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The Florida Recount: Court Refuses to Change 5:00 p.m. ET Deadline

Aired November 14, 2000 - 12:51 p.m. ET


LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: The roller coaster is stopping now in Florida courtroom of Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis, who has ruled on this secretary of state's demanding that 5:00 p.m. today be the deadline for counting the votes.

Mike Boettcher is standing in front of the microphones at the courthouse where this announcement is about to be read.

Mike, what do you know?

MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we can try to give you -- pardon me just one second, Lou. We are going to make sure we've got this right.

The motion for the temporary injunction has been denied. We should have someone walking up to the podium here just in a few minutes, so that would be a victory for the secretary of state. And we are waiting any minute for them to walk up to the podium to read that opinion.

So that goes counter to some of the questions he was asking yesterday, Judge Terry Lewis, who has signed this order, it has been taken up to the court clerk, and we are waiting any moment for someone to step up to the podium. That will be Terre Cass, who is the court administrator.

I am going to go out of the camera shot because this camera will belong to all networks here in just a moment who will be broadcasting all of this.

The decision was being prepared this morning by the judge, and we are told that any second they should be coming up to the podium.

Judge Lewis is a very highly respected judge in this case. Whatever his opinion is, though, it is sure that it will be appealed by the side that loses. The supreme court is only a block away from here, and there is a mechanism in the Florida law, which allows the party that wants to appeal to bypass the circuit court of appeals, and go directly to the Florida supreme court.

There isn't much time to file this appeal because, if Secretary of State Harris and her decision stands that there is a 5:00 p.m. deadline, five hours before that deadline hits, the secretary of state sent her representatives to 14 counties last night, who had not sent their certifications into the state. They are ready to get those certifications, counties like Palm Springs, we are told by people on the election commission here in Florida, who have not sent in or have a certified copy. They will use the last count that that county has, which in the case of Palm Beach County would be the count that was given last Saturday. That was requested by the Republican Party. That was a machine count.

WATERS: Here we go, Mike.

TERRE CASS, LEON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT ADMINISTRATOR: Good afternoon, everybody. We're sorry to keep you all waiting. Can you hear?

OK, I'm going to read a piece of the order, the body of the order, and then I'll go to the actual ordered portion of the order. "For the reasons set forth below, I find that the county canvassing boards must certify and file what election return they have by the statutory deadline of 5 p.m. of November 14, 2000, with due notification to the secretary of state any pending manual recount, and may thereafter file supplemental or corrective returns.

"The secretary of state may ignore such late filed returns, but may not do so arbitrarily, rather, only by the proper exercise of discretion, after consideration of all appropriate facts and circumstances.

"It is ordered and adjudged that the secretary of state is directed to withhold determination as to whether or not to ignore late filed returned, if any, from plaintiff canvassing boards until due consideration of all relevant facts and circumstances consistent with the sound exercise of discretion.

"In all other respects, the motion for temporary injunction is denied.

"Done and ordered in chambers at Tallahassee, Leon County, Florida, this 14th day of November, 2000."

Thank you.

QUESTION: Do you have copies, Terre?

CASS: Yes, we should have copies coming on both sides of the rotunda.

WATERS: That's what we've been waiting for, the action by the Leon Circuit Judge Terry Lewis, just read to us by Terre Cass, the judicial court administrator, turning it all back over to the secretary of state, whose decision yesterday to call in all the ballots, declare a 5:00 p.m. deadline today for certification of those ballots, has been upheld by the circuit court judge.

And now it is the next judicial step will be the Florida supreme court.

Greta Van Susteren in West Palm Beach today.

Greta, what are the provisions for, because deadline is only less than five hours away now, what are the provisions for the Florida supreme court for getting this heard today?

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I will tell you, Lou, I am very confident, I don't know for sure, but any lawyer worth his salt was waiting, whether it was the party that won this afternoon, or lost this afternoon is ready to go to the Florida supreme court.

My guess is that, as we are talking, the lawyers are filing an emergency appeal.

Obviously, somebody was going to lose, and this 5:00 deadline is looming very soon. So I think they will go immediately to the Florida supreme court to find out whether or not the supreme court will uphold this ruling or reverse it. But it is a race against the clock.

WATERS: And what do we know about the Florida supreme court?

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, we know that, for instance, it is a supreme court that oddly enough is mostly appointed by a Democratic governor. You are appointed first by the governor. The most recent appointee was an appointed that was joined between Governor Chiles and Governor Jeb Bush, that is the most recent appointment.

Governor Chiles, of course, Lawton Chiles died in office. So it is mostly, oddly enough, a Democratic-appointed supreme court. You are appointed first, and then you have to, a few years later, run and get a yes-no by the voters. So I think there is seven members on the court, but I will get more information for you as we go on in the afternoon.

WATERS: What is going to happen with this recount now? It has been effectively stopped in Palm Beach and Broward Counties, as I understand it, by the secretary of state. We have it ongoing in other counties. Does it go on until there's a final resolution of this, how does that work?

