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Chris Black: Gore moving forward with court victory

November 22, 2000
Web posted at: 6:29 p.m. EST (2329 GMT)

Chris Black
Chris Black  

CNN Congressional Correspondent Chris Black is in Washington, following the campaign of Vice President Al Gore.

Q: In the wake of Tuesday's Florida Supreme Court hearing, what is the mood of the Gore campaign? Is it moving forward with a more determined step, or is it troubled by new snags in the recount process?

Black: The campaign was really pleased by the ruling they got last night from the Supreme Court of Florida. Even though they didn't get everything they wanted, they feel that the court, by keeping the manual count going and by sending a very strong signal in its opinion that the standards of judging those ballots should be voter intent, gave them a pretty good win. It wasn't 100 percent, but it went most of the way.

Today, however, there have been a lot of developments. In Miami-Dade ... Republican observers had a big {confrontation} with police that looked pretty ugly on our air. The Miami-Dade canvassing board subsequently decided not to hold its recount -- to just cancel it. The Gore campaign is quite dismayed about that. They are going to court today to see if they can get an order to force the Miami-Dade canvassing board to resume their recount. Their concern is that there are more than 10,000 votes in that county that were not recorded by the machines for presidential preference. They believe that there are some votes for George W. Bush, but a lot more for Al Gore, and they want to see them counted.

Q: A source close to the legal team for Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush described that appeal as "unbelievable." Does the Gore campaign fear that its appeal for the Miami-Dade recount might appear to the public as a partisan move, and not simply as an effort to ensure all votes are counted?

Black: No. What they're going by is what the law says. And they say that the statewide law requires the counties to hold a recount when it is determined that there has been an error. They did a test in Miami-Dade as they did in Palm Beach, and it showed a serious discrepancy, enough to change the outcome. So they are obliged under state law to pursue that.

The Gore people feel very strongly -- and they say this very emphatically -- that they believe that the Republicans are trying to intimidate the officials in Miami-Dade... that that {disturbance} was no accident, and that there was a direct relationship between the decision by the canvassing board and the {disturbance} that took place this morning.

Q: What is the Gore team's reaction to news that the Bush campaign will take its case to federal court?

Black: Governor Bush has authorized his lawyers to appeal the Florida Supreme Court decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Gore campaign thinks that's a huge mistake. They say that the Florida Supreme Court unanimously rejected that argument already, and they hope that the U.S. Supreme Court will also see that the appeal has no merit because, in their words, "There's no way counting people's votes can be unconstitutional."

The Republicans went to federal court once before, to stop the recounts in Florida, and the court in Atlanta basically threw it out because they didn't feel they had jurisdiction because it's a state issue. It's a long shot for the Republicans. The reading of the law suggests that this is a state issue. The U.S. Constitution in its federalism section is quite clear about what the federal government's responsibility is and what the state governments are responsible for. And for as long as the republic has been around, administering state elections is a state's responsibility.

Q: Is the Gore team considering any other legal action? Are there any other court developments in the works?

Black: There's some indication that the Republicans are going into court in Leon County to get results in 13 different counties opened up, so that the overseas ballots can be reviewed again. There were 3600 overseas ballots, and a large number -- about 1400 of them -- were thrown out. Republicans have been claiming that many of them were the ballots of military personnel stationed overseas, and they were dismissed because they did not have a postmark. They have accused the Democrats of trying to throw those ballots out.

Democrats deny they deliberately targeted military ballots. They say they just want all the overseas to be lawful. In fact, the best count by the Gore campaign has said that there were only about 200, if that many, military ballots that were disqualified for lack of a postmark. But subsequently, the attorney general of Florida, who is a Democrat and a big Gore supporter, in fact one of the leaders of the Gore campaign in Florida, has issued a directive to the local officials instructing them to revisit the absentee ballot issue and to count an overseas ballot so long as it is signed and dated by election day even if the postmark is missing.

Q: What is Gore's response to Bush's call for the vice president to join him in demanding that all military absentee ballots be counted?

Black: Bill Daley, who is chairman of the Gore campaign, has said that the Gore campaign wants every single ballot that was lawfully cast, that was signed and dated appropriately, to be counted. They've said that all along. [Democratic Vice Presidential nominee] Joe Lieberman said much the same thing on Sunday. They've been pretty consistent that they do not want to disqualify military ballots.

The Gore campaign believes they will get their fair share of military ballots. They point out that the enlisted ranks, which are greater than the officer ranks, tend to be members of minority groups -- that's the demographics of today's military -- and they tend to be Democrats. So they feel they have nothing to fear from military ballots.

Q: As the recount so far has given Gore only a minor gain on Bush's lead in Florida, is it true that Gore's team is essentially pinning its hopes to win the election on the so-called "dimpled," or indented ballots.

Black: There is great concern about the standard that is being used to judge these ballots. The Gore campaign argues that it should be voter intent, and that a ballot that shows a dimple or a partially broken-through chad should be counted. It looks like in Broward County (and in Palm Beach County) they will use that broad standard of voter intent. In fact, they are going through those ballots today.

Q: So they are optimistic they will pick up enough votes to catch up with Bush?

Black: There are more than 1,000 ballots there, and there are more than 8,000 in Palm Beach County. They believe that there are enough votes in those two counties for Al Gore to more than make up the difference.

Q: What is on Al Gore's schedule today?

Black: Al Gore is still here in Washington. He went to a community center today with his wife and his daughter, Kristin, to help pack holiday food baskets for the needy on Thanksgiving. This is something that is an outgrowth of Mrs. Gore's interest in the homeless and mental health, and it sort of an annual pilgrimage for the Gore family to go to these community centers or food banks.

Q: So the vice president plans to spend Thanksgiving in Washington?

Black: He is staying here in Washington for the holiday. They decided they would not go to Carthage, Tennessee, which is what they usually do on Thanksgiving. But you should remember that this is the last Thanksgiving at the Naval Observatory, the official residence of the Vice President, win or lose.


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Wednesday, November 22, 2000

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