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What's the Fairest Way to Tally Florida's Presidential Ballots?

Aired November 16, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET


BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Tonight, let the hand counting resume. Florida's Supreme Court gives Palm Beach County the green light to manually count ballots. So will this give an edge to Al Gore, and will Florida's secretary of state accept the new numbers?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Mary Matalin. In the CROSSFIRE, Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, a Gore supporter and Senator Bill Frist from Tennessee, a Bush supporter.

PRESS: Good evening, welcome to CROSSFIRE. Some day, this election will be over, but not yet. For now it's just more of the same -- the big tug-of-war in Florida between the secretary of state, county election officials, the Supreme Court, the Gore camp, the Bush camp and all those lawyers who now outnumber alligators in Florida. And they're twice as mean. With two U.S. Senators, we'll debate the politics and the policy of Florida's recount.

But first, we want to ask CNN's Martin Savidge down in West Palm Beach to bring us up to date on today's developments. Martin, there have been a lot of twists and turns. Where are we now and how did we get there?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: ... that being the hand recount that has now been given the green light by the Florida state Supreme Court. That's what they have been waiting on, here. The canvass elections board, they got that ruling, an interim order from the Florida Supreme Court about 4:00 this afternoon. They called in the election workers for the first staff to come in around 6:00 and they got ballots about five minutes ago.

Now as the ballots start to be counted, the elections canvassing board still has to come up with the exact criteria. They have done that now, keeping in mind here this is the criteria they will use to try to determine voter intent. That's a controversial subject down here and across the nation. They were ordered yesterday by a judge that they could not arbitrarily discount a ballot if had a dimple in it. In others words where the stylus put pressure on the ballot but did not necessarily puncture it. They will be looking at dimpled ballots and that could greatly alter the vote.

There is no talking rule going on inside that room right now. The election workers, if they find a questionable ballot, take it to a canvass board member and that canvassing board member will try to make a definition as to what the voter intended.

There are representatives from both political parties. They can say only one word if they choose, object. If they object, their objection is duly noted and that ballot is placed in special envelope, but it is counted if a determination can be made by one of the canvassing board members.

They hope to go perhaps to midnight tonight, maybe later. They'll start again 7:00 a.m. tomorrow morning. And its a process they predict will take six days -- Bill.

PRESS: All right, thanks, Martin. All right, so things -- the hand counts under way there in Palm Beach County and we'll be keeping track of it. Mary, tonight's guests.

MARY MATALIN, CO-HOST: Senator, as we all know, both candidate made a public appearance last night. How heartening to know that they both still exist. There's a possibility for a president here, and unlike Vice President Gore who wanted to play let's make a deal, Governor Bush reasserted a very basic principle that he's held from the outset of this madness. Let's listen to that principle.


GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Everyone in Florida has had his or her vote counted once. Those votes have been recounted. In some counties they have been counted a third and even fourth time.


MATALIN: OK, now you just heard our reporter say Palm Beach people said it would only take six days, but Governor Bush's attorney Michael Carvin did the basic arithmetic. It took them, according to Michael Carvin, nine hours to count 1 percent of the vote. So at that rate, it will take them 900 or 75 days or until January 30th. Please, senator, are we going to keep counting until we get the result we want here?

SEN. THOMAS HARKIN (D), IOWA: I think what we're going to do is keep counting until every vote is represented, until we have a fair and accurate count of how people voted in Florida. I think they deserve no less than that. I think the principle is not one of trying to cut the thing off, but let's get a fair accurate count.

I know how long it's taken to do 1 percent, but you can have more people counting the ballots than what they have. I think that's what they're going to do. They're going to enlarge the pool of people counting the ballots to shorten the time. But it's still -- it's going to take several days. But we're not in a crisis. So it takes several days. So what? The Electoral College doesn't meet until December the 18th. Surely it's worth it to wait a couple weeks to get an accurate count.


MATALIN: Several weeks. So you're agreeing it's going to take several weeks.

HARKIN: It may take -- if it takes two weeks, so what? So what? I mean, the Electoral College doesn't meet until December 18th. It is worth it to make sure that every vote is counted.

MATALIN: OK, let me ask you another basic principle that the governor asserted last night. Let me not put words in his mouth. This is the second basic principle Bush made last night.


BUSH: Each time these voting cards are handled, the potential for errors multiplies. Additional manual counts of votes that have been counted and recounted will make the process less accurate, not more so.


MATALIN: See, senator, this is not about counting votes -- excuse me -- it's about manufacturing votes because even after the governor spoke today the police confiscated 78 of those chads that just fell out. These were not devices meant to be manhandled and mangled and chads are just falling out. They're not randomly, they're falling out in favor of Gore.

HARKIN: They are, really?

