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Breaking News

Florida Supreme Court Orders Recounts

Aired December 8, 2000 - 4:36 p.m. ET

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

BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: Vice President Al Gore winning a major victory before Florida's Supreme Court, and as CNN's John King reported here just a short while ago, the vice president's voting deficit has gone from 537 votes -- Governor George Bush with that lead. He now has a lead of 154 votes. If you are just joining our breaking coverage, we're going to replay once more the statement made by the spokesman for the Florida Supreme Court.

Hear it is:

CRAIG WATERS, FLORIDA SUPREME COURT SPOKESMAN: The court today has issued its opinion in the case of Albert Gore, Jr. versus Katherine Harris, George W. Bush, and others. Paper copies of that opinion will be available here at the front door as soon as possible after I finish this statement. The opinion also will be posted on our duplicate Web sites as soon as possible.

The court has authorized following statement: By a vote of 4-3, the majority of the court has reversed the decision of the trial court in part. It has further ordered that the Circuit Court of the 2nd Judicial Circuit here in Tallahassee shall immediately begin a manual recount of the approximately -- of the approximately -- 9,000 Miami- Dade ballots that registered the undervotes.

In addition, the circuit court shall enter orders insuring the inclusion of the additional 215 legal votes for Vice President Gore in Palm Beach County, and the 168 additional legal votes for Miami-Dade.

In addition, the circuit court shall order a manual recount of all undervotes in any Florida county where such a recount has not yet occurred. Because time is of the essence, the recount shall commence immediately. In tabulating what constitutes a legal vote, the standard to be used is the one provided by the legislature. A vote shall be counted where there is a clear indication of the intent of the voter.

Chief Justice Charles T. Wells and Justice Major B. Harding have written dissenting opinions. Justice Leander J. Shaw Jr. has joined in the dissenting opinion of Justice Harding. Thank you.

SHAW: Supreme Court Spokesman Craig Waters, he uttered that statement live some 38, 39 minutes ago. And Judy Woodruff, clearly time is of the essence at some point in the coverage I think we have to revisit one of the arguments the Gore lawyers made, the fact that Judge Sauls never looked at what Gore's lawyers call the evidence, the ballot -- Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Bernie, and as we've been talking in the last few minutes, that date -- the magic date, if you will, that everyone's been building toward has been December the 12th. This was the date under Florida law when Florida was to have chosen its presidential elector.

Bill Schneider's joining us now. Bill, you've been talking to some folks about just how inflexible or not that date is?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that's right. The December 12th date is in the federal statute it and what it says is that the electors must be chosen by December 12th, six days before they vote which is set at December 18th, to be immune from challenges in Congress.

Now, the reason that date is supposedly inflexible is that the state legislature, which is meeting right now, can name a state of electors on December 12th if they judge that the voters of Florida have failed to make a decision because there is no electoral slate chosen, that is, if the ballots aren't fully recounted by Tuesday.

WOODRUFF: But why is that date so -- why is it crucial, Bill, because it isn't until January 5th -- we know the electors meet and vote on a president on December 18th, which is six days later. It's not until January 5th, I believe it is, when the electors are -- their vote is accepted by the United States Congress.

SCHNEIDER: It's not counted, that's right, until January the 5th. You know what? And you know what, there have been cases in the past as recently as 1960 when recounts have taken place right up until the end of December. In Hawaii it took until December 28th and they were accepted by Congress when they counted the votes. So, it is...

(CROSSTALK)

WOODRUFF: Now, that wasn't as close an election, anywhere near as close an election.

SCHNEIDER: No, it wasn't determinative. It was not determinative, but...

WOODRUFF: It was a close election but not as determinative as this one would be.

SCHNEIDER: That's right. It was close. Hawaii was close, but Hawaii had three electoral votes.

They can continue counting the ballots right past December 12th, then you have a constitutional issue. You could have the state legislature name its own state of electors: presumably they would be the electors for George W. Bush. And you could have the recount going on, incomplete by December 12th, and it could come up with a victory for Al Gore. And both slates of electors would be presented to Congress. WOODRUFF: Bill, the other thing you and I were just talking about was the speed with which these undervotes, these ballots can be counted, and you were talking to someone -- you know, extrapolate what David Boies was saying. We have 25 counters. They can do -- what were you saying? -- 300 ballots an hour. It would take how many days to get...

SCHNEIDER: Well, I spoke to our own Eileen O'Connor, who informed us that there are 175,000 undervoted ballots in the state of Florida. Now, some of them have been manually counted, but well over 100,000 have not. So by the estimate of the Gore legal team, with the manpower available right now, they can count about 300 ballots an hour. And the estimate is it would take about 24 days working 24 hours a day, it would take 24 days to recount all those ballots. Clearly, they can't do it by December 12th.

WOODRUFF: But that's if you only have the 25 counters.

SCHNEIDER: Yes, bring in more people.

WOODRUFF: If you add many, many more counters, that would change that.

Jeff Greenfield in New York, do you want to weigh in here?

GREENFIELD: This whole question of dates, which I think is, you know, is confusing enough if you ever studied law, and maybe even more so. What this is about is that after the famous, now famous, 1876 election, about 10 years later, Congress passed a law to try to prevent electoral chaos, which is an interesting question we'll be asking when this is all over. And the idea was that said to the states, if you pick by December 12th, nobody can challenge these electors, you know, you're immune. What it doesn't say is that if you don't pick by the 12th, they have to be challenged.

