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Presidential Election Too Close to Call: Overseas Ballots Still Uncounted; Locked Ballot Box Found in FLA

Aired November 8, 2000 - 12:00 p.m. ET


FRANK SESNO, CNN ANCHOR: Al Gore and George W. Bush are men in waiting today and we still don't know who won the presidency. We may not know until tomorrow. This following a nail biting election night, networks declaring Bush the winner in the wee hours and then retracting it. Gore even conceded and then basically retracted that.

All due to some hotly contested returns in Florida, which packs 25 crucial electoral votes. A recount is underway.

Now, election officials in Miami Dade County were alerted early this morning that a full locked ballot box was left behind after the polls closed last night. It happened at a church with a largely African-American and West Indian congregation.

This much we do know. In the all important Electoral College, where it takes 270 votes to win, Al Gore leads with 260 votes compared to 246 for Bush. As in Florida, the vote in Oregon remains too close to call. Gore lost in Bill Clinton's Arkansas and in his own home state of Tennessee. No candidate's lost at home in their home state since George McGovern back in 1972.

Gore can take some solace in the popular vote for now. He got the most votes nationwide. And there you see the votes and the numbers right there. But if the recount supports initial returns, which showed Bush edged Gore out in Florida, then the Texas Governor will have enough electoral votes to declare victory.

Third party candidates Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan may have made a difference. Nader attracted well over 96,000 voters, Buchanan 17,000. The results of Florida recount will come from the State Board of Election headquarters in Tallahassee. This is also where the absentee and overseas ballots are being counted for the first time.

Those Nader and Buchanan numbers, by the way, a moment ago referring to Florida.

CNN's Mike Boettcher joins us now from Florida's capital, right in the center of the storm, Mike?

MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's definitely been the center of the storm here. I've been running around the state capital building for the last 30 minutes trying to find out exactly what is going on. This is what we know, Frank. County by county they have begun to count around the state. The results will be reported here and they are going to release those results as they come in from the county. They're not going to hold back. They apparently have until about 7:00 P.M. tomorrow evening. There's a difference in the time between 5:00 and 7:00. But Clay Roberts with the Division of Elections here, says that he wants to make sure that the counties can take great care in this recount.


CLAY ROBERTS, FLORIDA ELECTIONS DIRECTOR: They're going to be very careful. That's why we didn't want to press the supervisors to finish up today. You know, we understood that they, you know, while the people of the State of Florida deserve a quick resolution to this issue, they more certainly deserve a methodical, a diligent and an accurate resolution.


BOETTCHER: We've been trying to track down reports that two ballot boxes were found, one in Dade County, one in Palm Beach, but no one knows anything about that. The Division of Elections says that it's not their responsibility to look for irregularities. That's done by someone else. It's their responsibility to do the recount and the results should be coming, trickling in county by county and picking up steam. So we should have a pretty good idea.

There's also the matter of the overseas ballots and that could be very crucial because this is a very tight race here. We don't have an exact figure, that's varied on the overseas ballots. We do know in 1996 there were about 2,300 of those. They have 35 days before the election, they have until that time to request a ballot. And then if they're able to mail them in on the day of the election, those ballots are still valid. So those ballots could be trickling in for several days and, Frank, all over this state capital we're trying to make sense of this and as we do, we'll give you more information, Frank.

SESNO: Well, good luck, Mike. Thanks.

Well, the recount will be conducted at polling locations throughout Florida. One is in Fort Lauderdale, where CNN's John Zarrella is standing by. John, it's over to you now.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're going to try and start to make some sense out of what's going on in Florida here at one o'clock at the Voting Equipment Center. And behind me, Frank, you can see that there are some blue lock boxes and 587,000 votes that were cast in Broward County, 60 percent of those that were in favor of the Vice President, will be recounted starting at about one o'clock this afternoon, and it's a long process using those computer machines there, depending on how many of a dozen machines are working -- they had a little problem with one of them yesterday -- it could take anywhere from two to four hours to recount those 587,000 votes here just in Broward County alone.

In the 67 total counties in Florida, the same process will have to be undertaken throughout the day today and it is going to be a very closely watched process because there's been a lot of talk about things that may not have gone quite right here in the State of Florida. We've been talking a lot about Palm Beach County, where apparently some people who voted felt as if when they went to the polls and when they opened their ballot that because of the proximity and the arrangement of the names for the presidential election on that ballot that when they punched what they thought was a vote for Vice President Al Gore that perhaps they actually punched a vote for Pat Buchanan.

