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U.S. Supreme Court, The Decision: Roundtable Addresses Viewer E-Mail

Aired December 13, 2000 - 11:43 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Showing you live pictures now from Ireland. This is where President Clinton is on his overseas trip, presumably his last overseas trip of his presidency, addressing the crowd. President Clinton, we're getting word, said he is waiting to hear from Al Gore, to talk to Al Gore before he makes a specific comment on today's development.

And if you're just joining us, once again, that development, Vice President Al Gore calling off his efforts for a recount in the state of Florida, presumably bringing to an end his candidacy for the U.S. in the year 2000.

Our John King reporting also, giving us very similar news about the president's trip to Ireland. Let's bring in John King, also Frank Sesno and Bill Schneider, our panel of gentlemen there in Washington there to answer your e-mail questions.

And there are a number of them for you this morning, gentlemen, the first one coming to you from Daniel Frome. And his question is: "Why should Al Gore concede before the electors have voted? They have strayed from party lines before and he only needs four to do so."

A couple points in that e-mail. First of all, we're trying to stay away from the word concede this morning for reasons that you guys have explained previously. But also, address the question of the Electoral College, how it works, and how, in fact, if they wanted to, an individual elector could go across party lines and still, conceivably, change the outcome of this election.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Daryn...

KAGAN: John, why don't you start.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, let's let Bill start.

SCHNEIDER: OK.

KAGAN: OK, Bill, you go. You were the first dare in, so you go.

SCHNEIDER: It's been known to happen in the past. We've had electors who do not vote the way their state voted. They're called "faithless electors." It's happened occasionally, never determined the outcome of an election, however. Mr. Gore has indicated that he will not ask any elector to change the vote. Some states do say it's against the law for an elector to vote against the way the state has voted, that is to vote his conscience, but it's hard to enforce that kind of rule. But Vice President Gore has said on a couple of occasions he will not encourage that activity, he will not encourage anyone to be a faithless elector.

KAGAN: He won't encourage it, but, John, a lot has happened that we've never expected before. Could it happen?

KING: Could it happen? Sure, it could happen. But both campaigns have operations, political operations, that have been ongoing during the recount battle to reach out and get in touch with their electors. And the woman running the Bush operation at the Republican National Committee is a very organized woman, Maria Seno (ph). And if she thought there were any problems out there, she would have reported them to the governor and his political team, and they believe there are no problems. They believe -- and if you look at the reaction here in Washington and throughout the country, this debate has polarized people. The Republicans are very Republican at the moment, the Democrats very Democratic at the moment. They do is not foresee any of their electors breaking ranks here.

FRANK SESNO, CNN WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: And I don't think we can underestimate the impact of what it is that the vice president will say this evening, Daryn. And I think that, to our viewers and to those asking these sorts of questions, if he is definitive in terms of saying, enough is enough, it's time to bind the wounds, and this kind of thing, it's going to dampen a lot of the speculation.

Should point out, however, that just this past weekend none other than Mario Cuomo was saying, hey, look, you know, Al Gore won the popular vote, we shouldn't dismiss the notion altogether. There could be faithless electors. It's only going to take a couple.

KAGAN: Well, one thing we've learned over the last 36 days and that is not to dismiss anything. But it is definitely wait and see on that far-fetched possibility.

Let's move on to the next e-mail, if we can put that one up on the screen. This one coming to us from John from Pennsylvania: "It is true that the voting booths in the lower-income communities are older and more difficult to operate than those in the more affluent communities. Therefore the equal protection argument is ridiculous and has already been violated by the state of Florida."

That from John in the state of Pennsylvania.

Frank, you can pick up on this one, going for that equal protection clause there, picking that up from the decision last night from the U.S. Supreme Court, talking about why they were not in favor of recounts in the state of Florida.

SESNO: Well, the -- right, they used the equal protection clause to say that this patch-work quilt of standards, one county doing one thing, another doing another. This intent of the voter in Florida that really means whatever you want it to mean, in the view of the United States Supreme Court, does not afford equal protection. In other words, all voters aren't created equal in this particular case. Now, that may be arguable or not, but it is now the Supreme Court's determination.

Let me point something out, though. We are already hearing from some very angry members, especially within the Congressional Black Caucus and the African-American community who say, hey, look, if you want to talk about equal protection, look at Florida, look elsewhere and you will see in a lot of low-income, predominantly minority communities some of the oldest voting technology. If we're going to have equal protection, we need to go back and look at not only the voting results but the voting practices. And this may upend this entire process. The Supreme Court has waded into a very big issue here.