MATALIN: That's not counting votes, that's manufacturing votes.


PRESS: The hanging chads.

HARKIN: The Bush chads don't fall out. I mean, this is sheer nonsense. All of this about the chads and stuff and the fact that if you handle a ballot it's going to -- something's going to happen to it. Look, you know, George Bush campaigned on this idea that he trusted people. Now it seems like he doesn't trust people at all. You know, these are people charged with a very serious charge and that is to count these ballots, and let's face it, this not happening behind closed doors. This is happening with Democrats and Republicans sitting side by side, with CNN there with their cameras. The whole world is watching. So this is an open, above board process.

PRESS: Senator, we get so involved in this -- in all of the details of how this is going, I think sometimes we're losing track of exactly what's happening in Florida and what's at stake. And I think that, senator, one of your colleagues, Senator Joe Lieberman, put his finger on right on it today. Please listen to what he had to say. Sums it right up.


SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (R-CT), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We think if all the votes in Florida are counted, not only will we have won the popular vote in America, Al Gore and I, but we will have carried the state of Florida and therefore the Electoral College and would have won the election.


PRESS: Now, isn't that true that if all the votes are counted, Al Gore wins? If Bush is successful in not getting all votes counted, he wins and that's what this is all about, isn't it?

SEN. WILLIAM FRIST (R), TENNESSEE: There was an election. The votes were counted. They were counted. The votes in Florida were counted according to the rule of law in Florida and who won? Governor Bush won. A few days later, those votes, again in accordance with the law of Florida were recounted. Who won? Governor Bush won.

Now they've been count add second time and recounted a second time and in some counties a third time, and according to the rule of law in Florida that has been certificated just now two days ago, Governor Bush won once again. Al Gore wants to change the rules, not in accordance with the rule of law in Florida, had them counted yet another time. And he's going to keep doing that until he gets the results that he wants.

And the issue itself does boil down to what is fair and accurate. Governor Bush and I agree that a fair and accurate means that this manual count are not fair and accurate. You introduce bias. We heard just on this introduction this whole dimple. Does a dimple mean you did push it through or tried to vote or you started to and you hesitated and said, no, I don't want to vote for Governor Bush or Al Gore?


Let me just finish. Because bias -- I believe the potential for bias, the potential for human error, the potential for tampering is all introduced by these manual votes.

PRESS: We'll talk about these hand counts just a little bit later. But I want to came back to your basic premise here. Let's say I voted in Florida, OK, and that machine read that ballot and didn't register my vote. It went through the machine a second time. It did not register my vote. Did I vote in Florida? Did my vote count? No.

How can you say -- pardon me -- how can you say every vote was counted when every vote clearly was not counted. Ten-thousand votes in Palm Beach were not yet counted.

FRIST: Did you not push it hard enough? Did you push it twice? Did you push it three times? There are rules that are laid out according to the law to statute in Florida and your vote is going to be determined ultimately by that particular rule.

PRESS: Do you know what that rule is?

FRIST: I do know exactly what that the rule is.

PRESS: The rule is when the machine screws up, you trust human beings. That's what the rule is. FRIST: That's not what the rule is. The rule is basically machine will determine -- those cards -- those punch cards were designed to be interpreted by machine. Not human beings.


PRESS: Machines are perfect? Machines are always perfect?

FRIST: No, but they are objective. They don't have emotion. You can't tamper with them. You can't introduce bias to them and you can't have human errors. That the advantage of having ballots which were designed to be interpreted by machines.


PRESS: How did we count ballots before there were machines?

FRIST: Before computers, what did you used to do. Did you ever use a calculator? Yes. You used calculators and now you use computers.

PRESS: But before that you did it by hand.

FRIST: That's right, you did it by hand. And do you want your bankers and accountants to use -- to not use calculators of computers or machines today?

HARKIN: I always reduce it to a simpler term. Did you ever take a dollar bill and put it in a soda machine to get a soda and it spits it back out? Then you take that dollar bill to cashier and they accept it and they'll give you four quarter for it.

FRIST: Yes, but did you ever do heart-lung surgery and you depend on that machine over -- for that heart-lung machine to keep them alive or fly an airplane through there and trust those instruments?

HARKIN: Bill, I don't want any heart-lung-blood machine unless you're there. I want a doctor there. I don't want the machine without a doctor there.

MATALIN: But the point that this senator is making and Governor Bush's camp has been making is that the machines err in proportion. They're erring equally on the downside for Bush, but we're only counting in favor of Gore, we're only counting in selective Democratically controlled...

PRESS: Count statewide.

MATALIN: ... Gore strongholds.

Well, you want Bush to ignore the law like Gore is, because the law says you can't have a recount now in the rest of the state.

