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CNN's John Zarrella on Florida’s ballot recount

November 13, 2000
4 p.m. EST

(CNN) – Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris announced Monday, November 13 that all counties must have their certified vote counts completed by 5 p.m. Tuesday. She said any "missing counties shall be ignored." Volusia and Palm Beach Counties filed a suit seeking to extend this deadline.

Meanwhile, a federal district judge ruled against the Bush campaign’s request to end the manual recount of votes in four Florida counties. A state judge was scheduled Monday afternoon to hear a consolidated lawsuit by six voters seeking redress for voting problems.

John Zarrella is the chief of CNN’s bureau in Miami, Florida.

Chat Moderator: Welcome to the CNN chat room, John Zarrella.

John Zarrella: Thank you. I am glad to be here, as usual.

Chat Moderator: Do you have any indication whether any voters are going to petition the court to extend the certification deadline?

John Zarrella: There is no indication that voters have gone to state courts, at least not here in Palm Beach County. The voters have gone to court seeking that the election in Palm Beach County be thrown out and that they be allowed to revote because of the so-called butterfly ballot that had presidential candidates listed on two sides of the page.

Question from Maggiejo: Mr. Zarrella, can someone overturn the decision of the state attorney and her 5 p.m. deadline?

John Zarrella: Yes. In fact, Volusia County has gone to court seeking an extension of the deadline. The Gore campaign has now joined Volusia County in seeking that the secretary of state’s order be vacated.

  • Presidential race 2000

  • Electoral College

The Gore campaign would like a state court judge to extend the deadline, to allow all of the counties that have begun hand recounts or are anticipating to begin hand recounts to be allowed to complete those recounts. In Palm Beach County, election officials plan to begin tomorrow morning. They say it will take six days for them to complete the recount.

Volusia County may be completed by 5 p.m. tomorrow; they are not sure of that. Broward County is expected to begin hand recounts this afternoon. And Miami Dade County is going to decide tomorrow whether a hand recount is necessary.

Question from Di: Can we presume that any overseas ballots received after tomorrow's "deadline" will not be counted either? That question was not responded to by the election official who was asked.

John Zarrella: No, we cannot presume that. By law, the overseas ballots don't have to be in until Friday at midnight. So, in fact you really will not have a complete count of Florida's ballots until Friday at midnight. Those votes will be counted. There is no 5 p.m. deadline Tuesday for the absentee ballots.

So the question that many Democrats are raising is this: If there is no deadline until Friday, why couldn't the secretary of state have at least waited until midnight Friday, or Saturday morning, to impose a deadline?

Question from Alisha: Will other counties now be open to recounting?

John Zarrella: I believe that the counties that are open to recounts are counties where there is believed to be some discrepancy in the machine process. Now that would certainly mean that counties that perhaps voted more heavily for George W. Bush might find reason to ask for recounts.

The Bush campaign could also enter into some of those counties now and perhaps ask for hand recounts. So it does not appear that there is any reason why other counties might not call for recounts. The process of recounting by hand or consideration of recounting by hand is now all heavily Democrat.

Question from ChrisP: Where will this end? Won't both sides eventually want the whole state of Florida recounted?

John Zarrella: That's a frightening prospect. I would have said a week ago that something like that is probably impossible, but given the events of the past week, it seems that the American people are rewriting history as we go. So what the next twist or turn might be is impossible to gauge.

I would not be a bit surprised that, depending on how things continue to shake out in Florida, someone might suggest something like that. Of course, it has already been suggested and even fought over in court to allow Palm Beach County voters to revote.

Question from Misterpc: What is the standard of review that the state court must apply in reviewing the secretary's decision?

John Zarrella: The standard of review in Florida is that in several cases, the Florida Supreme Court has already said that the will of the people must be paramount. So the judge in state court will have to use a test to determine in his own mind whether the will of the people is, in fact, being heard if a recount by hand is not allowed; or if the deadline of 5 p.m. tomorrow is upheld, thus nullifying any chance the counties have to complete their hand recounts.

So the test is simple: What action on his or her part will ensure that the will of the people of Florida is carried out?

Question from Bush2000: John, is it possible that the Palm Beach vote may not

be included in the state total when this finally ends?

John Zarrella: There is some chance that that could happen. The state of Florida -- the secretary of state -- is saying that they will use the count from Palm Beach County that came in after the second computer recount that was completed over the weekend. But last Thursday, a circuit court judge said that the county could not certify its votes until a lawsuit brought by citizens of Palm Beach County asking for a revote could be heard.

There is an emergency hearing this afternoon to address that lawsuit and others filed by Palm Beach County residents. So, clearly, everything is in fluid motion here. There is the possibility, although unlikely, that Palm Beach County's vote might be left out altogether. If that is the case, then one would certainly argue the question of the will of the people being done.

Question from Franzi: My question is that there have been so many statements "saying" that the ballot is illegal, but nothing on CNN to prove if, in fact, this ballot was illegal. My question: Is this ballot illegal or not?

John Zarrella: Well, the lawsuits that have been filed are challenging the legality of the ballot, saying that it was difficult to follow and that the names were on two sides of the page, rather than all the way down one side of the page. But the secretary of state has already said that her opinion is that the ballot, an electronic ballot, was --under the state statutes -- a legal ballot. The argument is not really so much any longer whether it is a legal ballot.

The argument being put forth by Volusia County and by the Gore campaign now is that because of the closeness of the election, it is imperative that hand recounts be allowed in order to find ballots that may simply not have been counted.

We have already seen in these second machine recounts that the numbers of votes changed for both candidates, simply by doing a second machine recount. So they are not really interested in looking at ballots that may have been punched twice or ballots that were punched for Buchanan when perhaps the voter’s intent was to punch it for Gore. They simply believe that hand recounts will identify enough votes that were not counted to make a difference in the outcome in Florida.

Chat Moderator: Thank you for joining us today, John Zarrella.

John Zarrella: My pleasure. I hope we can all get through this together smiling.

John Zarrella joined the News Chat via telephone from West Palm Beach, Florida. CNN provided a typist for him. The above is an edited transcript of the chat, which took place on Monday, November 13, 2000.

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