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Palm Beach County Canvassing Board Meets to Consider Manual Recount

Aired November 14, 2000 - 4:26 p.m. ET


NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Natalie Allen, CNN Center in Atlanta, and we are 34 minutes away from a deadline in the state of Florida for counties to send in their vote tallies for the presidential election for the state to certify them, and the county at the epicenter is Palm Beach County. You know about all of the troubles that they have been going through to try to get things settled there, a long way to go. But right now, the county canvassing board is deciding how to send its votes to the state and whether or not to consider some manual recounts that have taken place.

We're going to join CNN's Martin Savidge, who's watching this hearing that's taking place right now -- Martin.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Natalie, the canvassing board is holding a public hearing outside of the building here. They have already decided that they will certify the votes that they tabulated as of Sunday. Now, they're debating the issue as to whether to continue with a manual recount.

Let's listen in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three days later, the Supreme Court says, hey, you guys are wrong, you shouldn't have done this -- well, we've wasted three days of counting, I guess.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's it. I mean, that is it. But I just want -- you have to be aware of...

JUDGE CHARLES BURTON, PALM BEACH COUNTY CANVASSING BOARD: All right. I will entertain a brief discussion, first from (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

CAROL ROBERTS, PALM BEACH COUNTY CANVASSING BOARD: Let me just say that we need to sign this, so...

BURTON: I understand. Those will be signed. He's standing right here, so...

ROBERTS: Well -- no, I understand that. I'm saying I would prefer not to have anything. Let's just vote, sign this, and get it done, and then we can come back and they can make all the comments they want.

BURTON: All right, thank you, commissioner.

ROBERTS: I want to get...


BURTON: Thank you, commissioner. The chair recognizes first Mr. Kuny (ph).


... be advised that the county canvassing board has the authority to continue with a manual recount, has essentially fulfilled the statutory directive, which means the opinion of the department of elections is no longer binding since the canvassing board was a party to that proceeding.

BURTON: Right.


BURTON: That's fine. All right. And the chair will recognize Mr. Wallace.

MARK WALLACE, PALM BEACH COUNTY CANVASSING BOARD: Thank you. Right now, the entire world is watching you all and the action that you take. The chief election officer of the state of Florida has told you that you cannot act lawfully and conduct a manual recount. What we suggest and what you suggested this morning -- and nothing has changed since your hearing this morning -- that you wait for a court decision telling you it's legal or not legal to continue with the manual recount.

I think the Bush campaign as well as the Gore-Lieberman campaign would all, of course, abide by the appropriate legal decision. But to the extent that you act right now precipitously when you have, in your mind, conflicting instructions from the state I believe taints this entire process and calls it into question.

You must, you must do the appropriate right thing with the right authority. Right now, you have the senior election official in the state telling you it is not lawful. You may recount, presumably if a court allows you to do so, in three or four days. Nobody wants this process tainted.

I believe it's important that you wait, as you said you were going to wait this morning, for the appropriate legal decision out of an appropriate court telling you what to do.

BURTON: It seems to me -- thank you, Mr. Wallace. All right. Assuming...

ROBERTS: Yes. May I call for the vote, Mr. Chairman?

Mr. Chairman, I'd like to call for a vote please. We've had both -- both sides.

BURTON: OK. All right. The motion is called to a vote. All in favor...



All opposed?

Hearing none, the motion carries. I will -- we will address -- please do not applaud or make -- thank you. We need to address a couple of brief matters, which I will -- the county attorney -- and then we need to discuss when we can get this started hopefully.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just have a technical -- I need some -- I need your direction on a couple of matters.

Mr. Chairperson, the Volusia County has already voted to appeal the Leon County decision, and I wanted your authorization, or your direction as to whether or not you wanted Palm Beach County to do the same.

BURTON: To join in with their lawsuit?


BURTON: I think that would be a wise idea.


ROBERTS: Do you want a motion to that effect?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just direction is fine.

ROBERTS: I agree with the judge.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right, the second would be, Broward County wants to join in our motion -- in our petition to the Supreme Court and I would like your authorization to do that.

BURTON: I have no objection to that.

ROBERTS: I have no objections, either.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right, thank you.

BURTON: Mr. Wallace.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We would like to ask, if the Supreme Court concludes that the canvassing board act is an act of extralawful in conducting this manual recount, what steps are you going to undertake to ensure the sanctity of these ballots, to make sure that they are not tainted, bad things do not happen to them that undermine the vote -- the intent of the voters on those ballots. Simply put, Judge...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, it didn't get filed yet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, it has not been filed. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right, exactly, that's what I just said.


