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Election 2000: Florida Secretary of State Petitioning State Supreme Court to Take Control of All Legal Matters Regarding Recount

Aired November 15, 2000 - 8:01 a.m. ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We've got quite a bit to talk about this morning as there are some late-breaking developments on that story, the recount in Florida. Word just coming in to CNN this morning about the Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris now urging the state supreme court of Florida to take over all legal actions that take place now concerning this election because of the multiplicity of different court rulings that may come between the district courts, she wants the state supreme court to handle everything to end the matter and to streamline the process.

CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: The name of the petition pretty much says it all, Emergency Petition for Extraordinary Relief is what it is called.

CNN's Bill Hemmer is standing by in Tallahassee, Florida with more details about this -- Bill.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, Carol, Leon, good morning to you. I made the comment last hour we all may need a law degree before this is over, and it looks like that may indeed be the case.

As you mentioned, Katherine Harris has petitioned the state supreme court in Florida to take over all legal matters regarding the vote here, regarding election 2000 in the state of Florida. In addition to that, at 2:00 Eastern time today, about six hours from now, that is the deadline Katherine Harris has given certain counties in Florida, the deadline to get a letter of justification into her office as to why that recount should continue.

Now what are the implications of the current petition that we are just hearing about? Well, we are not quite sure. Let's bring in Ken Gross, legal analyst live in Washington.

Ken, good morning to you.

KEN GROSS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Hi, Bill, how are you?

HEMMER: I am doing just fine. Bring us up to date. What do you think is happening here with the secretary of state's offer?

GROSS: It's interesting. I think what she has got in mind here are two things, one, she wants this process to go as fast as possible, this will speed it up and also reduces the chance that some local court, some Circuit Court in Florida will rule flat out against her, so far she hasn't had a ruling flat out against her, so that minimizes the chances of that occurring as well.

HEMMER: Can the state supreme court say no, we don't accept this matter?

GROSS: Yes. It is within the discretion of the court whether it chooses to take emergency relief as she has requested. They could just say that, no, let this come up through the normal court process.

HEMMER: In your estimation, does this qualify as emergency relief?

GROSS: I'm not sure that it does. I think that is a tough question because so far, even though we are all getting impatient with the timing here and some deadlines are being put in place, there is still a process, there is still a number of local jurisdictions that are looking at their ballot and there is no reason why it couldn't come up through that process and I'm not sure that they will grant emergency relief.

HEMMER: Take us further between the lines about these letters of justification, is it possible that Katherine Harris is stepping aside to let someone else interpret whether or not the hand recounts are justified?

GROSS: I don't know. I mean, the court in Leon County vested that jurisdiction in her, they said it was up to her to make that decision initially, surely that decision by her would be challenged in court. I don't think she can circumvent, at least the entertaining of these requests for extension of time in exercising whatever discretion she intends to exercise, she -- she hasn't been very clear as to what the standard is. She has talked about hurricanes and acts of God, the question is whether she is going to take some of these other explanations that the local canvassing board has put forward as a basis for why they simply can't get it done, or couldn't get it done by the original deadline.

HEMMER: All right, Ken, quickly here, let us know in your estimation at this point, based on what we do and do not know, does this take this story in a different direction right now?

GROSS: Well, this story changes so quickly, it is hard to know. I think the one direction that this story goes now is we finally have a petition before the Florida Supreme Court. Now I don't know if they will take it, but that is where we have been expecting this case to end up all along, at the highest court in Florida.

And it is interesting because that court is a Democrat-appointed court. So people are very curious as to what is going to happen when these cases finally get to the Florida Supreme Court, and here it is attempted to be lodged there at this point, we'll see if they'll actually take the case.

HEMMER: All right Ken, thanks for your time. Ken Gross live in Washington helping us weed and sort through things this morning. Again, we mention the 2:00 deadline, that is when the secretary of state says that if a county wants to continue with the recount in their part of the state, they have to file a letter stating why that recount is necessary. We do anticipate at least one county, Palm Beach, to file one of those letters later today.

Let's go down to West Palm Beach now and join CNN's John Zarrella watching things there.

John, good morning again to you.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bill, and again another development here. And I'm not sure that the Florida Supreme Court wants the responsibility of dealing with the dimpled ballots and pregnant chads, but that is an issue that is going to court here in circuit court at 9:30 this morning. And the reason I bring that up is because behind me at the emergency operations center, we were supposed to be beginning the hand recount of 431,000 votes from the precincts in Palm Beach County. The hand recount has once again not begun. They have been halted for a second day, a two-to-one vote by the canvassing board to wait. They want to wait before they start until after the court rules on whether they should be counting pregnant chads, dimpled ballots.

The Democratic Party went to court seeking an order to force them to count those because up until now they had been leaving those out, those were not part of the recount in the sampling when they did that last weekend. The Democrats think it should be.

