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Bush Spokespeople Call Florida Counties' Manual Counts `Fundamentally Flawed'

Aired November 18, 2000 - 2:12 p.m. ET

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

GENE RANDALL, CNN ANCHOR: Here's Karen Hughes in Austin, Texas -- the Bush press secretary.

KAREN HUGHES, BUSH CAMPAIGN COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: ... pleased that the returns from the overseas absentee ballots have increased their lead in the state of Florida. Florida's votes have now been counted and recounted, and in some areas recounted three or four times. And the overseas ballots have now been counted. All of those times and all of those counts show that Governor Bush and Secretary Cheney won the state of Florida.

We are hopeful that once the Supreme Court hears arguments in this case on Monday, the laws of Florida will prevail and the election will be certified.

Governor Bush spent the morning here in Austin working at his state office. He plans to attend church tomorrow and spend the day with his family. Secretary Cheney is on his way to McLean, Virginia, to spend some time with his family and grandchildren. They are both very upbeat, and they both asked me to extend their thanks to the many Americans who are writing and calling and e-mailing and offering their prayers and thoughts and encouragement.

As you know, manual recounts are continuing in selective Democratic counties in the state of Florida. Throughout the past week, we have outlined concerns that the manual recount of ballots that have already been machine counted several times is flawed, and is subject to human error.

We now have clear and compelling evidence from eyewitnesses that this manual recount process is fundamentally flawed, and is no longer recounting, but is distorting, reinventing and miscounting the true intentions of the voters of Florida.

Additionally, we are concerned that a targeted effort by the Democratic Party sought to throw out as many as a third of the overseas absentee ballots received since Election Day, many of them, the votes of the men and women of our United States Armed Forces who are serving the cause of freedom throughout the world. No one who aspires to be commander in chief should seek to unfairly deny the votes of the men and women he would seek to command.

With me today is Governor Marc Racicot of Montana, a colleague and good friend of Governor Bush, who is helping us to monitor the situation in Florida. Governor Racicot is a former Army prosecutor who served overseas for several years. He is a former attorney general. And he is a man of great integrity who has grave concerns about the lack of integrity of the manual recount process under way in Florida.

Governor Racicot?

GOV. MARC RACICOT (R), MONTANA: Thank you, Karen. Good afternoon.

I'd like to talk about the process that all of us have been focusing upon for the last week. There is something obviously that is terribly, terribly wrong with what has been occurring. And I want to make it plain from the very beginning that we have, this campaign, believed from the very instant this process began, that every vote that has been lawfully and accurately cast should be counted.

There's no dispute in that regard. What we have concerns about is whether or not the accuracy of those counts can in any way be assured or guaranteed as a result of what has been ongoing over the course of the last several days.

We now have clear and convincing evidence, in fact in my judgment it's beyond that, that in Palm Beach County and Broward County the hand counting of the ballots that is ongoing is not only fundamentally flawed, it is becoming completely untrustworthy. The -- there is a certain misconception, as well.

The Democrats have claimed that the recounts are being done on a bipartisan basis, since we have observers from both parties present. However, every questionable ballot is decided by a Democrat-dominated canvassing board. And in Palm Beach, there are three Democratic members of that board. In Broward County, there are two Democrats and one Republican. And in Miami-Dade, there are two Democrats and one Republican.

What is occurring here over the course of time is irreparable damage, and it's occurring as a result of 1,000 moons (ph) to this process of selecting the next president of the United States of America.

I want to share with you some of this clear and convincing evidence, and this is just some of the evidence that I'm going to discuss with you. Some of it you may be aware of, but I don't think quite frankly that the American people are aware of precisely what it is that's taking place in the state of Florida. I believe they'd be flabbergasted to learn how we're going about trying to assure authenticity in this process of recounting votes in Florida.

First of all, there's the taping of chads to ballots. We have observers in Florida who have noted, and they have filed affidavits -- they have completed affidavits, which as you know is a sworn statement under oath -- they have completed affidavits that indicate that a taped chad has been taped over the hole where the ballot or the notation could be made for a vote for Governor Bush. We have at least two witnesses of this. And we also know that the election official there, the Supervisor, Theresa LePore, has simply brushed off these concerns and these detections.

We have found Bush ballots -- our observers have found Bush ballots in the Gore piles. Both last night and this morning, Bush ballots were found in the Gore pile to be counted as Gore votes, and a Democratic observer found these and pointed it out. The Democratic observer later apologized to the Republican counterpart, telling him that the stack of ballots was different last night, and in his words had been "sabotaged." We have no idea how often this has occurred.

Now this personal example I want to relate to you. It comes from Jim Williams (ph), a Republican observer who supported Governor Bush, because parenthetically his son serves in the military overseas and he doesn't agree with the Clinton-Gore nation-building policy, just to let you know the facts and circumstances.