BURTON: Yes, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What happens if a court -- the Supreme Court says that the canvassing board is acting illegally by conducting this manual recount?

BURTON: Then we're going to abide by any ruling of the court, of course.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And what would you do to preserve the sanctity of those ballots that have been...


BURTON: I think the same thing that's always done, Mr. Wallace.


BURTON: You have been in there.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, this has never been done before. I don't understand what's to be done.

BURTON: All right, do we need to address anything else?

ROBERTS: I don't have anything else.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is the judge refusing to answer the question?

ROBERTS: I think the judge answered the question. We have kept those ballots under security and they'll continue to be kept in the same manner that we've done to protect the sanctity of them.

BURTON: All right, we need -- do need to address the -- when this could be started and what are the situations.

ROBERTS: Start it at 7:00 in the morning?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I will do my best to get everybody together by 7:00 a.m.


BURTON: I might give a suggestion that in terms of how we do the recount, the manual count -- we can do it at 7:00 a.m., hopefully. All right, we are adjourned until 7:00 a.m.

ROBERTS: Thank you.

BURTON: Thank you. ALLEN: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) ... the Palm Beach County canvassing board apparently deciding to go ahead with the manual recount, even though the secretary of state has told the county that, that would be not a lawful act. However, the county is appealing that to the state supreme court. So it's hoping the court will allow the county for that to take -- to do that manual recount.

Martin Savidge joins us now. Martin, is -- from what I hear, is that what takes place tomorrow morning at 7:00 a.m.?

SAVIDGE: Well, let me clarify a little bit for you, Natalie, what has transpired out there. What they have decided to do is that they have decided to certify their vote tallies that they had from the second recount that was finished up on Sunday morning, I believe it was.

So, they have decided that, that is the vote they will certify and send off to Tallahassee and that will satisfy the secretary of state. As far as meeting the 5:00 deadline, they'll do it with about 30 minutes to spare. So, they believe that since they have conducted that work, certified their vote and sent it on, then they are now free and clear to conduct a total hand count for the entire county and will not be under the restrictions, as was outlined by the secretary of state -- excuse me.

They have met their obligation, filing before 5:00. Now they are going ahead with the recount. Obviously, the hope is that this tally will be counted somewhere later along the line. They plan to start that recount at 7:00 in the morning and, as they have pointed out, they think it's going to take them a week to conduct, which means it takes them well beyond any of the other deadlines that we had thought might be out there beyond 5:00 and that is, of course, coming up this Friday when the absentee ballots had to be counted.

So, those are the motions that were taken right there, there were two of them -- the first one, where they decided to basically certify the votes as were finally counted for a second time on Sunday and then, their second motion was to go ahead with the hand recount that will start tomorrow morning.

It's been a very hectic, very confusing day, and the clock was winding down on them. You saw as they were up there on the podium there that they wanted to make sure they signed those documents before they actually moved on to the next motion, they did not want the minutes to slip away, because then they would be in violation of the law as set out by the secretary of state. So, they conducted that business and moved on.

This meeting was open to the public, you might have heard people in the background there. There was a lot of chanting ahead of the board making its appearance here, people demanding revote, revote, and that every vote counts. There were counterchants that were being offered by supporters of the Bush campaign, they were being heard. Several times, the judge raised his voice and said, look, we can move this entire proceedings indoors and you can watch it on the local access channel if you want to see it, we are not going to put up with the sort of political rivalry out here in the parking lot, and for the most part, the audience did respect it.

However, there was one point when Carol Roberts, one of the certification -- one of the Election Canvass Board members, wanted to know what would be the punishment if they didn't -- if they went ahead here. She said, I am willing to go to jail, and that brought a rousing cheer from many supporters in the crowd. That's the status of things right now -- Natalie.

ALLEN: All right, thank you, Martin Savidge with the latest from Palm Beach County.

Now for more here, let's go over to Lou.

WATERS: That's Palm Beach County, but there are other counties involved in this dilemma, both legal and political.

Brian Cabell in DeLand, Florida. He has been covering the business in Volusia County, where a recount has been under way.

Are they going to make the certification deadline, Brian?

BRIAN CABELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They certainly are, Lou. In fact, just about 10 minutes ago at 4:25, they voted to certify the hand count, and the Republicans aren't especially happy about it, because they are saying some absentee ballots were not counted. They think there is an undercount on those. Some 264 absentee ballots, they say, were not counted. Nevertheless, the board said, we did the best we could, we want to certify these ballots, and they did certify them. They voted to certify them and they are about to hand them off, we are told, to a courier here in this room where they've been counting for the last three days.