KAGAN: Bill, does this story end with the beginning of a Bush presidency, or does it go on from there in terms of election reform and really opening up -- have they opened up Pandora's Box if you want to look at fairness in terms of elections?

SCHNEIDER: Well, it certainly will bring out a lot of resentment. Certainly the African-American community has seen this and continues to see it as a civil rights issue because they claim that the Florida vote was discriminatory for the very reason that the e-mail question raised.

Will it end? Well, certainly a number of members of Congress, four Senators that I know of, two from each party, have proposed measures to study and reform the voting procedures in the United States. They don't want a single, uniform procedure across the entire country, but they want to find out what is the most effective and efficient way of voting, the one that will meet the constitutional tests. They want to provide a grant of money to states and localities to modernize their voting systems, because, frankly, the history of this country is that voting is -- it's in the Constitution -- is controlled by state governments, which often pass it along to local authorities. That often means irregularities and unequal procedures.

And the federal government, I think, has the money at this point to try to bring about those reforms. Local governments just don't spend a lot of money modernizing their voting systems because it's never been a problem and because they'd rather -- the voters would rather spend the money on schools and roads. Now it's a problem.

KAGAN: State control over elections has been just one of the many civics lessons that we have had over the last month or so. It's opened a lot of Americans' eyes as to how our government works.

Here's an e-mail from Martha, and she has kind of a statement in the form of a question: "One would never have thought possible to see justices be so divided in their interpretation of the law. Is there a logical or reasonable answer to this?"

And that is Martha, I'm sure commenting about last night's decision from the U.S. Supreme Court. In fact, though -- and any one of you can jump in on this -- this is a court, historically, that has been incredibly divided, and this is just a chance for Americans to open up their eyes and see exactly how the nine justices work on this court.

SCHNEIDER: Yes, we saw a lot of revelations about the court. You know, there's an old saying, "the Supreme Court follows the election returns." In this case, the Supreme Court is writing the election returns, and that's something we've never seen before. It's waded into what was once called the "political thicket." And that's always dangerous for a court because people want the court to be above politics, and now it's exposed as intensely political, something the court itself realized, because in one of the dissenting opinions last night they said the big loser in all this is the reputation and legitimacy of the court system.

KAGAN: And even while we're having this discussion, Frank Sesno, you're gathering news. What's the latest item you have?

SESNO: Well, we're told that the speech this evening from Al Gore will be preceded by a very brief remark from Joe Lieberman, the vice presidential candidate. It will take place in the ceremonial room of the Old Executive Office Building, the Eisenhower Building it's now called. It's next to the White House. There you see a picture of it. It used to be the old War Department, as it was first called when first constructed.

This speech, as we tell you, is going to be at 9:00 Eastern time this evening. The vice president's speech is going to run about eight or nine minutes in length. In this speech, as we've mentioned, we've been told by a number of sources, the principal objective of the vice president is to reach out to the American people, say it's time to move on, it's time to heal the wounds, time for Democrats, Republicans to work together, and the focus is principally going to be on pulling the country together, according to one source I spoke to not very long ago.

KAGAN: Frank, also getting word through the Associated Press that Al Gore has plans to call George W. Bush before he addresses the nation...

SESNO: Yes, yes, yes. I'm told he...

KAGAN: ... tonight at 9:00 p.m.

SESNO: Right. I'm told he will call George W. Bush. I think we talked about that earlier today. The outreach is going to take place at the slightly lower level first. Al Gore has also called the Democratic leadership on Capitol Hill, has spoken to them today. So these very important calls that are sort of part of this tradition, sort of part of the ceremony.

Keep in mind one thing, in the world of deja vu all over again, Al Gore has already spoken once to George W. Bush and conceded.

KAGAN: Right. Didn't go that well.

SESNO: So five weeks ago he said, you won. Then he called back and said, not so fast. And then we went into a five-week deep freeze.

KAGAN: Yes. Actually, I think they talked twice, two phone calls.

SESNO: That's right.

KAGAN: The second one did not go so well. But here comes No. 3.

All right, I want to say thanks to Frank Sesno, Bill Schneider and John King. Also, all of you out there who sent in your e-mails, thank you very much.

Once again, Al Gore, the vice president, addressing the nation tonight, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, 6:00 p.m. Pacific. The topic: he has called off his recount effort in the state of Florida, conceivably ending his campaign for presidency.

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