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Election 2000: Palm Beach County, Florida Canvassing Board Holds Meeting on Whether to Proceed With Manual RecountAired November 15, 2000 - 9:58 a.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Want to take you live back to Palm Beach County. This is the county canvassing board meeting out in public so everyone can hear. Let's go ahead and listen in.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
JUDGE CHARLES BURTON, PALM BEACH COUNTY CANVASSING BOARD: ... had to take a recess to get a court reporter. But that hearing has started and it was the board's feeling this morning that we at least wait to get a ruling from Judge LaBarga because we felt if we're going to start counting ballots, we need to at least know what we're counting. So I think all of you have the guidelines, the 1990 guidelines for how this board is going to determine the vote.
Subsequent to that, a written request was received by the board, submitted by Mr. Carol (ph), seeking to have Commissioner Roberts recused from this board. What the board chose to do at that time was to take a recess briefly so that we all could, individually, review that written request.
And while we were doing that, in the meantime, we also received yet another legal document from the -- I guess it's an emergency petition filed by the secretary of state in the Supreme Court of Florida, which the county attorney can address after.
So going back, I did assure Mr. Carol that I would allow him to make a brief presentation regarding his written request, and he did assure us that he would condense that, is that correct?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Correct, your honor.
BURTON: All right, so the chair at this time will recognize Mr. Carol.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, your honor.
And, again, my name is James Carol. I'm here to present the board a request to disqualify Ms. Roberts based upon conduct that she has engaged in during this recount process that's been under way in Palm Beach County. Ms. Roberts has been observed reviewing several ballots counted as Gore votes despite the fact that there were no hanging chads. She's been observed picking up numerous ballots from questionable ballot piles and interspersing it with the Gore ballot pile. She has been observed bending, twisting, poking and purposely manipulating ballots in a manner that compromised their integrity. Ms. Roberts has been observed bending individual ballots approximately 90 degrees to determine whether the vote was valid.
During the recount of Precinct 163, for example, Ms. Roberts was observed requesting the assistance of an observer from the Democratic Party to assist her in determining whether an individual ballot count should count. Ms. Roberts turned to the representative and asked, what do you see? Not surprisingly, the vote was then counted as a valid vote for Mr. Gore.
And finally, by way of summarizing just a few of these as I wrap up, your honor, Ms. Roberts was observed examining a ballot card and was referring -- and was heard to say, unfortunately, the corners were not detached.
Now, the Republican Party, which I represent, requests that Ms. Roberts recognize and declare a conflict and disqualify herself from further serving on the Palm Beach County Canvassing Board. And in the event that Ms. Roberts fails to disqualify herself, we would request that the remaining members of the board vote to remove or take the appropriate action to disqualify her further serving on the canvassing board in this critical election.
Now, all the voters in Palm Beach County and the state and the nation have the right to be treated fairly. As long as Ms. Roberts continues to participate here, that can't happen. Thank you.
BURTON: All right, thank you, Mr. Carol. Anyone else wish to be heard?
Just go ahead and tell us your name, sir.
DENNIS NEWMAN, FLORIDA DEMOCRATIC PARTY ATTORNEY: Your honor...
BURTON: All right, all right, all right, go ahead.
NEWMAN: Thank you, your honor. Dennis Newman representing the Florida Democratic Party.
This motion is the most ridiculous, frivolous attempt that I've ever seen. Everyone in this room, this area, and all this media, have told you of every action that every member of the board made on Saturday. There are thousands of videotapes of that. To say that one of the commissioners handled the ballots and looked at them in an unfair way is just a desperate attempt, another desperate attempt, of the Republicans to delay the fair and accurate counting of the ballots of Palm Beach County.
I would also like to point out to the board that in order for a vote to be counted, it needed two votes. There were challenged ballots all evening, hundreds of them. All of the commissioners handled the ballots, they looked at them and they voted on them. They did it in a fair and consistent manner. And that 99.9 percent of those ballots were unanimous or higher. I can only think of a few that there was a 2-1 vote. The vote was always unanimous.
And for Mr. Carol to say that it was counted as a Gore vote after Commissioner -- after Ms. Roberts counted it, looked at it, that would take at least one other vote or two other votes from the commissioners. They are saying that you all did a fair and accurate thing, and consistent. This is a desperate attempt and I think that the board should vote not to recuse Ms. Roberts. Thank you.
BURTON: All right, thank you.
Now, we're not -- we could be going back and forth all day here, so let me just make an announcement, first of all. I do have a written statement prepared by Commissioner Roberts. And as chair of the committee, she has asked me to read her statement to you. And this is from Commissioner Roberts' response.
