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The Florida Recount: Judge's Ruling Supports Florida Secretary of State's Deadline for Election Certification

Aired November 17, 2000 - 10:43 a.m. ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Once again, if you are just joining us, a Florida judge, Terry Lewis, deciding, making a key decision earlier today, and that announcement heard live here on CNN at the top of the hour that Florida's secretary of state Katherine Harris was well within her power, and she used reasoned judgment to determine that the state must stick to the November 14th deadline for deciding what the final election totals will be from the state of Florida, not including those overseas absentee ballots.

We want to continue our discussion once again with Roger Cossack and Greta Van Susteren, our legal analysts.

From here, Roger, what are the options for the Gore campaign? Kick it upstairs to the state supreme court and hope they will take it?

ROGER COSSACK, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, the state supreme court will take it, and I think that is their best option. Remember, the state supreme court has all along said that the votes could continue, and one, I suppose, could imply from that that perhaps they will be more favorable disposed to what Gore wants.

But as Greta has pointed out and I agree, they have got a tough way to go now that they have been turned down by Judge Lewis, and as she points out, and she is right, I would much rather be on the other side of this one going up as a winner than going up as a loser.

KAGAN: Greta, what does this do to the other court cases that are out there, I am thinking of the federal case in particular that is here in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals here in Atlanta?

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: As a technical matter, Daryn, it's irrelevant to it. The issue there is that the Bush side of this dispute lost in federal court, when they wanted to get an injunction to stop the hand count. The hand count is still going on. So they have appealed to the United States Court of Appeals in the 11th Circuit. if the United States Court of Appeals issued a decision to stop the hand counting everything would have to stop dead here, in terms of the hand counting would have to stop in Palm Beach County, and also in Broward County. That is another issue.

The Florida Supreme Court yesterday ruled that the hand counts could go forward, so they will go forward. Now, the -- sort of the interesting issue, you would think, in some ways it may make sense that why would the hand counts go forward if the state secretary of state doesn't have to consider it? Well, those are two still unresolved issues, in the sense, that we don't know when the secretary of state's -- whether or not the Gore people are going to appeal the decision, saying that the secretary of state does not have to consider these votes.

It's expected they will, but you know, this still has to come to the last word, and that will be the Florida Supreme Court, unless the United States Court of Appeals in the next -- next day and a half or two days comes down with a decision saying the hand count must stop.

KAGAN: I don't know if you can see -- if you guys have a monitor where you are, but we can see the pictures while we are talking to you that, as you mentioned, the recounts do go on, both in Broward County and Palm Beach County, just in case there is a different legal decision down the line.

As you both pointed out, and Roger, I will go to you first with this one, as you both pointed out, an uphill battle now for the Gore campaign. But let's just say, you're hired, you have the job, now you take over from here, Roger, you are before the Florida State Supreme Court. What do you argue, trying then to get them to reverse Judge Lewis' decision?

COSSACK: I would say, look, this is a national election, this an election for the president of the United States. We have votes out there that need to be counted and need to be counted accurately. And if they are counted accurately, they should count. And this idea of having a statute that says, it's over at 5:00 p.m., even though it seems pretty firm on its face, should have to give way, because the horror would be that you make vice president -- you make Governor Bush the president, and a week we find out that he didn't really win the number of votes that we thought he did.

KAGAN: Roger and Greta, stand by just a moment. The woman at the center of this controversy has been Secretary of State Katherine Harris. And as we heard Judge Lewis saying earlier today that he believes that she made her judgment well within the limits of the law. Apparently Secretary Harris has now made a statement, and my partner Bill Hemmer has that statement in his hands.

Bill, take if from here.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, Daryn, thank you. As you mentioned, Katherine Harris has been at the center of this fire storm for several days right now. Reading her statement right now, she says, quote, "I am pleased that Judge Terry Lewis" -- hang on one second, get to that -- "I am pleased that Judge Terry Lewis has supported my authority to exercise the duties assigned by law to office of secretary of state."

The second statement, "We will continue to follow the election procedures provided by Florida law, and we anticipate receiving the certifications of the overseas absentee ballots from all counties by noon tomorrow." Again, from Katherine Harris, a short time ago. She has been a woman of few words throughout this entire matter. A couple of times she has made statements to members of the media here. But seldom does she take questions of that matter.

She is a member of that state canvassing commission, there are three, of which Bob Crawford, Clay Roberts, and Katherine Harris make up that commission.

Again, as we anticipated for several hours now, if the certification is not stopped by the state supreme court here in Florida, the certification will be carried out by noon local time tomorrow.

In effect, with George Bush leading Al Gore by 300 votes, pending the outcome of those oversea absentee ballots, of which we believe 2300 will be open throughout the day today, they will declare a winner in the race for the White House tomorrow here in Tallahassee. Something to watch, something to track.

And again, keep in mind, 25 electoral votes on the line. If either man is to win Florida, George Bush or Al Gore, they would have enough, the minimum to take the Electoral College and be elected the 43rd president of the United States.