You don't have to have that chad pushed all the way through and light coming through, as long as it is pregnant or dimpled so they said, well let's wait.

Carol Roberts, the third commissioners, said, well, why don't we just set those questionable ones aside, we can come back to them later, let's get this thing rolling. And they said no. So right now they've been taking questions from the floor, going over the rules and regulations of what they hope will be the start of the recount here sometime later today, but that hearing is expected to start at 9:30 this morning.

So before the 50-odd election workers, Democrats and Republicans and observers, can get down to business here in Palm Beach County, they are once again waiting for a court to rule -- Bill.

HEMMER: All right, John, let's set the recount to the side for just a second, and talk more about this potential letter for justification. Again, we talked about it last hour. What are they saying in Palm Beach about possible justification to be filed with the state to allow a recount to continue there?

ZARRELLA: Well, the justification that they would most likely be going with, from what they had told us earlier was that, based on what happened in the sampling of the four precincts, which, though, were heavily Democratic, mind you, that the vice president had a net gain of 19 votes. And so there was a great deal of error in their mind in the machine recount. So they are extrapolating that out to say well, if in fact in sampling of four precincts we had 19 additional votes for the vice president, a net gain, if you extrapolate that out, he could get up to 1,900 additional votes if you count the entire county. And there was also the fact that there were some 10,000 ballots that weren't counted at all because they apparently didn't have a presidential candidate punched out, but some of those could've been dimpled or pregnant. So they could get thrown back in the mix by a judge or stay out. So, but that would be the reasoning Bill.

HEMMER: OK. Palm Beach keeps the suspense alive this morning. John Zarrella, thanks again, for the update down in southeastern Florida.

Now, the lawyers are here in Tallahassee, they have been canvassing the state, really, for the past eight days and David Boies is one of the newest members of the Al Gore campaign. He arrived in town yesterday, we talked with him last hour about this 2:00 deadline for those letters to be filed here in the secretary of state's office. He indicates, in his estimation, Katherine Harris is making up the law at she goes along.


DAVID BOIES, GORE CAMPAIGN ATTORNEY: This is something in which the other side, with respect, is reinventing the law. They are reinventing the law to try to stop what is always done when a candidate requests a manual recount that manual recount takes place.


HEMMER: Again, David Boies last hour on CNN's EARLY EDITION. The Democrats are charging politics are related to Katherine Harris. However, Republicans are indicating to the Democrats to take the politics out of this current issue, they say put the votes through a machine and let's let the machine give us the total amount.

Ben Ginsberg now from last hour here on CNN.


BEN GINSBERG, BUSH CAMPAIGN ATTORNEY: If Mr. Boies and the Gore campaign is truly worried about partisan influence in this they should remember, number one, that Katherine Harris is an elected official, ran on her own, was elected by the people of Florida and is enforcing the law that the judge confirmed yesterday.

And number two, if they're truly worried about unfair partisanship somehow seeping into this process, they should look at what you all showed on your air Saturday in Palm Beach County, in the method that they were counting the votes, including ever-shifting rules on what was going to be a vote and not be a vote.


HEMMER: All right, Ben Ginsberg live last hour here on CNN. Now we want to move from Tallahassee north up to Atlanta, where the Bush campaign expected to be back in court again today at the federal level.

Here is Bob Franken on that issue now.

Hey, Bob, good morning.


What they have done is they have filed a notice of appeal, reserving in effect, the right to appeal the decision in Miami, which did not stop the by-hand recount. They want to appeal, they say, to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals here in Atlanta, which oversees Miami.

What they want immediately is a temporary restraining order, an emergency, to use the words of their notice, an emergency preliminary request to stop the hand counting, saying that there will be irreparable harm if in fact it continues.

Now the judge in Miami said that he did not have any standing in this case, there was no reason for this to be in the federal system, excuse me, so they are now planning to come up here and say to the appeals court, we believe that there are constitutional issues involved, the judge was mistaken in Florida when he did not, in fact, rule that there were matters of the Constitution here. We think this should be in the federal court system and that the court system in the federal jurisdiction should take this case over and stop the hand counts.

Now the rulings thus far have been that elections are state matters and that the state, of course, of Florida can handle it.

Now one of the things that lawyers on each side are going to try and do and they are very clever about this, is to watch very closely what the other side says and maybe perhaps use in later litigation some of the same material to try to trap the other side.

In other words, if one side makes an argument that it has to reverse on a later court proceeding, then the other side will try and say: Look at this, you've made the argument for us.

So there is a lot of maneuvering going on, a lot of fights over who has jurisdiction. Thus far, the federal courts have said this should be in the state courts -- Bill.

HEMMER: All right, Bob Franken live up in Atlanta. Bob, thanks to you.