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, let me turn to probably a person who may be one the experts on that, Carol Roberts, who is on that canvassing board, the Palm Beach Canvassing Board, and who is in suspension until the manual recount is ordered to begin.

Carol, as a practical matter, is there any way, if you began counting right this second, that Palm Beach County's vote could be counted by 5:00 p.m.?

CAROL ROBERTS, PALM BEACH COUNTY CANVASSING BOARD: Absolutely not, Greta. There is absolutely no way, and Frank raises an interesting question. There's two standards that are being applied by the secretary of state because he mentioned there were other counties that were allowed to hand count their ballots, and yet the secretary of state said Palm Beach County, you can't do that. So that, as I suggested a few moments ago, also becomes a different kind of an issue, whether the Florida whole electoral vote might be thrown out because constitutionally, you shouldn't be applying a two-tiered system. And that's something you need to ask somebody who has a little bit more constitutional law, but I do believe that becomes another question.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, the other interesting thing, too, Lou, is that in this courthouse, the Palm Beach County Courthouse, there is currently an injunction preventing the Palm Beach Canvassing Commission from certifying the Palm Beach vote. Forget about the issue of whether there will be a manual recount or not, but as we sit here right now, there is an injunction, a stop sign, so that if that stop sign is not lifted here in this county today, there's a hearing going on, I don't know if that is a particular issue the judge will address. He is newly assigned to the case. But it is theoretically possible, at this point, that at 5:00 p.m. today that the secretary of state will certify the election results in this state, but the entire county of Palm Beach County will be in essence disenfranchised, their vote won't count.

But there is so much going on, there is so much influx, we have no idea what this judge is going to consider and rule upon today. We have no idea if the Florida supreme court will take this matter that was just decided up in Tallahassee and decide by 5:00 p.m. And even if they do agree to hear it, we have no idea what they are going to do.

The only thing we know is at 5:00 p.m., at this point, is a drop dead time.

WATERS: Perfectly clear, Greta, thank you.

Let's take one more check over at the courthouse. I see Mike Boettcher has been reading over the order, which I understand is about nine pages long.

Mike, anything in addition to all we talked about?

BOETTCHER: Yes, Lou, the big stuff is on page 7, basically upholding the secretary of state's right to hold to that 5:00 deadline, but also saying -- and let me read this to you so we get it exactly -- "The county canvassing boards are indeed mandated to certify and file their returns with secretary of state by 5:00 p.m. today, November 14th, 2000. There is nothing, however, to prevent the county canvassing boards from filing with the secretary of state further returns after completing a manual recount. It is then up to the secretary of state, as the chief election officer, to determine whether any such corrective or supplemental returns filed after 5:00 p.m. today are to be ignored."

Now judging from her stance on this now, and other past stances she's made, it doesn't seem likely that she would accept other manual recount returns after this. Her representatives are already out in the field. They left last night to go to the 14 counties that have not reported back with certified election results, and counties that do not report back, they are prepared to go and get the latest count, and use that count. In the case of Palm Beach County, that was the manual recount -- pardon me, the machine recount done last Saturday at the request of Republicans in that county.

So, Lou, we've got the ruling, and it is going to be appealed it looks like, a block away at the supreme court.

WATERS: All right, Mike Boettcher down at circuit court. He will walk up a block to find out what happens in the supreme court. That's what we await next. And we are getting reaction already. Here is Natalie with that.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: We have Jonathan Karl, of course, with the Gore campaign in Washington. Jeanne Meserve is with the Bush campaign in Austin, Texas.

Jonathan, we will start with you. Has to be disappointment for the Gore campaign, although there will be an appeal it seems.

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, clearly a disappointment and an unexpected disappointment, but the Gore campaign -- I just spoke to a member of the legal team -- said we lost, but we are going on to appeal. We are fully prepared to appeal. They have David Boies on hand, David Boies one of the country's top trial attorney. The person who handled the Microsoft case for the Justice Department. He's been in Tallahassee since last night preparing for a possible appeal.

And officially from the campaign, Doug Hattaway tells CNN's Chris Black officially the Gore campaign will appeal this. Right now, I'm told, the legal team going over this judge's decision and preparing for a very speedy trip over to state supreme court to appeal this decision.

ALLEN: And the argument, we can assume, will be the same as they just used in this court?

KARL: The argument absolutely the same. The argument, essentially, the statute here in Florida has two conflicting provision, one providing for this deadline, and the other providing for the hand count. And their arguments is that is you enforce this deadline of today at 5:00, you are affectively not allowing a hand count that is allowed under Florida law because there is not enough time to get that hand count done. That's the argument that David Boies, on behalf of the Gore campaign, will be making as they appeal this case.

ALLEN: Is there a best-case scenario, Jonathan, if they don't get what they want from the Florida supreme court, as far as what is the next step from the Gore campaign after 5:00 today, if that deadline holds? Are there any other alternatives other than waiting for the absentee ballots to come in?