He witnessed counters and Democratic observers trying to explain why the votes were commingled, but he couldn't get that accomplished. The observers picked up a handful of Gore ballots and found several Bush ballots. And instead of pulling those ballots out, Theresa LePore stacked all of the ballots and put them in the box without any explanation to the counters of Judge Burton.

Ballots have been used as fans. In fact, the chairman of the Palm Beach Canvassing Board, Judge Burton, had to warn counters not to use the ballots as fans.

We have instances where ballots have post-it notes stuck on them over that portion of the ballot where you would make your mark for your choice for president.

We have elderly counters overworked and burned out. Counters are working from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. each day, sometimes even later. Counters, many of whom are elderly, are exhausted. Some of them are angry, and clearly they are fatigued. The room is poorly lit. On Thursday night at 1 a.m., an elderly counter dropped 20 to 60 ballots over the floor, creating a huge scene. Other observers stepped on the ballots as they were lying on the floor.

Now just for a minute imagine that you have a 70-year-old man at 2 a.m. in the morning trying to count thousands of small cards, many of which stick together, to see where these tiny holes are located. In fact, some of these people have had to use flashlights.

I think when the American people learn about these things, they're going to ask themselves what in the name of God is going on here. In two precincts, the results have been so flawed that a second manual recount has had to be conducted.

Counters are provided with no instructions and little guidance, and because the commission is canvassing at the same time that people count, counters often roam the room with their hands in the air asking for guidance. And that's just in Palm Beach County.

In Broward County, we have Democrat observers who are observing one day, and they're ballot inspectors for the county the next. Steve Michaelson (ph), who works in the public defender's office, admitted in court Friday that Democrat observers also served as ballot inspectors.

We have different standards at different tables. There are untrained inspectors at one table telling new inspectors at the next table how to conduct the count. We have affidavits from Florida residents serving as Republican observers stating that there is confusion, multiple touching and passing of the ballots between inspectors, moving precinct ballots from one table to the next after the ballots were already counted.

We have conflicting statements. A Broward County attorney said a manual count requires machine error, yet the board reversed their earlier decision and began manual counting despite no problem with the machines.

We, as well, know that Judge Lee stated before the initial vote that there was no evidence of equipment problems, and that he was surprised by the very small number of changes that were discovered, namely, four votes for Vice President Gore.

In Broward County, there's chads on the floor, on the counting tables, on the chairs. There's no reasonable assurance to the voters that the canvassing board has a system in place to ensure the integrity and security of the ballots. The canvassing board ignored a request by Republicans to stop the counting until they could do so. Election officials, specifically Judge Lee, have simply expressed that the chad should be brushed on the floor.

Now, in addition to that, we have just learned, just -- not moments ago, that in Dade County, the canvassing board has decided to run all of the ballots back through a machine count, and with a special program just to examine thereafter those that are under- counted ballots, and then to change the process of determining which ballots will count and which ones won't.

And in Broward County, they are presently contemplating changing the rules again, to count dimpled ballots as opposed to what it was that they were doing in the past.

So this is a process that is completely untrustworthy. And this is what the campaign has been warning about from the beginning. There has never been (AUDIO GAP) of having accurate votes tabulated. We have just known from the very beginning that this process would lead into a very tangled web.

Now, clearly, we know that machines make mistakes, but the reason machines were selected by states for use in voting all across this country is because the mistakes are held to a minimum and they're distributed randomly. A machine doesn't search for an advantage. And as a consequence of that, that's why machines have been chosen for use all across this country.

When people read those ballots, the results are incredibly arbitrary. And that would be true even if those that were judging the ballots were perfectly neutral, and we know that they're not.

Now another topic, and that is about the military ballots. A hallmark of our democracy is the right of men and women who serve in our Armed Forces to vote.

And I can tell you very plainly, having worked with these men and women overseas and served in the United States Army, this is a prerogative and a privilege that they take very, very seriously. It's a matter of the heart and soul. They wouldn't be serving in the military service if they didn't have a strong feeling about the defense of their country.

Now unlike their peers based in the United States, it's often very, very difficult for those who are aboard ships like the U.S. George Washington or USS Ticonderoga or the U.S. Simpson to vote. Yet throughout Florida, thousands of service men and women stationed on ships or stationed abroad did their part in our democracy. They cast their votes, or so they thought.

But last night, we learned how far the vice president's campaign will go to win this election. And I am very sorry to say but the vice president's lawyers have gone to war in my judgment against the men and women who serve in our Armed Forces.

