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Election 2000: Fmr. State Elections Dir. Discusses Palm Beach County's Suspension of Hand Recount, Defends Mixed Counting Methods

Aired November 14, 2000 - 10:31 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Once again, live back here in Tallahassee, Florida. Want to remind you about two things waiting on right now: 30 minutes time, it's James Baker, the former secretary of state, here the leading surrogate in Florida for the Bush campaign, will meet with reporters. We'll have that live for you, again, when it takes place.

Also, noon Eastern time is now when we expect that decision out of circuit court here in Tallahassee to offer an opinion from the judge regarding that 5:00 deadline that is set for later today for the official votes to count here in the state of Florida. We will see then which way that court case will go.

In the meantime, though, David Cardwell is the former director of elections here in the state of Florida. He's with us now live down in West Palm.

David, good to see you again, good morning, again, to you.

DAVID CARDWELL, CNN ELECTIONS ANALYST: Hello, Bill.

HEMMER: Help us understand what has happened and transpired in Palm Beach county this morning with this vote recount set -- it was on, it was off -- and where is it now?

CARDWELL: Well, the canvassing board voted two to one this morning to suspend the manual recount that they were about to begin. As you know, they completed the sample precincts and were ready to undertake the full county manual recount.

They were relying upon an opinion that was issued by the division of elections, which concluded that the manual recount statute only applies when there's an error in the tabulation equipment or the software, rather than merely when the canvassing board decides it wanted to do a manual recount.

That opinion is contrary to the practice that's been followed in the state, and the opinion did not cite any authority other than just an interpretation of the language in the statute.

HEMMER: OK, well, the attorney general, Bob Butterworth, has come in and said: No, a hand recount is perfectly within the limits of law. If that's the case, do we anticipate a hand recount there in Palm Beach?

CARDWELL: Well, the canvassing board this morning did have some discussion about what to do in the event of conflicting opinions, which they have. The difference is that the attorney general's opinion is merely advisory. It's not binding. The statute that authorizes opinions by the division of elections says it is binding upon the person who requested the opinion. And this opinion was requested by Judge Burton, the chair of the Palm Beach county canvassing board.

HEMMER: OK, understand there. Now, here's another issue we need to talk about: Bob Butterworth, the attorney general has also sent out a letter to officials down there in Palm Beach county talking about a two-tier system. In other words, he is suggesting, in a letter, that if some counties in Florida count by hand, and some do it by machine, this two-tier system -- rather -- would develop.

If that's the case, he's concluding -- and I'm looking at his letter right now -- that the votes for Florida would be challenged under U.S. law, making it a federal case. At that point, he believes, the electoral college here in Florida would not count towards this election. Based on that, is this something that you've heard before, and is it something with which you would agree?

CARDWELL: As with many things in this election, it's something that has not occurred before. However, Florida has often had election results -- of course, not in the presidential election, but with state offices -- where some counties were counted by tabulation equipment and some with manual recounts.

Let's not forget also, we have at least one county that still uses paper ballots that are counted by hand as its official voting system. So if you're going to get into different tiers, you could say we almost have a different tier for every different type of voting system that's used in each of the 67 counties.

HEMMER: OK. Back here in Leon county, in Tallahassee, where I am, we expect that decision from the judge in about 90 minutes time. In your estimation, based on your history here in Florida, what's likely to happen inside that courtroom, sir?

CARDWELL: Well, again, it's unprecedented. We've never had an instance where a statewide total was affected by a county that had not completed its count by 5:00 on Tuesday. We've had some that were very close, but none that missed the deadline. They have missed sometimes on local races, but of course, that had no impact on a statewide election, as is the case here.

We do have counties, though, that are the in the middle of recounts, though as here in Palm Beach county, it's in suspension at the moment. But we do not have a final count. So to me, it would seem likely that the judge may grant some relief on the 5:00 p.m. deadline this afternoon.

HEMMER: OK. We will track that. David Cardwell. We are paddling upstream at this point. David Cardwell, live there in West Palm, appreciate your time.

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