What the Florida legislative leaders, the Republicans have been saying all along, is if we don't pick by the 12th, we could be open to a challenge, and that's -- and our votes will not count. But when you consider the fact that this state Supreme Court has set in motion a process which is, I would say very, very difficult to complete with finality by December 12th, which is four days away, when you consider appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court and what not, then what you're looking at is a picture where the -- what we've set in motion as of -- what? -- 45 minutes ago is a process that almost certainly has to go past the 12th, in which case, folks, get ready for the possibility that the Florida Supreme Court will certify Al Gore the winner and perhaps require by writ of mandamus Secretary of State Katherine Harris to sign that certification. Governor Jeb Bush will sign the Florida state legislature's pick of presumably Republican electors.

And when the Congress meets on -- what? -- December 18th, two sets of Florida electors will cast their votes, and on January 5th the Congress will have to decide which slate of electors from Florida they will certify, they will acknowledge.

And please remember also, as of January 5th, the House of Representatives has a narrow Republican majority and the Senate is tied 50/50 with the tie-breaking vote cast by who? Vice President Al Gore.

And then if the two houses of Congress can't agree which slate of electors to pick, according to the federal law, it is the slate of electors certified by the executive of the state: namely, Jeb Bush.

So if you -- as I've said before, if you think this picture has been muddied post-November 7th, I mean, we are in -- what was the cliche that everybody was using a couple of weeks ago? Uncharted waters? No, no, no, no. Now we have left the gravitational pull of the Earth.

WOODRUFF: All right, Jeff Greenfield.

GREENFIELD: So, that's the best I can do so far, Judy.

WOODRUFF: I think leaving the gravitational pull of the Earth probably is the quote of the minute -- Bernie.

SHAW: In terms of mandated recounts as ordered by the Florida Supreme Court, this information from our political editor, Jane Kaplan (ph). These are some figures on television. It's difficult to take them down, but I think you, our viewers, want to hear these figures.

Jane Kaplan tells us that three counties have already counted their undervotes and will not need to recount them: Broward had 6,686, Volusia had 155, Palm Beach has 10,582. These will not be recounted. The judge has ordered the net Gore 215 votes from these to simply be included.

Miami has 10,750 undervotes. They have counted 1,750 of that number of their undervotes, but must count the other 9,000 votes.

Some tentative reaction. Illinois Senate Democrat Dick Durbin reacting to the Florida Supreme Court's victory for Al Gore. Quote: "Two strikes, two outs in the bottom of the ninth, and Gore gets a hit," unquote.

We know that spokesman Craig Waters at one point in his statement said the Supreme Court has reversed the decision of the trial court in part: obviously a direct reference to Judge N. Sanders Sauls.

Bill Delaney is outside the Leon County Courthouse -- Bill.

BILL DELANEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bernie, you know, after the decision on those absentee ballots, it got real quiet here. It was a Friday afternoon and everybody was winding down. That's all changed now, and one of the people right in the middle of all this is Doug Smith. He's the spokesperson for the second judicial court, the circuit court here in Leon County.

Now, why Doug's in the spotlight right now is because votes may have to be counted here at Leon County.

Doug, can you give us an idea of what you think is going to happen now?

DOUG SMITH, LEON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT CLERK: Well, currently, we're awaiting word from Judge Sauls as to how he wishes to proceed. Predicate to that, we need to actually have a copy of the opinion, which I understand we're working on right now to receive from the Supreme Court, so we understand the detail which they've put into there to -- so we have an understanding of how that count is to proceed. And then once the judge has that in his hands and gives us direction, then we'll be able to share that with everyone.

DELANEY: The Supreme Court, of course, throwing it back into the court of the judge who they reversed, Judge Sanders Sauls, to figure out a procedure to start counting votes. Now, the votes very much at issue right here are the 13,000 from Miami-Dade, right? They're over at the Supreme Court, are they not? They were sent in as part of the appeals record?

SMITH: That's correct. I understand it is both Palm Beach and Miami-Dade comprising that 13,000-plus number that will be the subject of the count.

DELANEY: Do you know or expect that you would count those votes here at Leon County Circuit Courthouse, or is that something you just don't know?

SMITH: We have some contingencies in place, and all of that is certainly up to how Judge Sauls wishes to proceed. But we have some things thought through on that already.

DELANEY: What do we know about where Judge Sanders Sauls stands in all this? Both geographically, where is he, and whether he's heard about all this? Obviously, he's heard about it. But whether he's -- where is he -- what point is he as far as figuring out a procedure to deal with all of this?

SMITH: Well, once again, I think he needs to have a thorough review of what the Supreme Court has said, and at that point, he will proceed forth and let us know, and we will proceed at that point.

DELANEY: What's the earliest, do you think, that we could start counting votes here at the very quiet an hour and a half ago or so Leon County Courthouse? Could get very busy here again. How soon could votes begin to be counted?

SMITH: Well, once again, that is certainly up to the judge as well. I mean, it could be as early as tonight. Perhaps it will be tomorrow. It really just depends on how he wishes to proceed on this.

As soon as we know, we'll let you all know as well.

DELANEY: Doug Smith, thanks very much for your time.

SMITH: You're quite welcome.

DELANEY: You've been getting beeped repeatedly as we stood waiting here, Bernie. There's a -- a lot going on, a lot of things still be sorted out: Doug Smith very generous with his time as we now await what was supposed to be a pretty quit night, might turn into a very long night.

Votes could conceivably be counted here, as Dough Smith just told us, recounted -- those 13,000 from Miami-Dade especially -- as soon as tonight.

And let's remember, there's more than a million votes in the basement here. Those were votes that were not pulled into the appeals process itself, but that were brought up from Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

A long night ahead. Still a lot of unanswered questions, Bernie.

SHAW: Bill Delaney in Tallahassee. I would love to have an interview with Judge Sauls right.

WOODRUFF: Right now.

SHAW: Yes.

WOODRUFF: It would be nice to know where he is, because we'll want to talk to him as soon as we can.

SHAW: He's probably very volcanic.

Our live coverage will continue in a moment.

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