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Should Florida's Supreme Court Force the Secretary of State to Accept Manual Recounts?

Aired November 20, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET



CLERK: Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye!


BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Tonight, the hand-count decision now lies in the hands of the Florida Supreme Court. What will the court decide? Should the hand counts count, and if the court rules they don't, should Gore give up the fight?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Mary Matalin. In the crossfire, in Miami, Congressman Peter Deutsch of Florida, a gore supporter, and Congressman John Sweeney from New York, a Bush supporter.

PRESS: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

Hear ye, hear ye, no doubt who's in charge now. It's the Florida Supreme Court, which heard arguments today from both sides on whether or not hand counts will be completed and those votes counted in the statewide total. Gore says yes; Bush says no; the court says, we'll let you know as soon as we figure it out.

While they sleep on it, the hand count slowly continues in three counties, and an entire nation's starting to wonder will we have to postpone the inauguration until Easter or are we nearing the end game of the longest campaign in memory? Questions for two members of Congress, once we get the latest from CNN's Deborah Feyerick, who joins us from the Florida state capital.

Deborah, a big day down there on a couple of fronts. Please bring us up to date on what happened today.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, it was a very big deal, and as you say, it was really in the hands of the justices. The Gore team started their oral arguments, because they're the ones who brought this appeal in the first place. However, it was clear from the very beginning that the judges were going to be in control of this hearing.

It took the chief justice just three minutes into the proceeding to ask his first question. He was very concerned about voters being prejudiced. What I mean by that is he said: How do you distinguish between voters whose votes have been counted and voters whose votes are being counted now? Isn't there some sort of prejudice or discrimination? He then went on with a follow-up question saying, you know, when does Florida actually lose its right to be counted in the electoral college altogether. That cutoff date is December 12.

Now, David Boies, who is representing Vice President Al Gore, he spoke. He said it is really up to the court to intervene. He said that it must be resolved, all these issues of the recount, must be resolved by the justices. And he also said that Florida law cannot be read in bits and pieces. It must be taken altogether, and if it is taken altogether, then those hand recounts now going on should be included in the final total.

Now, the Republicans do not want this to happen, and they were arguing as well, they say Florida statute is very clear. It sets out what the law is and what the law should be followed. And if you remember, yesterday Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who wanted time during these oral arguments to make her case -- she said she was an unbiased party and she wanted some of the 120 minutes allocated to both sides. Well, she didn't quite get that. Interestingly, when the Republicans got up to the stand, it was her attorney who dominated the first half-hour of their argument. And basically, the Republican attorneys saying the deadline must stick. It's not their problem if the counties didn't count their votes on time -- Bill.

PRESS: Deborah, thanks very, very much, and keeping us informed down there on what's happening in Tallahassee. You know, Mary, when we watched those justices today, I thought I was watching CROSSFIRE for a moment.


Speaking of...

MARY MATALIN, CO-HOST: Well, if it wasn't CROSSFIRE, it, after 2 1/2 hours, certainly reminded us, or at least me, why I dropped out of law school.

Congressman, let me start there. For all the legalese that we all listened to with bated breath today, there's a chance we might be losing the forest for the trees, because what's going on there is the vice president is fighting to the death to include the hand counts in these three counties. And after all is said and done, out of those three counties combined -- and the counting is somewhat along now -- he only has 135 votes total added to his margin. So even if he wins the Supreme Court, he may still lose this hand count.

So I'm wondering, many of us are wondering where are those tens of thousands of disenfranchised voters that Al Gore promised us were out there, which is why this thing has dragged on for two weeks past the actual election?

REP. PETER DEUTSCH (D), FLORIDA: Well, it's dragged on because Florida law provides for manual recounts in very limited cases, because they're a more accurate way of ascertaining voter intent. Computers cannot read the partially removed chads. The only way to do that is a visual inspection, and that's what's going on.

Even Though Governor Bush and Secretary Baker have continuously said it's subjective, the truth is it's not rocket science, it's not brain surgery. People are looking at it; there aren't arguments there.

And you know what, this -- this election -- what's going on now is not about electing Al Gore or George Bush. It's about having a fair and accurate count, and in fact, after a manual recount, if Al Gore doesn't win, that's fine. If George Bush wins, that's fine as well.

But I think what we need to have happen and what I think the Supreme Court of Florida will make happen is a fair and accurate count, and where the fall after that, that's where they fall.

MATALIN: OK. So are you somewhat siding with the six statisticians or more who have looked at where the count is today as we (UNINTELLIGIBLE) going through the recount, and are saying that this is an uphill struggle at this point for the vice president, that it does not bode well that these numbers are so low. And are you suggesting that that might be the case and that indeed the vice president should call it quits if this recount comes in as the statisticians say it is going to come in, with Bush in the lead?