James Baker, just about 15 minutes ago back here in Tallahassee. We will have it for you live Daryn. Back to you in Atlanta now.

KAGAN: Bill, thank you very much. And actually we are expecting the James Baker comments to come by any second now. We can show our viewers a live pictures not too far from where Bill is standing by in Tallahassee.

When Mr. Baker comes to the podium there, you will see his comments live here on CNN.

Meanwhile, let's go back down to West Palm Beach, bring back in Greta Van Susteren. I will pose the same question to you that I did to your partner, Roger. If somehow you are hired to make the argument for the Gore campaign in front of the state supreme court, what would you say?

VAN SUSTEREN: What I would say, if I represented the Gore campaign, is that when you exercise judgment, you have to look at the facts, and that there are significant facts here in Palm Beach County, which suggests that if they did an entire hand count, it could affect the outcome of election, and that the secretary of state should not turn her back on the statistics.

Now, if I represented the Bush campaign, what I would argue to the Florida Supreme Court is that the issue isn't whether or not you agree with the secretary of state or whether you like the secretary of state. It's whether she exercised discretion, whether she looked at reason and facts, and that under this instance, if I represented the Bush people, I would say she looked at the facts and in her exercised judgment, whether you agree with it or not, it was not an abuse of discretion.

I think that is what the focus is going to be in the Florida Supreme Court. The Gore people are going to say she turned her back on evidence. The Bush people are going to say, you may not like what she did. However, she exercised discretion. That is her job. She gets to do that.

KAGAN: And if the state Supreme Court does go ahead and uphold Judge Lewis' decision, a lot of disenfranchised voters feeling neglected, feeling abused down in South Florida. If this thing is all said and done and the election is wrapped up and, indeed, George W. Bush goes on to become president, any recourse for these voters, once this elections has been called and it is one for the history books.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, it is sort of interesting. There are several questions you raise, Daryn. I mean, there are a couple of things. One is you still have individual voters' actions going on in Palm Beach. They're still seeking to have the election here tossed out. You have that. You have the voter actions sort of sprinkled around the state.

You have also got the issue is that, you know, no matter what happens, and this is my wild guess, but America has been able to -- has sort of a microscope on the election procedure. And I would bet that there are lots of states that will move to very standardized voting procedures so that we don't face these types of issues again. I mean that is the big problem is that the voting procedures are so different from community to community, even within a state, and from state to state.

KAGAN: As we were able to see with Palm Beach County's now very famous butterfly ballot. Greta Van Susteren, thank you very much. I am sure we will be checking back with you throughout the day -- Stephen.

STEPHEN FRAZIER, CNN ANCHOR: Daryn, more on the counting of that famous butterfly ballot now from John Zarrella, who is standing by in West Palm Beach, where the teams that have been assembled to see just what the actual count is are forging ahead. Is that right, John?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That is right. The reaction to the ruling by judge -- by Judge Lewis is pretty simple. They're going to continue on because they're taking their orders from the Florida Supreme Court, which yesterday told them, sure, you can go ahead and count, you've got the authority to do that. So that's when they picked up the count last night.

So they are going to continue on with the count at least until the Florida Supreme Court tells them that it is futile and useless.

We expect a news conference here, or at least another one of those government in the sunshine hearings at about noon this afternoon, and perhaps they will update on us on the total number of precincts counted. They had counted about 16,000 votes out of the 431,000, that was as of this morning, and with one precinct that they had completed, the vice president actually had a net gain of six votes.

You know, the real issue here has been the 10,000 undervotes. That were the 10,000 ballots that came in for president, which really seemed to be a statistical anomaly, that had no presidential candidate punched. So it was really based on that initially that they said: Hey, we need to do a recount by hand and that is when they had the recount of the four selected precincts, where Vice President Gore picked up a net 19 votes. And from that followed, let's do the entire county. But they do believe that that had to be off that machine recount, that there is no way that 10,000 voters wouldn't have punched any presidential candidate. And they believe that there are significant votes out there that they will find, if they can complete this hand recount. And certainly, if it matters at all -- Stephen.

FRAZIER: Well, John, in fact, if I understand events in that part of the world correctly, not only do some voters say that, because of that anomaly, there should be a recount, but there should also, others are filing saying that there should be a revote. Now, as you follow the recount there, have you been able to keep up with that court filing on a request for a whole new vote in West Palm Beach?

ZARRELLA: Right, there were about half a dozen lawsuits, and the judge this morning, over in the area where Greta Van Susteren is, was going to look at the constitutionality this morning. Before he even got into the issues of whether there was merit to these particular lawsuits filed by individuals, as to whether there was merit, that they wanted this revote, if it really needed to be done, he had to see it under Florida law it was even constitutional to do a revote. That we understand is going on this morning. So that issue is still out there in circuit court here in Palm Beach County. No matter what happens with the other issues that are going on in Tallahassee -- Stephen.

FRAZIER: We need you to be in more places than one. John Zarrella, thank you very much.



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