In an effort to win at any costs, the Democrats have launched a statewide effort to throw out as many military ballots as they can. Last night across Florida, they threw out between 900 and 1,100 votes cast by military men and women. In Duval County, for example, 44 votes, mostly military were thrown out. The man who would be their commander in chief is fighting to take away the votes from the people that he would command.

At the same time, today's Miami Herald reported that 39 felons, 32 of whom are registered Democrats, three of whom are Independents, and the remainder Republicans, illegally cast absentee ballots in Broward and Miami-Dade Counties in the November 7th election. These convictions -- these people convicted of various crimes, like murder and rape, and in fact one of the offenders was even a poll worker, and the Herald tells that if the felons cast illegal ballots in the same percentages all the way across the state of Florida, extrapolating those votes, you'd have 2000 votes statewide that would have been illegally cast.

So there's something terribly, terribly wrong with what's going on in the state of Florida. How can felons be allowed to vote, while the men and women in our Armed Forces cannot? That's simply not right. This whole process has become so unfair and so selective that the American people have very, very sound reason and substantial cause to question the validity of these hand counts.

We have warned repeatedly that this is where we would be led, into this tangled web, and that this process would be selective and subjective and unfair. Little did we know that it would become this unfair.

I have nothing further, and we're willing to take questions is my understanding.

QUESTION: Governor, what's your recourse on these military -- on these military ballots that they say have been thrown out without justification? Is this a court case that you can bring? Or...

RACICOT: These are threshold judgments in our understanding that have been made at the very beginning by the panels involved, and the threshold judgment is whether or not this has a postmark. Now the administrative regulations and the law of Florida, we believe, provides for you to determine whether or not it's either dated or signed, or it has a postmark.

And the sad, sad fact is that in this instance, you have these men and women who properly executed their ballots. Through no act of their own, they were precluded from having their vote counted. And we think that you have to comply with the law, obviously. But you have to make more than a threshold inquiry to determine whether or not there's any indication, any evidence at all suggesting that they were properly executed within the time frames provided by law.

QUESTION: Governor, do you (OFF-MIKE) your votes that are being discounted?

RACICOT: We don't.

QUESTION: Then why would you suggest that the Gore campaign is (OFF-MIKE) military voters?

RACICOT: Because these judgments are being made by Democrat panels in those individual counties.

QUESTION: I didn't catch the answer to Tom's question. What are you going to do about it?

QUESTION: Governor, I don't think you actually answered. Are you going to file suit? Are you going to have a legal challenge?

RACICOT: We are presently in the process of examining our remedies. But the normal protest process would be for us to lodge our objections to the canvassing boards, and then thereafter, once certification occurs, of course, you have contest provisions that are available to you. But we haven't made that final judgment.

We're in the process of consulting about the most expeditious way to go about them.

QUESTION: Can you put in context for us some of the examples that you mentioned at the outset. How systemic a problem is this? Do you have a hard estimate of how many irregularities you have down there? And what percentage of that is (OFF-MIKE)?

RACICOT: I don't have an enumeration of each one of those, but I would tell you that they are vast. I mean, if you took a look at the affidavits associated with the pleadings that are now before the Supreme Court that were presented to the District -- or to the Circuit Court, and then to the Circuit Court of Appeals, and just took a look at the number of affidavits associated with those cases, you'd find a great deal of that evidence.

That, however, is being presently updated to reflect all of the other challenges that are coming along. Just this morning, I saw reported on the networks that we're not talking about 78 chads that have become infamous now. We have 146 in another location and another, I think, close to 250 in another. So you're getting close to 500 different possibilities for an alteration of ballots.

I mean, this is the reason that when you make the commitment to machine balloting, you have to live with that commitment. Because you simply can't guarantee trustworthiness beyond that.

QUESTION: Well what about a statewide machine recount? I mean, is that something you guys...

RACICOT: They've done that twice.

I mean, they counted, and then they did a recount. I mean, that's the bottom line, is that you've -- no one has alleged that the machine counts here are not accurate, that the machines aren't working properly. The machines have been working properly from the very beginning. There's no fraud or abuse, or any kind of emergency or act of God that's been alleged.

So, the bottom line is you have to live with the statute. That's why the statute says, and I believe you've reported in the last few days one county attorney remarking, that when he or she was in the legislature, that their intent was to make a commitment to machine balloting. And that as a consequence of that, they would -- they knew and understood that the review of it was going to, unless there was a problem with the machines working, not entail the use of manual recount.

QUESTION: Given your concerns about manual recounting, would you recommend the governor not in his totals accept the up-ticks in ballots that he's gotten from recounts that have been held in counties where Republicans have been overseeing the process?

RACICOT: You know, I understand that there's a desire to try and look for inconsistency here. You have to be engaged in the process that is determined by legal authorities to prevail at the time, and that's what we're doing.