"We have once again delayed the vote count that the canvassing board has unanimously agreed to undertake. This morning's delay includes an attempt to disqualify me based on last Saturday's hand count. Every action we took in conducting the hand count, including the individual ballot decisions, were made in full view of the public observers from both parties and cameras from all over the world.
All three board members examined and voted on all questioned ballots, and nearly all votes were unanimous. During the process, there was never one complaint about the way that I or any of the other members of the board handled the ballots. As a member of this board, I have been and will continue to be fair and impartial, and I am not recusing myself."
And that concludes Commissioner Roberts' statement.
Let me just defer to Ms. Detrick (ph) briefly and in terms of the legal opinion, whether the county -- what the county canvassing board's role is in regard to that, I guess, motion to recuse.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right, the county canvassing board is without legal authority to remove any of its members. Florida statutes clearly define who the membership is and how they are appointed and we're without authority to do anything. It would -- it's up to Commissioner Roberts as this is directly, personally involving her, to make her statement, and she has just done so.
BURTON: All right, thank you. Then this board will take no action on the request filed.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (OFF-MIKE)
BURTON: Right, we're going to address that.
As I told you, while we were back there and we were getting ready to come out, we received over the fax -- and actually, I was just personally served a emergency petition.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: An emergency petition for extraordinary relief was filed by the Katherine -- I'm sorry -- Katherine Harris, the secretary of state. She's asking the supreme court to secure jurisdiction over all these matters and to have all matters that are pending right now transferred to Leon County. She's also asking the Supreme Court to suspend any manual recounts that would occur in Palm Beach County, Dade and Broward counties pending the resolution of all the litigation that's going on.
BURTON: All right, one of the things that -- I mean, I think I can share this chair's frustration as well as the frustration of folks everywhere. On the one hand, we're trying to move forward. On the other hand, it almost seems to be musical court, so to speak, and we're going from one courtroom to the next courtroom to the next courtroom, which is -- ultimately will have an impact on what this board does.
I know the county attorney advised us yesterday. I don't know where this...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would renew my advice to you from yesterday that you do not do anything until this has been judicially determined. In light of the fact that now we are at the highest court, the Florida Supreme Court, it would be my recommendation that we not proceed with anything at this time.
BURTON: Do we have any indication or are we able to determine -- I mean, I'm assuming all of these matters have been filed as emergencies with the supreme court.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, they have.
BURTON: Do we have any indication or will we be able to hear something as to when that court might decide this issue?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are monitoring that right now and...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (OFF-MIKE)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This may -- I may be in luck if this phone call has anything to do with it. We might get lucky here.
QUESTION: What is your name? What is the attorney's name?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm sorry, my name is Denise Detrick.
QUESTION: So is it your understanding that you would be breaking the law if you begin recounting?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right, that wasn't what I was hoping it would be.
BURTON: All right, as -- go ahead.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, so we don't have any indication of when that will occur, but the Supreme Court knows it's an emergency. Now they have a second emergency petition and I'm sure they are taking this just as seriously as the rest of us are and we'll get an immediate resolution of this. So I have no idea when that will be. BURTON: I guess the question -- hold on, folks, hold on. Hold on, folks, please. Right, we're not holding a press conference, we're holding a public meeting. But I did happen to hear one question that struck me, and that was if this board should proceed, are we doing an illegal act by proceeding when on the one hand we're requesting relief from the supreme court, on the other hand we're starting?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That was my contention yesterday and it still stands today. Right now, you have no clear direction from anywhere. You have a motion that you made this morning to suspend everything until Judge LaBarga's ruling. And now we have a higher court, the highest court, suggesting that everything is being resolved, to continue with your suspension.
And, actually, one clarification on the Katherine Harris petition. I used the word "suspension" because we've been using it a lot here, but it's actually asking the supreme court to cease any manual recounts.
BURTON: Commissioner Roberts.
CAROL ROBERTS, PALM BEACH COUNTY CANVASSING BOARD: Madam attorney -- and I guess I don't have a microphone.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (OFF-MIKE)
ROBERTS: No, that's -- no -- oh, OK, thank you.
The question that your honor asked is, are we breaking a law? and you said, yes. Is that what I understood you to say? And if so, what law are we breaking, please?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When we have a binding opinion from the Division of Elections, it's my opinion that you really should comply with that, that you should.
ROBERTS: Even though the attorney general has defined that that's not, that we can go forward? So now we have two different opinions, both whom should be binding?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The attorney general's opinion is persuasive. The Division of Elections' opinion is binding. In fact, the attorney general has said on his Web site that he doesn't even opine on election matters. So everything's getting more complicated by the second.
