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Election 2000: Court Lets Palm Beach County Board Set Recount Rules

Aired November 15, 2000 - 11:43 a.m. ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: While we were listening to Warren Christopher and David Boies, a big decision coming out of a circuit court in Palm Beach County. And with more on that here is Stephen Frazier.

STEPHEN FRAZIER, CNN ANCHOR: Daryn, as you were saying, up in Tallahassee, they are saying: Let the count continue. And down in Palm Beach, they're asking: What should we be counting?

And for a ruling on that, people went before the circuit court, the Palm Beach County Circuit Court of Judge Labarga. Jorge Labarga has issued his ruling on that, and before we turn to our analysts for, in essence, of what he said, let's hear from the judge himself.


JORGE LABARGA, CIRCUIT COURT JUDGE: The Palm Beach County Canvassing Commission has the discretion to utilize whatever methodology it deems proper to determine the true intention of the voter, and it should not be restricted in that task.

To that end, the present policy of a per se exclusion of any ballot that does not have a partially punched or hanging chad is not in compliance with the intention of the law. Accordingly, the canvassing board has the discretion to consider those ballots and accept them or reject them. And that basically is my order.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you.


FRAZIER: Judge Jorge Labarga in the Palm Beach Circuit Court there.

Mark Potter was explaining earlier some of the details of what the judge was ruling on. With your visual aids, Mark, you were telling us about the bits of paper that will qualifying now.

Based on what you heard, how much of them count?

MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that will be determined by the canvassing board. But the main point here is that this a win for the Democrats. This is a win for dimpled ballots. And what this means is that the canvassing board is given the power, according to the judge, to use its discretion. But he is in determining the ballots in a manual recount, but it is also warned by the judge, that they must consider those dimpled ballot, those pregnant chads. They can't just throw them out, like they were doing in the past.

Before, they were just counting those ballots where there was a clear hole punch or where there was an indication a hole punch. But on those ballots where there was just a little mark, a dimple, if you will, on that chad, making it a pregnant chad, if you can believe all of these descriptions here.

Now they have to consider those too. It doesn't mean that they have to count every one of them, it doesn't mean they have to include every one of them in the final tally. But they must consider them, according to this ruling from the judge.

So the Democrats will see this as a win. And the people of Florida, who file lawsuits, who joined the Democrats in that lawsuit, will also see this as a win.

FRAZIER: Mark, we'd like to bring in Greta Van Susteren, our legal analyst, who is also down in that part of the world covering all of this.

Now, Greta, is this a green light then for the large teams of counters John Zarrella told us have been assembled and are just waiting to go?

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It is a green light, Stephen, except that what the canvassing board said earlier is they want to know what the Florida Supreme Court is going to do.

Now we have got the response from Warren Christopher, on behalf of the Gore campaign, saying that they are going to go to the Supreme Court and ask the Supreme Court to make a statement, a declaration of what the law is.

So I'm not necessarily sure the canvassing board is going to go forward. It's sort of an interesting twist in this, in that you have a lower court judge, a county judge, saying: Look, you can't have an automatic exclusionary rule, saying dimpled votes can't be considered, or dimpled markings rather, on a ballot.

What it does is, it just throws the case back to the canvassing board, and says: Look, follow the law. The law says that you're the ones to determine the intent of the voter when you do these manual recounts. It's your business.

Now what we may see, in the next few hours, though, is that this judge's decision saying that there is no per se exclusionary rule, as to dimpled votes, may go up to the supreme court. And so it may go up by the Bush campaign may appeal that, since they're the losing party here behind us in this courthouse. I think ultimately, Stephen, I think ultimately the supreme court of Florida is just going to step in and sort of give all of us guidance as to what is the law in the state of Florida.

FRAZIER: Now, Greta, I know you have been paying close attention to what has been happening in that courtroom. We haven't heard anything all day, have we, from the supreme court, which is now becoming the supreme arbiter of all of this?

VAN SUSTEREN: No, they have been very quiet. The secretary of state has asked the supreme court to consolidate all the cases. But she didn't want them in the supreme court. She wanted them in the Leon County court, which happens to sit in Tallahassee.

What she wanted was an order from the supreme court to tell the county court in Tallahassee, Leon County, to make all of the decisions. What the Democrats say, they want a few different questions answered by the supreme court. But they want the supreme court to take jurisdiction.

Remember, there are seven justices on the Florida supreme court, and six of them were appointed by a Democratic governor, the 7th was appointed jointly by a Democratic governor and Governor Jeb Bush. So I suspect that in some ways the Gore campaign is hedging its bets, preferring to go immediately to the Florida supreme court. Although, in many ways, it might make more sense, since they are going to end up with it anyway, since it is the highest court in this state.

But, at this point, we are waiting to hear from the Florida Supreme Court to see if they are going to get involved. Sometime they are going to have to. It's whether they do it now and today.

FRAZIER: Greta, thank you. It's a very complicated situation and we would like to offer our thanks to Greta Van Susteren and Mark Potter for keeping us up to date. From the sounds of the traffic there, they both missed their bus.



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