HARKIN: Wait a second. First of all, it's the Bush campaign that came in and went to court to try to stop the recount. It wasn't the Gore campaign. The gore campaign was operating under the rule of law to seek a recount, a manual recount in these counties. It was the Bush campaign that first went to court.

Secondly, three times Mrs. Harris, the secretary of state...

PRESS: Secretary of state.

HARKIN: ... three times she has tried to stop a manual count, three times she's been rebuffed by the courts in Florida. Now, the Bush campaign has gone to federal court. Oh, you know, the big believers in states rights and states courts, now the Bush campaign, they're in federal circuit court in Atlanta. That's where they are right now.

You know, this whole thing, let's -- you know, this would be over with right now, this would be over with right now if the Bush campaign had not tried to stop a manual recount in those four counties.

FRIST: The fundamental issue is a manual recount is not fair, and when you achieve and when you want that achieve fairness -- why? I've gone through the list once. It introduces the potential for bias in the interpretation. It introduces the potential for human error that the machine does not have.

The whole issue that Mary brought out that these ballots were designed to be read by a machine, not to be looked at, punched at, bent, where, as you said, the chads will pop out. Eight days after the election, 75 or 78 chads were found in Broward County. That's eight days later because that's what these cards are built for.

HARKIN: First of all, it is a...

MATALIN: OK, senators, we've got to go to break.

HARKIN: It's well-settled that we have manual recounts.

MATALIN: Can we just -- can we just -- timeout for a minute, because even if the recount ever is completed, the debate is never going to end. For that matter, I'll be debating right after the show tonight on

Don't miss that, I guess.

And when we come back, we'll continue this debate. And everybody's weighing into this act. Everybody wants recount. Watch this.


MICHAEL DUKAKIS (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I wish I had the opportunity to ask for a recount. Unfortunately, it wasn't that close.



MATALIN: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. That was a scene from the latest, hopefully the last -- I can't even count how many more recounts from Palm Beach County. The Bush campaign announced today they would not recount closely contested Iowa at about the same time that county we just saw, Palm Beach, announced it would hand count that Gore stronghold.

Are coming to a conclusion or a new beginning? Supporters for each side weigh in. Fore Gore, Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, and for Bush, Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee -- Bill.

PRESS: Senator, you were just telling us how bad these hand counts are. What I find so amusing about that is, as you know I hope, in 1997 in the state of Texas, Governor Bush signed a law which said -- not only said that we want hand counts in Texas. He even -- the law even goes further than that. Let me just read you one sentence.

"If more" -- this is from the election code in Florida -- "If more than one petition for recount is filed and more than one method of counting is requested, a manual recount takes precedence over an electronic recount."

So boy, he loves hand counts in Texas, but he hates them in Florida. Bottom line, right?

FRIST: Well, if you look at the issue of the chads and the particular ballots that are used, it is more of a problem in Florida than it in Texas. I think one of the issues, which I haven't mentioned, hasn't been mentioned, is this whole idea of the "spoilation" of ballots: The more you look at it, the more you handle it. And that's a particular problem with the type of ballot that has been used, to a large degree in Florida where you have a chad there, where the more you manipulate it, the more you count it and recount it, the more it's likely to have been altered in some way, and therefore, will not necessarily reflect the intent of the voter.

PRESS: Well, I know that's what everybody says, that things are different in Texas. So today, I went to a lawyer friend of mine and asked him to show me what the standards are in Texas. I'm sorry to get this specific, but here we go. Here's what it says in Texas. You count it if -- quote, from the election code -- "at least two corners of chad are detached, light is visible through the hole, an indentation on the chad from the stylus or other object is present. It indicates a clearly ascernable intent of the voter to vote, or the chad reflects by other means a clearly ascertainable intent of the voter to vote."

So again I say in Texas, they count...

FRIST: Let me.

PRESS: ... if I may finish.

FRIST: Yes. PRESS: They count hanging chads, they count pregnant chads, they count dimpled chads in Texas, but not in Florida.

FRIST: Bill, that...

PRESS: It's crazy.

FRIST: ... (UNINTELLIGIBLE) where you've got a uniform standard. What is the uniform standard -- what is the uniform standard in Florida?

PRESS: Right here. That's it. Exactly.

FRIST: In Florida? In Florida?

PRESS: That's it. That's it.

FRIST: In Florida -- it's not it. But in every county in Florida that is not true.

PRESS: It is so.

FRIST: The problem -- and one of the reasons this case went to the federal court is the whole due process. There is no uniform definition published in Florida in statute. That's why we just heard about the dimple.

PRESS: That's not so. That's exactly what these people were told. The judge said count...

FRIST: In every county, in every county in Florida?

PRESS: ... the dimples and the other judge said count the hanging chads.