Again, the news of the hour here in Tallahassee, the secretary of state, Katherine Harris, is petitioning the state supreme court to take control of all legal matters here regarding the vote and the election from the state of Florida in the year 2000.

Again, it continues to be a wild and wacky case here in Florida. We'll follow a it in every step of the way coming up shortly in Tallahassee.

Now back to Atlanta. Here's more with Leon and Carol at the CNN Center.

HARRIS: All right, thanks, Bill. We should also mention that the Supreme Court may be making a ruling on that when it begins its hearing or after the hearing begins and that's to come, sometime about an hour and 13 -- 14 minutes from now. We will keep our ears and eyes open there.

Now publicly, both Al Gore and George W. Bush are relatively mum. They are letting the others do the talking.

Let's check in now with CNN's Jeanne Meserve at Bush central in Austin to see if there is any change there.

Jeanne, good morning.


You just heard Bob Franken talking about that appeal in Atlanta, that is just one of the avenues the Bush campaign is following now to try and stop further reconsideration of hand recounted ballots in Florida. It is arguing forcefully for its interpretation of that ruling yesterday, which said that ballots had to be certified by 5:00 p.m. They are saying there has been a vote, there has been a recount, now there has been a certification, and it is time for that hand recounting to stop.


KAREN HUGHES, BUSH CAMPAIGN COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: If they go forward after tonight's deadline, these Democratic counties are no longer recounting, they are reinventing, attempting to re-interpret the results of the election and the intentions of voters by subjective, not objective means.


MESERVE: Now the Democrats are arguing that that hand recounting should go forward and the secretary of state should accept later amended returns. The Bush campaign saying she has the discretion not to do that. They believe that because these hand recounts are being conducted late, because there are not uniform standards and because in some cases they don't feel there was adequate reason to do the hand recount, she would have ample grounds for turning them down.

But the central goal here is to stop those hand recounts. They were afraid that they will narrow George W. Bush's margin or perhaps eliminate it altogether. They are saying there has been a vote, there has been a recount, there has been certification. The only thing that is outstanding now are those overseas absentee ballots, which will be tallied on Friday -- Leon.

HARRIS: All right, thank you much, Jeanne Meserve reporting live this morning from Austin, Texas -- Carol.

LIN: All right. From Austin, Texas to the nation's capital, Al Gore is standing by there along with CNN's Jonathan Karl. John, as you take a look at this development out of Florida, Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris now wanting, petitioning the Florida Supreme Court to take over all matters legal regarding this presidential battle. Does this play to Al Gore's favor in his legal suit given that the court is a Democrat-appointed court?

KARL: Well, the Gore legal team is right now, as we speak, scrambling to try to answer that question, Carol. They don't know. I mean, they are looking at Katherine Harris' decision, at her request to the supreme court. They are reacting initially with a bit of skepticism.

Obviously, all along, they have called Katherine Harris a political crony of George W. Bush and his brother Jeb. They don't trust her actions here. But they are not sure about exactly how this would play out. They don't really know yet what she is trying to do.

I just spoke to a member of the Gore legal team, they are looking at this request. One thing they fear is that this could potentially be an effort to short circuit all of these legal matters and get them all done with at once in a way that could potentially not be favorable to the Gore campaign. So they are looking very carefully at this and obviously this is a very rapidly developing situation.

But they have been working hard in those counties, Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach. They are very concerned about going forward with those hand recounts, especially in Miami-Dade which voted against the hand recount, and they are looking to go to court to try to make Miami-Dade reconsider that decision.

This, of course, would all be affected by Katherine Harris' latest move. That's why they are scrambling as we speak to try to figure out the implications and what they'll say about it.

LIN: And at the same time, Katherine Harris has imposed this 2:00 p.m. deadline today for any county wanting to have ballots certified after yesterday's 5:00 p.m. deadline. So what does -- does the Gore camp, do they have an opinion about what may happen this afternoon if West Palm Beach's count might continue, or any other county for that matter?

KARL: Well, they believe the counts will continue and they see -- you know, the reason why we have this 2:00 p.m. deadline, this comes out of Katherine Harris' interpretation of Judge Lewis' decision yesterday.

Judge Lewis rejected the Gore campaign's request for an injunction that would have blocked her from imposing that 5:00 deadline yesterday. But the Gore campaign sees a very clear silver lining to that decision, and that is that Judge Lewis also said that Katherine Harris must consider late returns, must consider allowing counties to amend their results and that Katherine Harris may not reject those arbitrarily.

So the Gore campaign believes that if she goes ahead and rejects these request for late returns based on the manual recounts that they have very clear grounds for legal challenge on that front.

LIN: Which then of course might go to the Florida Supreme Court depending on whether the court accepts the matter -- Katherine Harris' petition?

KARL: Precisely, Carol.

LIN: All right, thanks so much, Jonathan Karl, for reporting in.



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