ROBERTS: Except he did opine. Again, what law are we -- what statute is it that you are quoting that tells me that the secretary of state has a binding opinion?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The section is in chapter -- I don't want to guess the number. I don't have my book in front of me, but it is, I believe, 102.63.
ROBERTS: Well, again, I respectfully decline at this point with agreeing with you, because if we have already decided yesterday to go forward, I believe we should still go forward. But there's nothing on the floor to discuss in that matter...
BURTON: Well, I mean, we're talking...
ROBERTS: ... so I think I am out of order.
BURTON: Well, it's all right. I mean, that's ultimately the issue we're talking about, so...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We just have the motion for this morning.
BURTON: I'm sorry?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have a new kind of motion...
BURTON: Right, a motion to suspend till Judge LaBarga -- I mean, I guess what I'm asking, and we have all these folks here in place and ready to get started, is there any idea that we could find out when and if the supreme court might...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are doing the best we can to monitor this, as is, I'm sure, everybody else out here. There's no way to know. They have a site that you can tap into that we're monitoring, we're calling.
NEWMAN: Your honor?
ROBERTS: We did...
BURTON: Hold on, Mr. Newman.
ROBERTS: OK, we did make a motion this morning that was passed, so we can't start the recount till you all...
ROBERTS: I'm not on the prevailing side so I can even ask for reconsideration.
BURTON: And actually, I don't know if you folks heard it, I should probably just advise them. There was a motion this morning by the chair that we at least suspend the recount until we hear from Judge LaBarga. And that was based on the fact that the chair felt we shouldn't be handling these ballots looking at one standard that the board has adopted if Judge LaBarga were to say, for example, well, you should be counting this as well, and then have to go through them all again. So we felt that hearing was scheduled for 9:00 or 9:30 and we would just wait and see the result of that. And now we have the addition.
And Ms. Detrick, I believe, has the statute she was relying on?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, it is Chapter 1 -- it's Section 106.23. And I can read...
BURTON: Can you read the first... UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: "The opinion, until amended or revoked, shall be binding on any person or organization who sought the opinion."
That's pretty clear.
BURTON: All right.
ROBERTS: And then I can ask the question, madam attorney. Now, you weren't there, but we had another attorney there, whether if we asked the secretary of state for advice, would that in any way impede us going forward? And the information I was given was no. So that was incorrect? Obviously our attorneys didn't answer the question to me in a manner that would give me the ability to even object it because I didn't think when we asked that that it was binding.
BURTON: And just to clarify, the opinion was actually -- the request for advice was actually directed to the director of the Division of Elections. And although that -- I think that office comes under the secretary of state...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
BURTON: ... the opinion was actually directed to the Division of Elections, not the secretary of state's office. So just to clarify that. And I don't know if...
ROBERTS: That's OK.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I wasn't there.
BURTON: All right.
ROBERTS: I did note you weren't there, but I never -- I don't know what the rest of the board -- I certainly never would have asked for anything if I knew it was binding. And I therefore I was -- obviously this morning I voted the same way as I did yesterday and it was a 2-1 vote. I think probably since we've waited, we need to wait for that.
BURTON: You know, one of the things is the -- I mean, just to share with all of you. I mean, the quandary that we're under is we are a three-person, local election board who is trying to act fairly, act appropriately and I think, more importantly, to act lawfully. There is much litigation surrounding this election everywhere, and throughout the state, and it -- you know, it's -- I mean, I'm just kind of sharing with you the frustration that this board has. We are seeking the advice of those who are in a position to advise us and sometimes those opinions are conflicting.
So, in any event, the chair will recognize Mr. Newman briefly.
NEWMAN: Your honor, I'd like to suggest (OFF-MIKE) the county workers to separate the ballots into piles, and that there will be a Republican... KAGAN: If you're just joining us, we've been watching the Palm Beach Canvassing Board dealing with many legal issues today. As we just heard the chair, Judge Charles Burton, mention, the frustration that they're dealing with, this is democracy in action that we're watching right in the Florida sunshine. It is a three-person local election board finding itself in the global spotlight being broadcast here on CNN, and also in the middle of legal tangles following last week's presidential election.
John Zarrella, are you with us there in West Palm Beach?
JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Daryn. I guess to sum up what's been going on here, the first issue they dealt with was this issue the Republican Party brought up for Commissioner Carol Roberts to recuse herself based on what they thought was some conflict of interest, basically. And the commissioner refused to do that and the board refused to take up that action. So, bottom line, the commissioner is still on the canvassing board.
Then they went into all of this legal litigation that's going on and the uncertainty of what they need to be doing. They themselves have gone to the Florida Supreme Court to seek some sort of a clarification from the Florida Supreme Court on whether they can, in fact, hold this recount. And that's based on those conflicting decisions they were talking about where the Division of Elections came back yesterday morning and said, you can't do it because there wasn't anything wrong with the software or machines, and that's the only reason you can be doing a complete recount.
