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Sunday Morning News

Election 2000: Recounts Continue in Florida; Bush Leads by 930 Votes; Florida Supreme Court Prepares to Weigh in

Aired November 19, 2000 - 8:00 a.m. ET

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

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: The recounts will continue today in two Florida counties and a machine recount will begin in another. The latest figures show Texas Governor George W. Bush maintains a slim lead of 930 votes out of nearly 6 million ballots in the state.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: The most recent figure is based on the absentee ballots from overseas, many of them from military personnel. Now it is worth noting that out of the more than 3,600 overseas ballots, county election officials disqualified nearly 40 percent of them for technical reasons such as lack of postmarks or signatures.

O'BRIEN: Still uncertain this morning, the outcome of hand recounts in Broward and Palm Beach Counties, a planned recount today in Miami-Dade County as well, and a hearing in the Florida Supreme Court tomorrow on the validity of all of those recounts.

For some perspective on this still undecided presidential election, we're going to turn it over to Bill Hemmer outside the state capital in Tallahassee, a little bleary eyed after the football game, but nevertheless, no worse for the wear.

Good morning, Bill.

BILL HEMMER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was worth it. Miles, Kyra, good morning, once again live from Tallahassee.

We'll talk about the latest developments shortly here. But just to give you an indication of what's happening here in Florida, at least for a day anyway, football split time with the election and the race for the White House on the front page of the "Tallahassee Democrat." At that game last night, the Secretary of State, Katherine Harris, in attendance, the Governor, Jeb Bush, was there as well. Thirty to seven, the final score, making a lot of people here in Tallahassee quite happy that Florida State did, indeed, beat Florida in the battle for the Sunshine State last evening.

Now, for today, legal briefs expected, four hours time for the Bush campaign to be filed with the State Supreme Court, again, they're expected at noon Eastern Time. That's the deadline.

The Gore campaign went yesterday, the Bush campaign responds today, then one more time for the Gore campaign after that later today.

Now, you talked about the recounting, as it stands right now, Texas Governor George W. Bush a 930 vote lead over the Vice President, Al Gore. That is with the official tally from those overseas absentee ballots that came in yesterday afternoon.

As for the recounting, it does continue, specifically in two places today on this Sunday.

Let's start, first of all, in West Palm Beach and CNN's John Zarrella once again.

Hey, John.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, again, Bill. That's correct, they're getting prepared inside here in the emergency operations center behind me, to continue on with the recount. The canvassing board has just given some new instructions to the workers, the new workers that are in there. They have about 30 teams, they say, that they hope to have today on hand and they believe they'll get up to about 50 percent of the precincts and of the vote counted by the end of the day today.

The numbers as of end of business yesterday, 202 precincts counted. That's 38 percent of the total ballots were counted. Yesterday alone they counted 51,000 ballots. But they've only got 30 precincts, roughly, that are completely signed off on and until they go ahead and clear up any of the questionable ballots, they can't sign off on those other precincts. So while 202 are counted, only 30 are signed off on completely.

And right now, you know, what we've heard all day yesterday was that despite the fact that the Democrats were claiming that Palm Beach County was really going to yield them a treasure trove of new votes, it hasn't happened. At least what we're hearing from inside, it's pretty much a vote here, a vote there, and no big significant shifts.

Now, this morning Judge Charles Burton, who is, of course, Chairman of the Canvassing Board, he, in light of all of what went on here yesterday, lots of charges and counter charges, he told the counters listen, we want you folks to be relaxed in here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUDGE CHARLES BURTON, PALM BEACH CANVASSING BOARD: We had a woman here, and I'm not going to say, you know, she was a nice lady. I don't think she meant any harm. And she apparently put it in the wrong pile. And you would have thought she had just killed 14 people.

So I mean I realize this is extremely important what we're doing here and it gets a little stressful and it gets a little tension. But I don't think the counters should feel that if they call a ballot objectionable that it's anything against them. And likewise, I think if somebody puts something in the wrong place or drops it, obviously you need to point it out, but I don't think you have to, you know, we can do it a little less accusatory and I think things will be better. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ZARRELLA: The hope is here today that everything will go smoothly and they'll get up to about halfway through, 50 percent. They want to be wrapped up before Thanksgiving.

Now, protests continue on here in West Palm Beach. There have been protesters here out front of the government center, out front of the emergency operations center and there was a revote protest up in Riviera Beach yesterday morning and there are, of course, still people in West Palm Beach and Palm Beach County who would like to see a revote because they say that's the only fair way to figure out who won the county.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED CITIZEN: I believe everybody should have a fair vote and the right to be counted, whether it takes a revote, a recount, a hand count, whatever it takes to get a nice silver cloud over the person who takes the office so we can all rally behind him, no matter who wins. I just want to see a fair vote.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZARRELLA: Tomorrow, Judge Jorge Labarga will decide on whether a revote is even constitutional. He's going to rule some time tomorrow, issue a paper statement, we understand, on those citizens' lawsuits that were filed by people here. And there are about 15 lawsuits that have been filed in Palm Beach County by different citizens' groups, mostly by Democrats who are asking for a revote in the constitution, in the county.