What you are seeing right now are lawyers, the canvassing board, you are seeing law enforcement in this room, about ready to officially certify and hand off these ballots that they have been counting for the last three days to a representative from the secretary of state's office. So, the whole process is just about complete here, but not without some controversy. As I mentioned, Republicans are not entirely happy with these results, they think 264 ballots, absentee ballots, which generally have gone Republican, are not being counted. They're looking into it, but as of right now, they are certifying the results as they stand -- Lou.

WATERS: I don't understand the absentee aspect. I thought Friday was the deadline for those, Brian?

CABELL: Well, these are the absentee ballots that have been recounted. Everything has been recounted, all 184,000 ballots have been recounted over the last three days, Lou, and somehow the numbers just aren't being reconciled quite properly.

You might recall a couple of days ago there was one precinct where they found 320 ballots that had not been counted the first time around. Now on this -- and on this recount they are finding that somehow the numbers don't reconcile with the initial numbers. There are somehow 264 absentee ballots missing in the recount. So, they're trying to reconcile those numbers, but right now, the board has said, we've done the best we can, and these numbers will be the numbers we will give to the secretary of state. If by some chance they find the error -- if there is, in fact, an error -- then they will try to amend those later on. But, of course, that's questionable legally whether they can do that, because these are supposed to be the final numbers. So, right now the numbers are in -- we don't have them, I should mention that, we do not know the final numbers.

WATERS: That was my next question, if you had any indication what those numbers were and if they had changed.

CABELL: No. The last word we had was after about probably three-quarters of the precinct, we had a net gain for Vice President Al Gore of some 24 votes, they had rediscovered about 500 votes total and Gore had picked up 24 net in this county. So we do not have those final numbers yet, and we expect to have those, we think, within the next hour or so, perhaps even sooner than that.

WATERS: OK, Brian Cabell keeping watch in DeLand, Florida, that's Volusia County, where a recount has been going under way and they are going to certify that hand count.

Greta Van Susteren is with us.

As we move in now, Greta, about 20 minutes before the deadline in Florida for filing the presidential vote totals, or offer a reason why you are not -- one of the 67 counties is not offering a vote total -- the question is, what if the reason is, we haven't had enough time? Is that a -- what the secretary of state's counsel called an applicable fact or circumstance the secretary of state will consider valid?

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I don't know if that's what she will consider, but I will tell you one thing, is that Judge Lewis today ordered her to withhold the determination as to whether or not she will consider any late filed returns.

Now, if we get to that position that are late votes, that some county submits to her; let's say, for instance, Palm Beach County, where I am -- if she considers them, then there's going to be no problem. If she doesn't consider them, then what I expect you'll see, Lou, is you'll see -- Lou -- you'll see is that they're back in court fighting again, claiming that she abused her discretion, that she's wrong. But that is an unsettled question, Lou.

WATERS: I don't know if you had a chance to -- I have reverb here, I can't -- OK. I don't know if you had a chance to watch the canvassing board in Palm Beach and their dilemma over how to proceed. The chairman of the board, the judge said, we don't have any guidance here. Whether we should begin recounting in the morning, if that would be illegal or if it would be legal. So I imagine because of the critical mass of legal efforts around the state that there hasn't been time for that? VAN SUSTEREN: Well, it depends on who you talk -- whether or not they should. What we are hearing is that the recount will start tomorrow.

Now, whether or not he thinks that they can do it or not, there are two different schools of thought. One is that they should go to the Florida Supreme Court and get a decision because right now they have two contrary opinions. They have the secretary of state that says they can't, and they've got the attorney general of the state which says that they can. So you got that conflicting. If they want to get a final stamp of approval, then go to the Florida Supreme Court for some sort of declaration from them.

Secondly, what the lawyers in the civil case -- in the case brought on behalf of voters in this court behind me claim -- is they claim that when Judge Labarga ruled today that he told them that they should do the manual count. That's not how I read the order. What I understand the judge to say is that they are permitted to do the manual count, if they so feel.

Not that he is barring them or telling that they should, but that the door remains open if they want to. Now, they can start their recount tomorrow, the manual recount, and if they want to submit more votes to the secretary of state, at that point she can either accept them or reject them and they can find out whether -- from the Florida Supreme Court -- they should. That's what they can do.

WATERS: What is the further legal actions that the county attorney asked the canvassing board there in West Palm Beach to join -- whether or not they wanted to join?

VAN SUSTEREN: I'm not sure I understand the question, Lou. Ask it again.

WATERS: There is -- apparently, Volusia and Broward counties are appealing the judge's decision to the state Supreme Court and the county attorney in West Palm Beach was asking the canvassing board there if they would like to join in that. Do you know what that's all about?