So there is some concern that that might be a problem in Palm Beach County, although we're hearing now that maybe it's not a problem.

Also, we were talking about this ballot box in Dade County that was found at a school in Dade County, a church day care center, another issue that has yet to be resolved in the State of Florida. So a lot of other issues besides just the simple recount and as you've been talking about, the overseas absentee ballot by the many tens of thousands of military folks who call Florida home.

So who knows how long it's all going to take to shake out here in the state. But it's all going to begin, Frank, here in Broward County in about 50, 55 minutes when election officials will come in here and begin the process of recounting the votes.


SESNO: OK, John Zarrella, thanks very much.

In a little over an hour from now, the Governor of the State of Florida, Jeb Bush, will hold a news conference. That's at 1:00 P.M. Eastern Time. And he's not only, of course, the Governor of Florida, he happens to be the brother of the Governor of Texas, who may or may not be the president elect of the United States. So what he has to say and the assurances that he gives as to the process that Florida now finds itself in the midst of will be something that will be very interesting, indeed, to listen to, that at 1:15 P.M. That's when we're told it will take place, Eastern Time.

Now the Florida recount, legal challenges and the Electoral College, those are the subjects for our domestic viewers coming up on "BURDEN OF PROOF" at the bottom of the hour, right after this program.

Now, it must be obvious that both candidates are anxious as they await results from the Florida recount in this unprecedented situation this country finds itself in. CNN's Jonathan Karl is with the Gore campaign in Nashville, Tennessee. John joins us now for reaction from the Gore camp.

John, what are they saying?

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're putting the best face on this. First of all, on the Florida recount, they're looking at that hopefully. They think that's going to -- they hope that's going to turn out for the best. But they are also putting the best face on this unusual situation by pointing out that Al Gore, Vice President Gore won the popular vote. He received more votes nationally than George W. Bush.

They also point out he received more votes than Bill Clinton did in either 1992 or 1996. In fact, they point out, that as a percentage of the vote, that Vice President Gore did better than any Democratic candidate since Lyndon Baines Johnson, according to Deputy Campaign Manager Mark Fabiani.

That said, of course, that doesn't mean Al Gore is going to be president. Looking to the Electoral College, the popular vote no guarantee there. That is an issue that we have talked about with Al Gore in the past. On October 29th in an interview on CNN, Vice President Gore was asked if a president who lost the popular vote but became president because he won the Electoral College could govern effectively. This is what he had to say.


AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It actually has happened before in our history. I think it's unlikely to happen. Again, it could. But in...

TIPPER GORE: We won't know until November the 7th.

GORE: We won't know until November the 7th. But in all such cases, we are fortunate as a people to have a constitution that resolves all doubt as to what would happen in that situation.


KARL: And the Vice President in no mood for any kind of concession here at all. They believe that this is going to be a long process. They don't even necessarily expect it to be completed tomorrow and they believe that even once this gets to the Electoral College, that there is a possibility that some of the electors may wonder if they really want to cast their vote for somebody who lost the popular vote.

So we could have a long road ahead and they're really very tired, but trying to put the best face on this unusual situation here in Nashville.


SESNO: OK, Jon Karl, thanks very much.

Now on to Austin, Texas, where the Bush team is awaiting the results of the Florida recount with at least as much anticipation. CNN's Jeanne Meserve joins us now with more. Long hard road, Jeanne?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is. The Bush campaign describes their mood as guarded, but their comments sound more optimistic than that. This is what one campaign aide said to me today. "This race has been determined. We are up. It is state law to have a recount and that is proper, but we see nothing in the cards that will change the results."

Right now 100 percent of the ballots have been counted, including absentee ballots, and it shows George Bush up in Florida by 1,785 votes. As we have mentioned, the overseas absentee ballots have yet to come in. In past years, they have broken in the Republicans' favor and they believe they will again this year and that their margin will only grow.

As far as they're concerned, in the words of this one spokesman, it is just a formality until George W. Bush is declared the president elect of this country.

As for the Governor, he has been at the mansion this morning meeting with advisers. A short time ago, vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney arrived at the mansion, as did Andy Card, who was a member of the senior President Bush, excuse me, President Bush's cabinet. Nothing on Governor Bush's schedule today that is public. We do know that brother Jeb has headed on down to Florida. As you mentioned, he will be holding a press conference at about one o'clock Eastern Time. We'll be waiting to listen to what he has to say about this recount that has already begun down in the State of Florida.


SESNO: Thanks very much, Jeanne.



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