DEUTSCH: Well, I think what the vice president has said -- in fact, last week made what I thought was really a Solomon-esque type offer to Governor Bush, you know, where he said, you know, let the whole state have a hand recount, even though the deadline had passed for Governor Bush. And I think the Supreme Court today at least alluded to the possibility that that might be their Solomon-esque, you know, solution as well.

You know, again, it's not about electing Al Gore. It's about -- what the American people I think want is a fair and accurate count, and what we've had for the last, you know, almost two weeks now is every legal, extra-legal and political maneuver by Governor Bush and by Secretary Harris to stop this count. They've lost every day, every court, every action, and again I'd be shocked if the Florida Supreme Court does not let this manual recount continue.

PRESS: Congressman Sweeney, let me bring you into this. First of all, let me say that having called Florida wrong twice, I'm not about to call Florida right any way which way again tonight. But the court is going to rule -- the court's going to rule one way or the other.

I want to ask you, first of all, if the court rules that the hand counts shall be completed and those totals included in the statewide total, do you believe Governor Bush should accept that court decision and move on, or challenge it?

REP. JOHN SWEENEY (R), NEW YORK: Well, I think he should challenge it and I think he should challenge it for this simple reason. The manual hand counts -- and I've seen them firsthand in Miami-Dade County -- are flawed -- a flawed process. One of the things that I was most disappointed with today's proceedings was that it was apparent to me that at least one of the justices was not understanding that in the four counties that these counts are being taken there isn't an equal representation in terms of who the decision-makers are in Republicans and Democrats. And in fact today in Broward County, the only Republican commissioner in all of the counties where votes are being counted resigned -- that there isn't that kind of fairness and equity in that process.

And the process is fundamentally flawed. You know, I'm a New Yorker, and having done recounts in New York City, in another very tough jurisdiction for us Republicans, and one of the things that I've noticed here is that lack of bipartisanship in terms of the decision- making.

In Miami-Dade County, where I think some of the more oppressive things that are happening in terms of this recount and some of the greater challenges to the integrity of this process are occurring, you don't have a Republican in that decision-making capacity.

And I'll agree with my friend Peter that we do -- you know, the American public does want a fair and accurate count. But you know what, in the recounts we're having now we're not getting that.

DEUTSCH: Obviously, I would strongly disagree with that.

PRESS: Right. Congressmen, hold on just a second, please, if I may.

SWEENEY: Which one?

PRESS: Congressman Sweeney, I want to come back to you and get back to this -- I think there are some signs of bipartisanship. We'll talk about that in just a minute. But I want to come back to what you just said. What I heard you just say is that if the Florida Supreme Court, the highest court in that state, says that the hand counts shall continue and the hand -- that those totals shall be included, that Governor Bush should not accept that decision. What you're saying is that he is going to challenge this and...

SWEENEY: Well, no, no. I'm not saying that...


PRESS: ... and continue to challenge it in the courts until you block the counting of all the votes in Florida. Is that what you're saying?

SWEENEY: No, Bill. No, Bill, what I'm saying is that there are extreme questions as it relates to the integrity of both the ballots in these recounts and the process itself. And I'm not so sure without judicial intervention at some course, at some point that we're ever going to be able to resolve it.

And I'll give you an example: In Miami Dade County, the board has unilaterally decided that they're going to effectively create votes. They also at the same time simultaneously are blocking and impeding the ability of our folks on the ground who are observing to object and preserve a record.

This is onerous stuff, and I've done recounts in New York City, and I've never seen anything quite so onerous as this process. And it leads one to believe that what you have going on in Miami Dade County, after you had Palm Beach have a sloppy process that was subjective to human error, and you had Broward County change its rules at midstream, that what you have in Miami Dade where you have 10,000 undercounted votes, you have a process that has a purpose, and that purpose is to make up lost votes in any way they can.

MATALIN: And Congressman Deutsch...

SWEENEY: And therefore, we need the courts to intervene.

MATALIN: Congressman Deutsch, let me pick up on that point. If the situation were reversed and nine out of the nine members of the canvassing board in this situation were Republicans, would you really feel that -- who have the final disposition on any dispute over any ballot -- would you really feel that they could be totally objective when their presidency hangs in the balance on this?

DEUTSCH: You know, again, absolutely, and let's talk about why. Florida is not the only state that does manual recounts. This is not the first manual recount in Florida history. We have -- there haven't been that many. There have been about a dozen. There was one in Broward for mayor's race, Palm Beach for county commissioner.