VAN SUSTEREN: I do not, unless you mean the issue out of Broward county, where they are not going to do the manual count. But I simply don't know.

You know, Lou, we've had so many cases that we've been tracking down in this particular court in West Palm Beach -- we've been in federal court in Miami. I mean, this is, you know -- the politicians always complain about the litigation explosion; and in the past few days, if there's a litigation explosion, they're the guilty party because I don't know which case you're talking about.

WATERS: I can see what you're saying. It's probably better to talk about what is happening rather than what's possible or what might happen.

So, Greta Van Susteren, if you'll just stay right there, we'll be calling upon you again, shortly, I imagine -- Natalie.

ALLEN: A flurry of developments on this day. We'll get reaction from the Gore and Bush camps right after this.


ALLEN: We are now 15 minutes away from the deadline when Florida counties must submit their vote counts for certification in the presidential race. A court in Tallahassee today upheld the state's deadline of 5:00 p.m. Eastern, but also said the state may not ignore results that are turned in late.

State officials say they have already received certified canvasses from all but two counties: Glades and Volusia. Palm Beach County officials agreed moments ago to send in their current results and begin their hand recount tomorrow morning. Five judges, in rapid succession today, recused themselves from hearing lawsuits challenging Palm Beach County's so-called butterfly ballot.

So what do the Bush and Gore camps think of today's developments? Let's check in first with CNN's John King; he is in Washington covering the Gore campaign.

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Natalie, the Gore campaign fully expecting that, within this hour, Florida's secretary of state will once again announce a new set of results for the state of Florida's presidential election and that, once again, she will say that George W. Bush is in the lead. But at the same time, the Gore camp not giving up hope that, ultimately, recounts will show the vice president carried the state, wins it's 25 electoral votes and, of course, that winner of Florida will go on to win the presidency of the United States.

Now, the Gore campaign's case built on today's state court decision in Tallahassee. The judge said he could not order the secretary of state to extend her deadline -- 5:00 deadline tonight, fast approaching. But he did say that he felt she should not be arbitrary in refusing to consider the results if counties, like those counting hand recounts come to her later and say, we've recounted our votes and we have amended results.

After that decision -- the Gore campaign -- it could have been viewed as a defeat for them. They did not win an injunction to stop today's certification. Instead, though, they cast it as a victory, at least in the long-term. Former secretary of state Warren Christopher urging the four counties, Volusia, Dade -- Miami-Dade -- Broward and Palm Beach County to immediately get about the business of conducting those hand recounts.


WARREN CHRISTOPHER, OBSERVER FOR GORE CAMPAIGN: We call now on the four counties to move ahead with their hand counts in accordance with this decision. These hand counts must, under the ruling by the circuit court, be considered by the secretary of state. And we certainly hope that she'll conclude that the lawful votes of the citizens of Florida should be included in any final tabulation.


KING: This, a political calculation as much as a legal calculation. The Gore camp banking on the fact that those recounts will show the vice president pulling ahead in the race and banking on the fact that the secretary of state will feel enormous political pressure to accept the amended results.

If not, the Gore campaign prepared to go back to that state court judge and say that your ruling says she cannot act arbitrarily, we believe she is. Politically they think they're in a much stronger case if the judge orders the secretary of state to consider the hand recounts in these four counties. And again today, more criticisms from Democrats of the secretary of state, Katherine Harris, making note of the fact that she is very close to the Florida governor, Jeb Bush, that she went to New Hampshire and campaigned for Texas Governor George W. Bush.

Hardball, politically, here as this very complicated and sometimes confusing legal wrangling plays out -- Natalie.

ALLEN: John King in Washington.

WATERS: And now to the Bush campaign; CNN's Jeanne Meserve covering us from Austin, Texas -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, a very different interpretation of today's events from this campaign. The Bush campaign saying it has won and won big with this court decision, saying that results have to be certified by 5:00 p.m. this afternoon. They hope that this will short circuit further consideration of those hand-counted ballots. A hand count which, they believe, has been subjective and selective and subject to human error and to fraud.

As you just heard John King argue, the Gore campaign is saying that the secretary of state may have discretion to accept ballots later on. The Bush campaign saying they don't think so. They think there is a very minor loophole. They are not worried about it. They say it would be within the secretary of state's discretion to ignore those ballot; one, because the hand recounts would have been conducted in a tardy fashion; and two, because the hand recounts will have been conducted in a tardy fashion and, two, because they would have been conducted in what they term a flawed fashion. That is, there have not been uniform standards for conducting those hand recounts.

