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What's the Best Way to Count Florida's Presidential Ballots?

Aired November 14, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET


BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Good evening and welcome to this abbreviated edition of CROSSFIRE, with that latest but still not final tally from the secretary of state of Florida. We pick it up to debate what's happening in Florida, what should be happening in Florida to wrap up this recount.

Our guests tonight, two people who know the state well and represent it in the United States Congress, Democrat Robert Wexler, who represents the counties of Palm Beach and Broward County, and Republican Bill McCollum, who represents the Orlando area of Florida.

Sitting on the right tonight is "The Weekly Standard's" Tucker Carlson, also co-host with of CNN's "SPIN ROOM."

Tucker's in Chicago. Tucker, take it away.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Congressman Wexler, the Republican Party has been changing for the past week that the Gore campaign is seeking to keep this recount going until it finds a number it likes. It seems to me that the Democrats are not denying this charge. You had Bill Daley, you had Warren Christopher, and today you had Joe Lieberman all saying that they really had no idea when this was going to end. There was no specific end date to it all. Presumably that means they're waiting, as Republicans charge, until they win.

Can you tell us when does the Gore campaign plan on ceasing its calls for recount, when specifically?

REP. ROBERT WEXLER (D), FLORIDA: Well, Tucker, let's look at what's happened in the last two days or so. The Florida secretary of state went from saying, I have no discretion, hand-counted ballots won't be considered, and she told Palm Beach and Broward County stop counting, to a court today saying, yes, the Florida Supreme Court does have discretion. And now, the secretary of state has outlined the process for hand-counted ballots to be actually counted.

I think that's actually very good news toward getting to a fuller, more accurate count for Florida. And that's all we've ever said we wanted, was a full and accurate count for Florida. And the American people, Tucker, have said, you know what, don't be hasty, take the time you need, and if it takes until Friday, Saturday or Sunday, whatever it may be, count it, get it right.

CARLSON: But I'm -- do you really believe that the American people are ready for, as you put it, whatever it may be? Look, Jim Baker today put on the table a very reasonable offer, it seemed to me. He said let's on Friday, let's just call it over, we'll have an accurate count at that point. Why in the world would the Gore campaign not accept that apart from the idea that they won't win if they accept it? What's the other motivation?

WEXLER: Tucker, there's a funny thing about our Constitution. Mr. Baker, Mr. Bush, Mr. Gore, or in fact even me, we don't get to decide who the president of the United States is. The people decide, and they do so by their ballots. So the American people understand they'll know who their president is when Florida counts all of its ballots, including the hand-counted ones, pursuant to Florida law.

PRESS: Congressman McCollum, the secretary of state was very clear tonight that she gave the vote as it stands today, but that they are three counties that may go forward with hand counts. They will come in tomorrow with their rationale for why they believe that hand count should go forward.

Do you -- can you give me any good reason why she should reject that opportunity to get a full and final count?

REP. BILL MCCOLLUM (R), FLORIDA: Well, first of all, I think everybody wants something fair, full, final. I don't think there's any question about it. There is a legal process to be followed. I think the good news here is, Bill, is that process is being followed, it's being debated in courts. Directions and modifications are being made accordingly.

My understanding of what the secretary of state is doing now is following the law as interpreted by the court. That law says she has the discretion, if she wants to, to allow amended certifications of recounts by hand. But she could, of course, unless she's arbitrary and capricious, she could determine that perhaps some of these procedures aren't going to result in that kind of addition or change. She has those discretionary things.

For example, a lot of this debate has been over whether the recounts are subjective or not. You know, is it the sun test or is this the torn, tattered piece of paper test? What is it? And we've seen that displayed in many of these press interviews with these canvassing boards.

So, that's the type of thing I suspect will influence her, is whether she thinks there will be a change or whether this is being a very subjective decision.

PRESS: Well, let me ask you -- I noticed you didn't tell me what you think she should do, but that's OK. It's her decision.

Now, let me ask you, though, the flip of Tucker's question to Congressman Wexler. You know, what's the rush? I mean, seriously, we don't really have to know until December the 18th, when the electoral college meets, what the outcome, or maybe the day before, what the outcome is in Florida. We certainly could take until Friday or Saturday when the absentee ballots are counted. What's the rush? MCCOLLUM: Well, I don't know that there is any rush, and I'm not reading anything into what she's saying about the rush part of this. I think she's following the law in the sense that it's now been interpreted that as of 5:00 today all of these counties had to have their certified vote count in. It was in, they certified it.

And the law, as interpreted by the Florida courts, say that she has the right to accept amended vote counts if she wants to in certifications. But she has really only until Friday or Saturday, as you point out.

I think she's declared that already, and she even, as I understand it, issued a regulation on the question of the vote recount yesterday or the day before. And there's a question of following that too.

PRESS: Tucker?

CARLSON: Now, Congressman Wexler, the Democratic smear campaign against poor Katherine Harris began today, and we saw Democrats, including Warren Christopher, attack not simply Ms. Harris' actions but impugn her motives, just as the motives of Ken Starr and Henry Hyde were impugned during the Monica business.

Can you tell me what evidence do you have or do Democrats have that she's acting out of political bias here?

WEXLER: Let's get this straight. I served with -- with the secretary of state in the State Senate. She's a fine lady, but she was the co-chairman of the Bush campaign throughout this campaign. She has played a partisan role. Nothing illegal about that. But her actions speak volumes, and what she said over the last 24 hours was, I do not have any discretion to consider the hand-counted ballots of the people of Florida. And that did not ring as being particularly fair. A Florida court said, yes, Mrs. Secretary of State, you do have discretion.

So things have changed. Mrs. Harris' actions will speak for themselves, and so far, she has not bent over backwards to allow us to hand count.


CARLSON: Wait a second here, for a second. Democrats have not said her actions were speaking for themselves. They have said that she's acting out of political bias. Meanwhile, there are a number of key players in this who are partisan Democrats, but you don't see the Republicans impugning their motives.


WEXLER: That's not true. Actually...

CARLSON: So are you saying you have no evidence she is acting out of right-wing bias or something? WEXLER: Listen, the secretary of state needs to count the ballots. That's her job. If she does that, there won't be any complaints. If she refuses to count the ballots, the American people will understand something's wrong...


PRESS: Congressman, we're out of time, and I know you want to jump in. We really are out of time. We're very sorry, and we've got to go now.

Both of our guests are going -- the debate continues in the chat room at Don't forget a special edition of "WORLD TODAY" with Wolf Blitzer coming up at the top of the hour.

From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE.



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