of fizzled. The U.S. Supreme Court sort of took the air out of the Gore campaign balloon, everything just fell apart last week. And I think the Electoral College is a little bit of an afterthought at this point, but still, maybe people get a sense of finality out of it when they sign their pledges.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CANDIOTTI: In fact, some of the electors told us they would feel a sense of completion once this day is over. Of course, it has been a very, very rocky election process here in Florida.

Back to you, Bill.

HEMMER: Rocky, indeed, Susan, let's get back to the issue about the attention that was heaped on Florida for 36, 37 days, and counting. Have the electors again talked about the significance of the attention shifting toward them and knowing this is such a significant vote today?

CANDIOTTI: They did, but they said. you know, they've been thinking about this for a very long time. Of course, when they were nominated, no one knew that this would be happening, and some of them said they sat on the edge of their seats after election day, watching the controversy as it unfolded -- some of them said they couldn't even watch the news any more because it was so upsetting to them -- but now are feeling a sense of finality they will be able to get this process over with.

HEMMER: And they will vote in the noon hour, which is about two hours from now.

Susan Candiotti, in Tallahassee -- thanks, Susan.

Here's Daryn now.

KAGAN: And just when you thought that part of the story about counting and recounting the ballots in Florida was over, it continues: Now members of the media are asking for their chance to see the ballots.

For more on that, let's bring in our Charles Zewe, who also -- actually, he's in Fort Lauderdale this morning.

Charles, good morning.

CHARLES ZEWE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, from Fort Lauderdale, Daryn.

They're just getting under way right now. Back there behind these people who are standing in the way here, the Fort Lauderdale and Broward county elections officials are about to start holding up approximately 6,000 so-called undervotes, in which there was no vote recorded for president. This is the beginning of the process all around the state today: 67 counties will allow public interest groups -- the public -- to come in and inspect these ballots -- they cannot physically touch the ballots, but they can try to determine on their own what has happened here.

Among the group taking part in this inspection of the ballots today is Judicial Watch; Tom Fitton is the president of Judicial Watch, from Washington.

Tom, what's the point of this inspection, this check?

TOM FITTON, PRESIDENT, JUDICIAL WATCH: Well, we want to do a little forensic accounting, an audit of what went on beforehand. Immediately after the election, We knew these ballots would be an issue. We wanted to get access to them to check to see what the canvassing boards are doing. And now it's even more important than ever because people are going to come in and start recounting ballots. We want to be sure what the ballots look like, figure out what the processes were, to provide information for the people who are now seeking to reform the system here in Florida and nationwide in Congress.

ZEWE: Is the point, though, to determine who won Florida?

FITTON: Not for us; our point is to find out what went on and see if it can be fixed in the future: How many hanging chads are there, how many dimples are there, how many votes were awarded after they found those dimpled chads and hanging chads or whatever they're calling?

ZEWE: A lot of talk about standards: What standards are the accounting -- accountants -- that you brought in using to determine what happened here?

FITTON: Well, they're going to look to see what the ballots look like and describe them as best they can, and people are going to draw their own conclusions.

ZEWE: All right, it's expected to go on for months, Daryn, this recount, this inspection, of ballots -- and possibly, at the end of the process, these organizations, that include a lot of news organizations, may be able to say who really won Florida -- Daryn.

Charles Zewe in Fort Lauderdale. thank you very much, more with you later in "MORNING NEWS."

Now we want to go back to Nashville, Tennessee, and Ed Garsten, who has a bit of news out of that capital -- Ed.

GARSTEN: Well, Daryn, it's official here now, the electors have cast their ballots, and as expected: 11 votes for George W. Bush for president, 11 votes for Dick Cheney for vice president. The electors now have received their six original certificates of vote; they have to sign each of those originals. They'll pass those up to the front, and then those will be send on to Senate.

So now it's official in Tennessee: George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have won the 11 electoral votes -- Daryn.

KAGAN: That would make 11, and about 260 to go, by our count.

Ed Garsten, in Nashville, thank you very much.

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