FRIST: You know, your viewers don't know that, because it's been argued day after day. Is it a dimple? Is it a pregnancy? Is it a flying (ph) chad? (UNINTELLIGIBLE) because there is no definition today.

PRESS: Just read the law.

MATALIN: Senator, let me just ask you the question before you answer this, because this is exactly the question that the Gore people went back to court for, because there is no standard in Florida unlike there is in Texas. But my question goes to this: Why do you Democrats, if your case is so strong, just make up stuff and distort it? As you kept saying, Bush supports a hand count, he signed a hand count as preferable in Texas when in fact 240 of the 254 counties there are -- you're supposed to hand count. They're optically scanned. They were made to be looked at by a hand. You're just distorting what the record in Texas is to make a political point, just like the vice president's PR stunt last night.

If you're so secure in your position, why are you...

PRESS: Question?

MATALIN: I'm asking it. Will you sit here and distort what the Texas record is?

PRESS: Did he sign a law or not? Yes!

FRIST: In Florida, in Florida -- the issue's in Florida.

HARKIN: You know...

FRIST: Is there a uniform standard about dimpling, pregnancy, two corners, four corners?


FRIST: It is not true, Bill. That's the whole...

MATALIN: All right, just answer this question, senator. Gore himself said yesterday that the reason -- that he's objecting to now -- what he wants is a standard. Tell (UNINTELLIGIBLE) what the is standard for measuring these dimpled, pregnant, hanging chads? That's what Gore is arguing for.

HARKIN: Mary, keep in mind, when these ballots go through a machine -- there are optical readers. If a chad -- that's one of these little things -- is hanging and it folds back over and it goes through there, it won't count that ballot. A human being sitting -- a Democrat sitting next to a Republican holding it up to the light can see that there's light through it, and they can count that.

FRIST: Tell me about a dimple. We just heard in the open that...

PRESS: Let him finish, senator, please.

HARKIN: What I'm saying is that, first of all, Bill, you're absolutely wrong about the manipulating of these ballots. I've been watching it. This is not behind closed doors. This is in open view of everyone. The police are there, Democrats are sitting right next to Republicans.

FRIST: Not that it's intentional -- I'm talking about unintentional.

HARKIN: It's not happening. You watch them; and I've talked to people down there, they are very carefully looking at each one of those ballots, Democrats and Republicans together. It gets down -- do you really...


MATALIN: But, please, can we make a key point here -- that there are two Democrats and one Republican. And when there's a difference the Democrats in every case out-vote the Republican.

HARKIN: That is not so. MATALIN: It is totally so.

FRIST: Why do you have a bunch of people who could be partisan, they may not be partisan -- they may have emotion, they may be partisan -- they're determining intent for a voter who is not there today. Is that dimple a hesitation or is it pushing all the way through? And they have to decide?

HARKIN: And then they can decide that by looking at the rest of the ballot and what that person did on the rest of the ballot.

FRIST: Who else they voted for?

HARKIN: That's what it is; it comes down to human -- do you trust human beings? I think there is a standard. You know what the standard is? Common sense.

PRESS: On that point, we are out of time. Senators, thank you very much. More common sense, that's was we're for. Senator Frist, thanks for being here; Senator Harkin, thank you for being here too.

Mary and I will be back with closing comments and, as we go to our break, of course, here are those people we've been talking about: the people in West Palm Beach. They're counting and the entire world is watching. We'll be back with closing comments.


PRESS: Now can you find out what's coming up in the CROSSFIRE. Sign up for a daily e-mail sent free of charge telling you what we are planning for that night. Log on to to sign up for your daily CROSSFIRE e-mail.

MATALIN: Test your political debating skills with me tonight -- or speaking skills for that matter -- just go to right after this show. Then tune in this Sunday for CROSSFIRE's special Sunday edition at 10:00 p.m. Eastern where we want to hear from you if you have questions or comments about the election -- or Bill or anything else -- log on to tonight. Send us an e-mail and on Sunday's show we will respond.

PRESS: Just don't send us any chads.

MATALIN: Senator Harkin just said that you could divine the intent of the voter no matter what he punched by looking at rest of the ballot. Does the word "ticket-splitter" mean anything to you. Inherently, incredibly biased here.

PRESS: Now, I think what the senator was saying -- I'm not speaking for him -- is that if the voter, you know, voted down there you could -- and how he voted down there might indicate what he did on that upper point. But the point is, Mary, there is no fair vote, there will be no fair vote in Florida until all the votes are counted. And you know as well as I that if all the votes are counted Gore wins. So count them all.

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

MATALIN: That's right, only if we continue counting only in democratic counties.

From the right, I'm Mary Matalin, join us again next time for more CROSSFIRE.



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