And then the attorney general came back, Bob Butterworth, and said, well, yes, you can be doing it. But Bob Butterworth's opinion is just that, an opinion, it is not binding, whereas the Division of Election's opinion is binding. So they've suspended this election -- they've suspended this recount temporarily yesterday for that, planned on getting started...
KAGAN: Well, and John, if I can...
ZARRELLA: Yes, yes.
KAGAN: If I can just jump in here, they find themselves on hold on a number of issues, both on that, and then also they had to stop because the question became, in fact, what is, in fact, a vote? They didn't know how they were supposed to be counting these votes. Maybe we can either split the screen and show another picture that, while they're meeting here, isn't there a hearing going on at this very moment trying to figure out exactly which vote should count if they do in fact go ahead with the recount?
ZARRELLA: That's correct. They stopped the count, didn't even start it this morning because they found out there was a 9:30 hearing in circuit court over in the city of Palm Beach, West Palm Beach with -- before Judge LaBarga. And the issue there is, is it a dimpled ballot or is a pregnant ballot, pregnant chad count? And the (OFF- MIKE) court to ask the board to force the judge -- ask the judge to force the board to count those because, in that initial recount last Saturday, they were not counting the dimples or the pregnant chads, as they're called, and the Democratic Party believes that those should be counted. Even though the hole isn't punched all the way through, if there's a mark there, that that shows (OFF-MIKE) at least that's the -- that shows voter intent. At least that's the opinion of the Democratic Party.
So that's the other issue that stalled things here this morning -- Daryn.
KAGAN: So, once again, to explain to our viewers what they're seeing on their screen, to the right of your screen you're seeing the Palm Beach County Canvassing Board meeting, dealing with these number of legal issues about even if they're allowed to proceed. And then on the left-hand side of your screen, you see a hearing taking place not too far away, talking about what kind of votes should count.
Then, John Zarrella, on top of all that, we heard the county attorney, or the representative from the county attorney, chime in and say, well, hold on, folks. Even Despite what's going on in West Palm Beach here, I don't know if we can go on because of what the secretary of state of Florida has done in front of the state supreme court in saying, we want to pull everything together and put it in front of the state supreme court and everything else would have to fall under that.
ZARRELLA: That's exactly correct. They're trying to figure out whether they should wait even beyond what Judge LaBarga may or may not do in the next hour or two hours and wait for some dispensation or some sort of an order from the state supreme court that tells them whether they can pick up and do this recount.
So it looks like we're in that perpetual holding pattern here in West Palm Beach. They're going to have to vote, and I believe that that's what they'll do at some point here. There will be a vote of the canvassing board on what they want to do. But the legal opinion, certainly from the county attorney's office here, is they'd better wait because they don't know whether they're breaking any laws or not and what the penalties are.
Carol Roberts said yesterday, well, I'll go to jail if we don't start this recount -- if we're violating a law. But it's just very, very confusing for them as well as everybody else out there as to what legal standing they have and whether they're breaking any laws if they continue and actually go ahead and start a recount by hand.
KAGAN: No lack of strong feeling here. One other thing, John, as a South Floridian, I'd like you to explain to our viewers who are watching across the country -- and we're also broadcasting on CNN International, so people are tuning in from around the world watching this local election board meet outside in the sunshine. People are going to find that remarkable. Why are they doing that?
ZARRELLA: Well, that's literally what it is. It's the Government in the Sunshine laws here in Florida. And everything, just about everything, is open to the public -- cameras in the courtroom. Even later today, although it is rare, the state supreme court will probably be meeting with cameras in the courtroom, I understand. And that all comes under the Government in the Sunshine laws where the public and the media and everybody is entitled to know what goes on. No smoking rooms, no smoke-filled rooms, no behind-closed-doors in Florida.
KAGAN: Just a lot of sunshine. John Zarrella, thank you for that explanation. We're going to go ahead and listen in once again to the Palm Beach Canvassing Board.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... to the Leon County Court -- Circuit Court.
BURTON: So we will wait and hopefully we will be able to keep you folks advised as we go.
Thank you all very much.
KAGAN: So it sounds like they have agreed on one thing, that they are going to wait. They're waiting on a number of legal decisions. That is the Palm Beach County Canvassing Board meeting in Palm Beach. Once again, they are waiting on a number of legal decisions both to come of a courtroom right there in Palm Beach County, also to see what the state supreme court decides to do about the emergency petition that has been brought before it by Florida's secretary of state.
A number of things going on in courtrooms across Florida that will affect the outcome of the presidential election both in Florida and across the U.S.
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