They say that to prove she had been arbitrary and had abused her power by rejecting hand recounts would require it to be shown that she had acting irrationally or contrary to an explicit legal command -- something they believe will be very difficult for the Gore campaign to do. So they are very happy with the opinion and what they think it signifies for them.

Of course, former secretary of state James Baker was out front for the campaign today. He made an offer to the Gore campaign, saying, you respect that 5:00 deadline, we'll drop all legal action and we'll accept the hand counts that are completed by that time. The Gore campaign turned him down. The Bush campaign saying this afternoon that indicates that the Gore campaign is not interested in resolving this matter, that it only wants recount after recount after recount in highly Democratic areas until it has won this election. Back to you.

WATERS: Is any more legal action being contemplated by the Bush campaign, speaking specifically of the federal injunction that was requested and turned down yesterday to stop the hand recount? Is any appeal planned in that matter?

MESERVE: Lou, we know that that was discussed yesterday but as far as we know, there has been no decision to move forward on that front -- Lou.

WATERS: All right, Jeanne Meserve in Austin. Texas, with the Bush campaign.

We'll take a break and this special edition of Election 2000 will continue in just a moment.


ALLEN: Lou was just talking with Jeanne Meserve about whether the Bush campaign plans to appeal a federal court's decision yesterday to allow to allow the hand counts in Florida to continue. We have CNN's Bob Franken working that angle of the story. He's outside the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals here in Atlanta -- Bob.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Natalie, it happened just minutes ago. The Bush campaign, after an internal debate, has decided they will come to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals where we are right now and has filed a motion asking, quote, an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction.

What they are seeking is the same thing they failed to get yesterday from a federal district judge in Miami. And that is a temporary restraining order stopping the hand recounts that are going on in Florida. Of course, since that time, it's gotten even more confused in the state. But still, they want a meeting of the appeals court here to try and get their emergency restraining order.

Now, we are told by the clerk that the plan here is to, as quickly as possible, assemble a three-judge panel who will try to hear the case, perhaps tonight, more probably, tomorrow. The normal procedure, then, would be that there would be a period of days before a three-judge panel or weeks before a three-judge panel would act. But under these circumstances, all of this might then happen very quickly and there might be a very quick decision.

Of course, the plaintiffs or the defendants of the two sides of this case, if either is dissatisfied with the ruling by the three- judge panel, they could request what is called an en banc hearing. That is to say the entire appeals court could be designated to hear what amounts to an appeal of the appeal. All of this, of course, is operating under a very, very tight deadline. The district judge yesterday ruled that there was no role for the federal courts in this, that it was entirely a state manner and that, also, he saw no irreparable harm, which is usually the basis for an emergency temporary restraining order.

There was a debate within the Bush camp whether to come to the appeals court here or seek an expedited appeal right to the U.S. Supreme Court. But they decided for tactical reasons that they would come here to the Atlanta circuit court of appeals, the 11th circuit.

You might remember that is the same circuit court appeals that was involved very much in the Elian Gonzalez case. Once again at the forefront of things. They're going to be asked to participate in the election considerations and see if they agree or disagree with the federal district judge in Miami.

Again, the Bush camp has decided to seek, quote, an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction from the appellate court here, the 11th Circuit Court -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Bob Franken, thank you, and as you say, we don't know if they will meet tonight, tomorrow, or whenever, but we will be in contact with you as the Bush camp continues to try and keep these hand counts from progressing.

Now to Lou.

WATERS: Now to Tallahassee.

CNN's Bill Hemmer, put a button on it for us.

BILL HEMMER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, just about four minutes away right now, just getting off the phone with officials over in the secretary of state's office. They indicate that indeed those numbers from Palm Beach and Volusia coming in right now. However they have not been finalized just yet from the secretary of state's office. That may happen at any moment, actually.

From there, if nothing else stops in between now and 5:00 Eastern time, as you well know, Lou, that things can change on any minute around here. At that point, the canvassing commission can either start certification of those votes tonight or it's possible they could wait until tomorrow. We just don't know at this point.

We also expect someone from the secretary of state's office to talk later tonight about an hour from now, possibly 90 minutes. That may be Katherine Harris. It may somebody from her office. We will wait and see what happens here. It's been another wild day here in Tallahassee, much like yesterday.

It continues to tumble in here and the day is not over just yet, Lou. We will watch it for you, coming up shortly.

WATERS: All right, Bill. And just wait until tomorrow.

ALLEN: And we'll be back to take you through it. Thanks so much for watching, I am Natalie Allen.

WATERS: I am Lou Waters. A special edition of "INSIDE POLITICS" next. We continue our coverage of Election 2000. Take care.



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