November 16, 2000
Betty Ann Bowser reports on today's events in Florida.
JIM LEHRER: The lawyers continued their combat today over who should be the next President of United States. In a Florida state court in Tallahassee, Vice President Gore's campaign challenged a decision by Secretary of State Katherine Harris. She announced last night she would not accept any new hand recount totals. In a separate case, Florida's Supreme Court ruled there was nothing to stop Palm Beach and other counties from going ahead with a manual recount, and in Atlanta, the Vice President's attorneys asked a federal appeals court to stay out of the dispute over hand-counting in Florida. Yesterday that panel agreed to hear an appeal by Governor Bush's campaign to block the recounts. Again, Betty Ann Bowser chronicles the events of this day, election day plus nine and still counting. Much of what happened was triggered by the Harris announcement.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Just after 9:00 P.M. last night, Harris told reporters she had denied requests from three counties to have their hand-counted ballots included in the state's final vote tally.
KATHERINE HARRIS: The reasons given in their requests are insufficient to warrant waver of the unambiguous filing deadline imposed by the Florida legislature. I expect that after the receipt, tabulation and certification of the overseas ballots by the counties, the state elections canvassing commission will finally certify the presidential election in Florida on Saturday. The schedule of course is subject to judicial intervention.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Early this morning, Vice President Gore appeared on a syndicated radio talk show, where he was asked if he thought the Republicans were trying to steal the election.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Well, see, I would discourage the use of that word because again, however it comes out, we're gonna - we're gonna come behind the winner the choice really is whether the voters are going to decide this election by having every vote count or whether that process is going to be short-circuited without all the votes being examined whether the voter has expressed an intent that can be deciphered or not.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: On his way into a Florida state cabinet meeting, Governor Jeb Bush defended the secretary of state's decision.
GOV. JEB BUSH: She's following the law, and I think that is more than appropriate for the secretary of state, who's responsible for election law in our state.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Attorneys for the Democrats went back into circuit court in Tallahassee. They asked Judge Terry Lewis to overturn Harris' decision. Two days ago, Lewis told Harris she could not arbitrarily keep hand-counted ballots out of the state's final vote tally. Attorney Dexter Douglas argued for the Gore campaign.
DEXTER DOUGLAS, Gore Campaign Attorney: The secretary did not exercise her discretion lawfully in the manner contemplated by this court's direction. Her ruling on the request came only seven hours after the deadline for submission before counties had completed their counts. She did not consider any facts and circumstances, but rather, cited cases to the effect that she lacked the discretion that indeed the court found at the previous... with its previous order that she did have. There's no indication that her position has changed at all. She stands adamantly by the view that only a natural disaster or other impossibility would allow the returns from the manual recount to be considered after 5:00 PM. She discounts even the real possibility that the manual recounts could affect the outcome.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Attorney Joe Klock represented the secretary of state.
JOE KLOCK: So, Your Honor, we would suggest that, rather than violating the order of this court, we pay particular attention to follow the order of the court and that we do not believe that the secretary, or any members of the canvassing commission, have violated the court's order, nor would they. They took enormous care to follow the order. And I don't believe, Your Honor, that, in determining, just by way of analogy, whether or not you're going to cut down a row of corn, you have to wait until the last stalk hits before you make that decision. Your order says that they may make the decision, and she may review that decision. You made a decision to have a manual recount in accordance with the secretary's instructions. They provided an explanation of that. She took that explanation, provided it against the standards and criteria that she had established, she exercised her discretion and she issued her opinion.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: The Bush campaign entered the suit on behalf of the secretary of state.
MICHAEL CARVIN: The question is how did she exercise the discretion? She looked at the electoral code to see if there was any fraud or serious corruption or serious malfeasance or technical problems. There was nothing like that. Palm Beach certified that the machines worked just fine. She looked at whether there was substantial compliance. Were they missing it by a little bit, as Your Honor indicated, or not? Here we have a case of gross noncompliance. We don't know, because nobody has represented, but Palm Beach at the earliest is going to be submitting this sometime next week.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: The Democratic attorney defended Palm Beach County's decision to stop the hand count.
DEXTER DOUGLASS: It's like the policeman says, "stop," and you're driving along and you stop, and he stands there and you stop, a whole bunch of cars come up behind you. Then he comes over and says, "I'm writing you a ticket for blocking traffic." And you say, "but you told me to stop." He says, "but the law is you're to go. You're not to hold up traffic here here's your ticket. Take off." That's what they've done here basically. And that's sort of a... maybe a down-home explanation for what they're really saying in plain language, and that's one of the other things we need to think about. What we're trying to do is use common sense in the law.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: While both sides waited for an opinion, in Austin, Texas, Bush campaign chairman Don Evans said the Republicans would abide by the deadline for counting votes in another closely contested state.
DON EVANS: The deadline to conclude the election in Iowa is at 5:00 tomorrow evening, this evening. With 1.3 million votes cast, Governor Bush trails by a very narrow 0.03 percent. Many of our supporters who worked hard for a Bush victory have urged us to contest this result. Those recommendations are heartfelt and appreciated. But to do his part to ensure the fairness, accuracy and finality of this election, Governor Bush has decided our campaign will not seek a recount of the close vote in Iowa. A concluding deadline arrives tomorrow night at midnight in Florida, as the final votes come in from the overseas ballots. Once these votes are counted, we will know the final result of Florida's election and the nation's election. Win or lose, this election will be over.
TERENCE SMITH: Meanwhile, in another Tallahassee courtroom, attorneys for the Palm Beach County canvassing board were waiting for word from the Florida Supreme Court. Florida's high court is in its capital, Tallahassee. All of its seven justices were appointed by Democratic Governors, though one had the backing of then Governor-elect Jeb Bush. After serving for six years, the judges then stand for election, but the voters have never rejected a judge.
PROTESTERS: Count every vote!
SPOKESMAN: Simply stated, there were too many votes of people who voted in this election that were not included in the machine count. I want to make it perfectly clear, as chair of this board, I support a manual recount.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: And the Supreme Court's ruling late this afternoon means Palm Beach and other counties can proceed. In Atlanta, the Republicans were in a federal court to press their case for stopping the manual vote counts. It is the 11th Circuit of Court of Appeals, an appellate court with jurisdiction over civil and criminal cases, coming from Florida, Alabama and Georgia. All of its 12 Justices have agreed to hear the cases brought by the Bush campaign and a group of Republican voters in Florida. Of the 12 judges, seven are Republicans, five Democrats, four were appointed by President Clinton and four by former President Bush.
JIM LEHRER: Earlier this evening, Gore Campaign Chairman William Daley appeared at a news conference in Tallahassee.
WILLIAM DALEY: We are obviously gratified by the unanimous ruling of the Florida Supreme Court, authorizing the continuation of the manual recounts. The Supreme Court's clear and unambiguous ruling that the counties are authorized to proceed with the manual recount is a victory for everyone who wants to see the votes counted fully and fairly here in Florida. Now that the legal hurdles have been cleared, the counting can resume in Palm Beach, continue in Broward, and be reviewed in Dade. We urge these counties to conduct these recounts as quickly as is possible. The delays have been largely the product of lawsuits filed by Republicans or erroneous legal opinions from the secretary of state. With these obstacles gone, we hope that the counts can be finished in the next few days. We think it is particularly significant that the Florida Supreme Court sent a clear signal to the counties that their counts can continue, notwithstanding the secretary's efforts to terminate those counts three times in the past three days.