And again, let's be real clear why the statutes, including Texas, provide for manual recount. They provide for it because they're more accurate. That's exactly why they provide for it, because a computer cannot read a partially detached chad.

And again, the often way to look at -- determine it is a visual inspection. So what you have going on is you have two supervisor of election people sitting at a table, one representative of the Bush campaign, one representative of the Gore campaign, and they look at chads. And in front of -- Florida has the most open meeting laws probably in the United States of America. There's 20 television cameras looking at them, there's 20 print reporters, there are pool reporters walking around the floor, there's sheriff's deputies in the room as well...

MATALIN: OK, Congressman...

DEUTSCH: ... But again...

MATALIN: Congressman, we've seen the observers. What we don't see is the biggest pile left there is the disputed pile. And the disputed pile goes to the three Democrats now in the three disputed counties...

DEUTSCH: That's not...

MATALIN: ... and they make decision. DEUTSCH: OK, let me just say, in...

MATALIN: We don't see that part.

DEUTSCH: Well first of all, that room is open, and there's press and there's cameras in that room as well. It's totally an open process.

And let me also say, in Broward, you know, one of the three has been a Republican supervisor of elections who voted a three to zero vote to have a correct standard as well. But begin, each -- all you're talking about is the chad partially removed, there's a hole in the chad. Again, you know, Governor Bush and Secretary Baker and now my good friend John Sweeney is saying that this is rocket science. I mean, this is in total public view. You can't fake it if there's a hole in the chad.

SWEENEY: I don't want to interrupt...

MATALIN: OK, OK, I'll...

SWEENEY: I don't want to interrupt my friend, but let me make two points, if I could...

MATALIN: Well I'm going to interrupt you, Congressman, and you're my friend. But we have to because we have to get to our commercial break here. But the debate continues after the show. Jump into the CROSSFIRE online tonight with Gore supporter Congressman Peter Deutsch, with us now, and Bush supporter Congressman J.D. Hayworth of Arizona. It all starts right after the show at

When we come back, Bill and I will ask the question we've been asking all week, as in when is this thing, if it ever is, going to end? And I think the vice president today was looking for his own controlling legal authority there.


AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much. I appreciate this chance to speak to the Florida Supreme Court.



MATALIN: Those, of course, are counters in West Palm Beach. Count on, count on.

Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

The Florida Supreme Court is in a quandary over conflicts in Florida election statutes. What was the legislative intent in limiting the time to determine voters' intent? Should the hand counts continue if they end up throwing the whole state's election in jeopardy? And who rules, the Supreme Court or the court of public opinion?

While the judges deliberate, our guests ruminate on the ongoing election. Peter Deutsch of Florida for Gore and New York Representative John Sweeney for Bush -- Bill.

PRESS: Congressman Sweeney, in its lead article this morning, "The Wall Street Journal," which the last time I checked was not considered a liberal publication, says the new Bush strategy, unable to stop the hand count, they're now trying to discredit the entire process. And, of course, you're proving that point tonight.

I want to give you -- I want you to listen to some comments from Republicans and Democrats. These are citizens of Florida who are actually in the trenches, counting the votes and know better than anybody else, Congressman, what's going on.

Please listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I haven't seen anyone who has been doing anything that I would say willfully trying to change the results.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The integrity of ballots are very, very well.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's four people at all times watching every single touching of each ballot.


PRESS: So for you, Congressman, to say that there are all these problems and these people are just basically crooks down there, No. 1 is to impugn the integrity of all those counters in the whole state of Florida, and No. 2 is just pure spin, isn't it?

SWEENEY: Hey, Bill? Hey. Bill, you can get that -- you can take any cut you want, but we had actually a press conference outside of Miami-Dade today in which we had about 18 inspectors who were thrown out effectively, many of whom had worked for years in this process, complaining that they were being blocked from simply asking questions, No. 1. No. 2, in fact a Democratic counter was fired today, was told to leave the job today, because she was being too helpful in showing both sides of a ballot as people were trying to determine whether indentations existed.

I want to make couple points. There has been a lot of talk about Texas law and whether the Texas law somehow shows an inconsistency in the position here. Let me point out two strengths of the Texas law. One, it's limited to specific examples and specific counties. And second, it's uniform.

And it gets me to my second point. The fundamental problem in my opinion about the manual -- as it relates to the manual recount in the state of Florida is there aren't any uniform procedures. So you have boards like the Miami-Dade board that is setting up its own arbitrary procedures that is agreed that they are going to go ad hoc in terms of how they're going to...

PRESS: All right...

SWEENEY: ... establish them, meaning that...