So, the bottom line is we still, as a universal matter, believe that the manual recounting is not authorized by law. It should not have been undertaken. And, unfortunately, has been, we are going to participate as best we can within the rules that are set by law.

QUESTION: Given the preference for machines over manual recounting, the manufacturer of the machines has said that even under a 99.9 percent high performance rate, which is probably not being replicated in Florida, that there would be a margin for error of greater than the margin that Governor Bush had after the second machine recount. What do you do in that circumstance? Declare a president based on a margin of error? RACICOT: See, I think the American people, and frankly, the people in the press and perhaps everyone not intimately familiar with this process, have believed that there is a level of perfection here that's not obtainable, and has never been there. As a matter of fact, those in our generation, and those who follow hereafter, believe that everything throughout the course of the history of humankind has been subject to absolute calculation. That's just not the case.

There used to be way more abuse and way more fraud in years gone by. Machines were an extraordinary step forward in terms of guaranteeing accuracy. What you're seeing is a back to the future movie. We're going back to the future to do things that we tried to alleviate with machines.

QUESTION: What's your message to Vice President Gore, who may be watching this right now?

RACICOT: My message would be to commit, as a matter of leadership, to a process that you know has the most authenticity and integrity that can possibly be secured from the system. They keep alleging that we don't want to count votes. That's patent nonsense. We want to count votes that ought to be counted and that have a guarantee of trustworthiness associated with them. It's that plain and simple.

QUESTION: Isn't there a discrepancy between the (inaudible)

HUGHES: Thank you all.

RANDALL: Montana's Republican Governor Mark Racicot making a handful of very serious charges about the recounting process in Florida. He spoke in terms of sabotaged ballots, commingled ballots, ballots being used as fans in at least one of the counties, Post-It notes over punch holes in ballots, and chads on the floor. He called this a completely untrustworthy process, a very tangled web. He also said that he could explain how far the vice president Al Gore's attorneys would go in trying to win this election for the vice president by charging that Gore's attorneys had declared war on military personnel, men and women overseas who would cast ballots by trying to invalidate a number of those ballots.

And before Marc Racicot, we heard from Karen Hughes, the press secretary for George W. Bush.

Is Chris Black with us in Washington?

Chris, this was a very serious collection of charges. Any immediate response from the Gore camp?

CHRIS BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There is no immediate response just yet, Gene, but these are very familiar charges. The Republicans have been making these charges from the beginning of the recount process in Florida. And what the Gore campaign officials have been saying in the past is that this recounts are a normal part of the election law in Florida, a normal part of the process, a normal way to resolve disputed elections. So the expectation is that they will continue to back up the recount process as something that's very normal.

RANDALL: Chris, this is clearly part of the public relations battle between the two camps, the Gore camp and the Bush camp. Do you suppose it'll be very long before a Democratic spokesman comes to the microphones to respond to this?

BLACK: Probably not, because there's no question the Bush side really ratcheted up the rhetoric, especially rolling out the governor of Montana, a very important person in their campaign, to make those charges.

But today, the Bush -- the Gore campaign has filled a legal brief, a 48-page brief, before the supreme court of Florida to make their case for why the recounts should continue and why the recounted results should be included in the final election results for Florida.

RANDALL: Do we have Tony Clark with us in Austin, Texas?

Tony, are you with us?

TONY CLARK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm here, Gene. I'm here, Gene.

RANDALL: As Chris Black said, this was a ratcheting up of the rhetoric. Whom do you suppose Mark Racicot was talking to? I mean, what was the audience he wanted to reach?

CLARK: Well, I think there are two audiences. First of all, as he indicated, this is part of affidavits that were part of this submission to the courts, and so what you heard today is essentially a preview of the kind of arguments that I think we will hear in the supreme court on Monday during the Bush campaign's hour presentation.

But there is also the argument to be presented to the American people, this public relations image. You know, the phrase "fundamentally flawed" has essentially become a mantra here among the Bush campaign. We have been hearing this ever since the manual count was discussed. You've heard Karen Hughes use that phrase and you heard Governor Racicot use that phrase.

But what they are doing by telling about these discrepancies, these post-em notes on cards, chads on the floor, and the like, is to try and give an image to the public, who has seen this manual count go on, and give them some idea, some reason to question this, some reason to make whatever the results come out of these manual counts suspect in the minds of the public -- Gene.

RANDALL: Tony, thanks very much, and Chris Black in Washington, thank you.

We should recap just a few things. George W. Bush has a lead of 930 votes over Al Gore in the state of Florida. He picked up a few hundred votes tacked onto that lead with the overseas ballots, whose count has now been completed. And the Florida supreme court will be at center stage on Monday when both sides present their cases, the Bush camp against the manual recounts, the Gore camp very much in favor of those recounts.

We'll be back in just a moment.

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