KARL: Well, there is still, don't forget, is the matter down in Palm Beach which is in court. The Gore campaign not directly involved with that litigation, but citizens in the town -- in the county of Palm Beach have raised questions about the legitimacy, the legality of the ballot in Palm Beach. They have challenged that. That matter is pending in court. The Gore campaign also looking there.

But most immediately, they are looking to appeal this case and they think they are on good legal ground.

But I must tell you, Natalie, that sources at the Gore campaign were telling me they thought this decision would come down in their favor. They were expecting to be going to appeal this -- going to the court of appeals, but not going, as trying to appeal the case. They thought that Bush would lose, and they would be simply fighting the Bush appeal. So this did not come down the way the Gore campaign wanted, and it certainly did not come down the way they expected it to come down.

ALLEN: And why did they think they were going to win this one here just a few moments ago?

KARL: Well, they thought they were on very sound legal ground because the provision in Florida law, which says that the county that allows for hand recounts they thought was very clear, and they say there is simply no way to have a hand recount, if you have this 5:00 deadline. So they made that case, made that case forcefully. And what the judge is essentially saying, this is the interpretation that was given to me by the lawyers on the Gore legal team is the judge is saying that it is not in his authority to force the secretary of state to extend that deadline.

The Gore campaign also reads this decision, though, to say that the secretary of state, the Florida secretary of state, would have discretion to extend that deadline, but the judge could not force her to do so.

That is the interpretation offered by the Gore legal team to this decision.

ALLEN: Jonathan, thank you. We will go to Jeanne Meserve in a moment for reaction from Austin. Right now, more people reacting from Florida. So here is Lou with that.

WATERS: The Volusia County spokesman -- it was a Leon Circuit judge who made the ruling. We are now getting reaction from Volusia County. Let's hear what's happening down there.


DAVE BYRON, VOLUSIA CO. SPOKESMAN: I mentioned this morning they have been counted but they hadn't been certified at this level. Let me make sure I don't use the wrong term, they hadn't been recorded at this level. So I am here to tell you that I will have the results, I hope, within a half hour to you, it may take a little bit longer. I know I told you that this morning.

The process this morning is taking time. And it's time is now obviously is more critical than ever. And that's really all I can say at this time. QUESTION: They have examined all the questionable ballots at this point, though?

BYRON: I will keep everyone informed to the best of my abilities. Thank you.

WATERS: Dave Byron, in Volusia County, the spokesman there commenting there. As you may know, there was a recount ongoing in Volusia County, and there was a claim that more time would be needed past this 5:00 p.m. deadline today in order to get that count completed and certified.

It's one of four counties where the Democrats had asked for that hand recount. Mr. Byron just saying now that it will be close. They don't know. They are going to try and make the deadline, but that's the latest from Volusia County -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Well, this is what the Bush campaign had wanted, this 5:00 p.m. deadline to hold. Of course, we do have this appeal. But let's anyway go to Jeanne Meserve and see if we are getting reaction from Austin -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Natalie, I am sure this is music to the ears of the Bush campaign. But there is no official reaction as yet. We know that several top aides are meeting with Don Evans, the campaign chairman, just a few blocks from here. The governor, of course, still at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, undoubtable participating by telephone in those consultations about what reaction to issue here and what strategy to follow next.

Of course, the Bush campaign wanted to see this deadline hold because it wanted to short-circuit any further hand recount of the ballot. One reason, of course, they felt that Bush's margin of victory might erode completely if those hand counts continued. But publicly, they issued many other arguments against the hand recounts, saying that they were subjective, that they were prone to human error and fraud. And so I am sure the Bush campaign very happy, Natalie, but no official reaction here.

Back to you.

ALLEN: Have they ever commented on how they felt this would come out in the end. We just heard from Jonathan Karl saying that the Gore campaign was expecting this deadline to be eradicated today. What about the Bush camp?

MESERVE: I think they were very optimistic that their side would prevail. Their feeling is that this is a statute of Florida law. And, as one spokesman told me today, a law is a law is a law. And they expected it to hold. And indeed, they were proven correct in that regard -- Natalie.

ALLEN: So we haven't heard from George Bush today and don't expect to?

MESERVE: Well, we haven't heard from him since Saturday actually. The press pool went in at that time. He took a couple of questions, spoke a little bit about a possible transition. He was meeting at that time with Dick Cheney, his running mate and head of his possible transition, and with Andrew Card, who is rumored to be his chief of staff, if indeed he does becomes president-elect.

But, no, we haven't seen him since then. He has been sequestered out at his ranch, preserving some measure of privacy and keeping his head low while this all to and fro went forward down in Florida. And we don't know if we will hear from him today. We have gotten no warning whatsoever that the press corp might be summoned in to see him. But these things could change, and they may well indeed before this day is through.

Back to you.

ALLEN: We certainly have a lot of changes these day. Thanks, Jeanne Meserve in Austin, thanks.



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