PRESS: All right, let me...

SWEENEY: ... meaning a vote counted early...

PRESS: Let me...

SWEENEY: is rated differently than a vote counted later, meaning they can also manipulate them...

PRESS: I hear you.

SWEENEY: ... And there are a number of folks...

PRESS: Please, please...

SWEENEY: ... and it also is going to...

PRESS: Please -- all right...

SWEENEY: call into question the integrity of the overall process.

PRESS: All right, in the interests of time I want to come back then to my first question, because the other thing the Supreme Court was asked today is to set a statewide standard. If the court says the hand count continues, those votes will be counted and the statewide standard is the same as in Texas, Congressman, hanging chads, pregnant chads and dimpled chads, should Governor Bush -- will Governor Bush accept the court's decision?

SWEENEY: My answer is I don't think a Democrat commissioner can infer the intent of an independent, a Democrat or an any other party registered person with any kind of certainty. And I don't think they probably can infer the intent of...

PRESS: Congressman, you're suggesting that all Democrats are crooks. That's outrageous.

SWEENEY: That system and that standard is fundamentally flawed. It's fundamentally flawed.

PRESS: Somebody's got to make the decision, Congressman.

SWEENEY: It's because there isn't balance to it.

MATALIN: OK, Congressman Deutsch, let's talk about the other issue of the day. Late today, this issue was -- this statement was issued by the Democratic attorney general, who was Vice President Gore's campaign chairman in the state of Florida. Quote: "No man or woman in military service to this nation should have his or her vote rejected solely due to the absence of a postmark, particularly when military officials have publicly stated that the postmarking of military mail is not always possible under sea or field conditions."

This, of course, after the Democratic operatives on the ground were challenging and throwing out some 1,420 overseas ballots.

Does this mean that you are now going to go back in and reissue or recount those votes, those overseas votes, or was this just a P.R. stunt?

DEUTSCH: Let me just talk a little bit about the whole, I guess, spin from the Republicans about -- which has been to me the absolute most -- the worst statements I have ever heard probably in my life about anything. I mean, almost a blood libel by the Republicans towards Al Gore, saying that he was trying to stop men and women in uniform that are serving this country from voting. That is the most absurd thing and absolutely has no basis in fact at all.

Both the vice president's campaign and Governor Bush's campaign sent memos to their representatives in 67 counties about what the law in the state of Florida was or is. And in fact, Al Gore doesn't get to determine what vote is accepted nor does George W. Bush. The canvassing boards in the 67 counties in Florida does that. And, in fact, most of the counties in Florida are Republican counties.

So you have Orange County and Escambia County, which are mostly Republican counties rejecting the second and third largest number of overseas ballots. I'm not accusing those members of the canvassing board of being anti-military at all. In Broward County, let me just mention a very, I think, significant -- in Broward County over 300 ballots were not accepted. Only two of the 300 have that criteria of not having a postmark.


PRESS: Congressman, I hate to do this. The count in Florida may not be over, but unfortunately our show is for now and I thank you -- we thank you both for joining us.

Congressman Deutsch, Congressman Sweeney, we have barely touched the surface. We have got to get you back so we can finish up.

And Mary Matalin and I will be back with closing comments on the latest in Florida.


PRESS: And don't forget CROSSFIRE goes online tonight with Gore supporter Congressman Peter Deutsch and Bush supporter Congressman J.D. Hayworth. The debate continues, just go to right after the show.

Mary, I see an endgame here, so I have a suggestion. I'm willing to say to Al Gore when a hand count is done and all those votes are counted, whoever is the winner is the winner. End it right now. I say that to Al Gore.

Will you say that to George Bush? MATALIN: Yes, because right now he is up. And for all the screaming about people in the streets and crying and all these disenfranchised voters and tying the whole thing up, one out of your four counties, you got 98 votes. The three remaining, you've got 135.

PRESS: What if Al Gore is ahead at that time?

MATALIN: Don't quit throwing out military ballots. I don't speak for the campaign.

PRESS: What if Gore is ahead at that time? Will you suggest to Governor Bush that he accept that result and move on?

MATALIN: If it accurate and fair count, but it is not an accurate and fair count. They are dropping ballots on the floor. They are punching out chads.

PRESS: You don't think it will be accurate until Bush wins. Get ready for reality when the count is over.


PRESS: I'm Bill Press. Good night from CROSSFIRE. I will see you in "THE SPIN ROOM" at 11:00.

MATALIN: Can't wait for that.

From the right, I'm Mary Matalin. Stay up with all of us for "THE SPIN ROOM" and join us tomorrow for more CROSSFIRE.



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