So even though Tallahassee will be the center of the universe tomorrow for legal action, there is still a lot of legal ground to be covered here in West Palm Beach.

Back to you, Bill.

HEMMER: All right, John Zarrella, thank you.

Let's keep it moving now, on a few more stops here in Florida.

Here's CNN's Susan Candiotti in Broward County this morning.

Susan, hello again to you.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Bill.

There are, of course, a lot of ways to spend your Sunday relaxing and the like. These people have, for the most part, donated their time to be a part of this process and they're lining up because they're getting their credentials. The recount here in Broward County is set to begin at eight o'clock, but this is usually when they start opening the doors and letting people in. It takes another hour or so to get things underway.

But let me ask briefly this gentleman here, have you been here on previous days? This is day five of the recount here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is my second day here.

CANDIOTTI: What do you make of being here on this day, a Sunday? You could be doing any number of things?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, this is a first, the second. I did it yesterday and today and it's interesting. You meet a lot of different folks inside and something, it grows on you.

CANDIOTTI: Yeah. There have been a lot of charges and counter charges about this process. Does it both you when you hear the criticisms?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just take it in stride.

CANDIOTTI: All right. Well, have a good day inside. I know you're anxious to get in there. Let's also work our way down the line because there's another young lady we were speaking with earlier whose name is Altisia Guisan (ph). You are a county employee and your job here is a counter. Why did you volunteer to be here this day? There were sign up sheets and you agreed to do this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. It's a day that, you know, will live on in history. I just wanted to take part in the recount and, you know, the opportunity came up so I decide hey, why not?

CANDIOTTI: Normally what would you be doing this day?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Watching football.

CANDIOTTI: Big game, Dolphins-Jets. How are you going to keep up with it?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hopefully the Dolphins will pull it off, hopefully. We're home this week so who knows?

CANDIOTTI: All right, thank you very much. Have a good day inside.

Now, this couple, you have to meet this couple. We ran into them this morning as they arrived on site. This is Freeman and Mary Jane Swank (ph) all the way from Wellington, Ohio near Cleveland. And you'll never believe this, they're not observers, they're not ballot counters, they're here for fun.

Tell us about that. Now, you, this is not the first time you've been involved in actuality being a part of history.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we were in Niagara Falls the night before Nixon resigned and the Canadians said you'd better go back, your President resigned. So we drove all night long with our 31 foot Air Stream and parked in front of the White House, got trapped there. And we were there with all the newscasters, Dan Rather and Bob Schieffer and the whole crew because they wouldn't let them into the White House because Mr. Nixon wanted to walk through the Rose Garden one more time.

CANDIOTTI: And I understand you've got, still have a memento from that day?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I still have my parking ticket that I never paid as a souvenir. So I hope the Washington people don't come after me after all these years.

CANDIOTTI: Well, Mary Jane, I see that you are the photographer of the group. There's your 35 millimeter camera hanging around your neck. Tell me, why do you put up with this guy? Are you going along with this? You really wanted to be here, too?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, I think it's really wonderful to be part of history and he's always been interested in the news and he's kept the whole family really involved and up to date with politics and our country's processes.

CANDIOTTI: Both of you are registered Democrats and you did tell me that you voted for Vice President Gore. How do you suspect all of this will come out?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's really important that the count continue so that it doesn't go down in history as I wonder if. And I think the next president needs to go into office with as much uncertainty as possible so I really hope that the count continues whoever wins.

CANDIOTTI: Thank you very much, Mr. and Mrs. Swank. They'll be down here a few days to see how things go and this process will get underway again, day five, and they're just about a third of the way through here so it seems highly unlikely they'll be able to make that goal of completing their work by Monday at five o'clock.

Bill, back to you.

HEMMER: Susan Candiotti, thank you.

Quite amazing to see the number of people here in Tallahassee as well that trickle here through our area throughout the day just to see what's happening and that take away a bit of, a slice of history, basically, now, as we look at the White House and who will, indeed, be the next president of the United States.

Once again now in Miami by telephone, watching things in Miami- Dade County, here's CNN's Charles Zewe this morning.

Hey, Charles, good morning to you.

CHARLES ZEWE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Bill, good morning again from Miami.

Six hundred and fifty-four thousand ballots to be checked by hand when the actual hand counting gets underway tomorrow morning. But this morning, about an hour from now, they will first run all of those ballots through a counting machine and electronically try to sift out, weed out the so-called under votes. Election officials here in Miami suspect there are about 10,750 under votes. Under votes are ballots in which there was no choice for president recorded on those ballots.

They'll separate those out, send them to a three member canvassing board and then those three members of the canvassing board will try to sit down and decide what the voters intended to do and whether there was actually a vote there.

Yes, it's getting back to those chads, those hanging chads and pregnant chads and the whole bit and trying to decide what Miami voters wanted to do.

The counting, when it begins by hand, will be done by 25 teams, 25 two member teams of county workers. They will be observed by both Democrats and Republicans as the process gets underway. They hope to have the hand count finished by December 1st unless there is a court hitch. Republicans yesterday were threatening to go to court to stop the hand count, contending that running the ballots through the machines and then handling the ballots all over again would damage them and somehow increase or decrease the votes and affect the outcome.

No word today on whether any court will try to stop the handling of the ballots from getting underway today or stop the hand count tomorrow. Officials will be gathering at the county administration building this morning to begin the process. They're expected to take all day to run the ballots through the electronic counters and then two weeks or longer to actually do the hand count -- Bill.

HEMMER: Charles Zewe in Miami. Charles, thanks to you.

We want to continue our conversation now with Scott McClellan. He's down in West Palm, a spokesperson for the Bush campaign. And Scott, we say good morning to you on this Sunday morning. Hope it's a bit warmer where you are.

The "Tallahassee Democrat," the headline's quite clear, "Tensions Up, Bush Lead Rises. Parties Wrangle Over Vote Counts." I want to talk about that in just a bit, but first of all, let's focus our attention on the State Supreme Court tomorrow. For our viewers, give us the clearest argument you can for why Katherine Harris should not be able to include more votes in the count here in Florida.

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, BUSH CAMPAIGN SPOKESMAN: Well, we're hopeful that the Supreme Court, like the Circuit Court in Florida, is going to uphold the rule of law in Florida and that the law will be applied fairly and objectively. So we'll just have to see. But our lawyers are ready and we're ready to argue our case tomorrow.

HEMMER: Let's talk about the tensions. Montana Governor Mark Racicot, some strong, strident words yesterday, talking about a completely untrustworthy system. The evidence that he talked about was verbal. Is there evidence in concrete form that we will see at some point that will document, indeed, what he was talking about yesterday?

MCCLELLAN: Absolutely, Bill. What the American people are learning is that there are very serious flaws in the process going on in these selectively targeted Democratic strongholds. What we have is eyewitnesses providing clear, very clear and compelling evidence that points out that this process, the serious questions raised about the integrity, the accuracy and the reliability of this process.

Let me give you a few facts. One eyewitness yesterday came forward here in Palm Beach County. It's a retired military man. What he witnessed was a mixing of ballots that had been sorted into Gore and Bush stacks for counting. And those Bush ballots were placed in the Gore stack and about to be counted.

When they were brought to the attention of the Democratic elect, the democratically elected elections supervisor, the supervisor almost attempted to just sweep it under the rug by seizing these ballots and placing them back into the ballot box.

Another example, an individual, a young 24-year-old woman noticed that a chad had been scotch-taped back into the hole for Governor Bush on the ballot. And yet in Broward County yesterday, we heard about some even absurd examples about an individual who started eating or swallowing chad that had fallen off the ballots. I mean this, you know, it is clear what is happening here is that no one is disputing these facts.

No one is saying that these incidents didn't happen and, in fact, what you have here is the judge here and the chair of the board in Palm Beach County yesterday said look, mistakes are being made. He acknowledged that. He admitted it. And he even said that we may need to slow this process down and do things a little bit differently.

So no one is disputing these facts going on here.

HEMMER: Scott, let me just, I apologize for the interruption, but let me just interject this thought.

MCCLELLAN: Sure.

HEMMER: Some suggest that the Governor's strong words yesterday, Governor Roscoe, was just a slight indication right now for how the Bush campaign may be starting to develop a strategy if they lose in State Supreme Court starting tomorrow, on Monday. Is there truth to that and also, what is the next step for the rhetoric or the strong words that may come out of Austin?

MCCLELLAN: Well, look, we're going to continue to keep our options open because this process is seriously flawed. And we're not going to, you know, chad may be swept on the floor in different counties, but we're not going to let the truth be swept under the rug.

Another issue you have here is that when you have these manual counts, it greatly increases the risk for human error and what we're seeing here is that people are tired. Fatigue has set in. You have people that are working hard. I mean they're coming in here to do the counting and they're working long and hard 12 hour days, but they're just tired and they can't continue to hold up those ballots and look at them. And these ballots are deteriorating. They're worn. They've been handled multiple times. They're being handled improperly.

So what you have is votes that are being distorted, votes that are being reinvented and these are serious questions and they need to be addressed and, you know, the Gore campaign has yet to come forward and dispute these facts or dispute this very compelling evidence.

HEMMER: Scott McClellan with the Bush campaign in Palm Beach County. Scott, we appreciate your time this morning. Thanks for being with us on this CNN SUNDAY MORNING.

MCCLELLAN: Thank you, Bill. You bet.

HEMMER: Yes, sir.

Doug Hattaway, Gore spokesperson, our guest next hour, equal time here. We'll have it for you coming up shortly. Back to Atlanta now. Here's more with Kyra and Miles at the CNN Center.

PHILLIPS: Thanks, Bill.

O'BRIEN: All right, Mr. Hemmer, thank you, sir.

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