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Reps. Sweeney and Buyer Hold News Conference Demanding Inclusion of Overseas Military Ballots Without Post-Marks in Florida Vote Count

Aired November 21, 2000 - 11:43 a.m. ET

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

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Steve Buyer, thank you, Representative Steve Buyer -- Buyer actually -- from Indiana is talking about military ballots. He is in Florida.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

REP. STEVE BUYER (R), INDIANA: The Constitution, in the elections clause, makes an investment in each of the states, which regard to a -- in a federal election. That's what we have here. So when you have a federal election, the Constitution says: "We invest in the states to set forth the mechanics on how to operate these elections." Now, the federal government, the Congress, i.e., then passed the federal uniform -- Congress passed the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. But in 1986, they added some special provisions. And the purpose of this was to encourage the military who are overseas to include our civilians who are overseas, whether they live in a country or they live and operate in our outposts; our outposts are our foreign embassies that represent our country all over the world. We want to enfranchise them, we want to make them have the opportunity to participate in our federal elections.

Now, someone in uniform or an American citizen living abroad, they have two choices. They can make an application for an absentee ballot in their home state. If it didn't come in time, they can use a federal uniform ballot to participate in a federal election.

Now, what has happened here in the state of Florida, they applied Florida code over the federal statute. That was bothersome, because with something called federal preemption, you can't do that.

The other thing that was very bothersome to me was, in this five- page memorandum that Democrat lawyers were using in the 67 canvassing boards here in the state of Florida, they were arguing and targeting these military absentee ballots. Now, that is very disturbing. Why were they targeting that? They were saying, if it did not have a postmark, then it cannot be counted.

The federal statute does not require a postmark. The federal statute gives the duty and responsibility to the secretary of defense to make sure that these ballots are carried, quote, "expeditiously and free of postage," end quote. It's right out of the federal statute. So when you've got that service member who's in the Army, maybe in Bosnia, in Kosovo, could be a sailor, could be a naval officer aboard the USS George Washington, when they made out their ballot they didn't -- it's sent off, and maybe that ship that they were on didn't have a postal stamp. The responsibility is taken out of the hands of that voter and it's given unto the secretary of defense. Many of this mail comes to its destination without a postmark.

I've got a lot of veterans here behind me, and they can, I'm sure, give their own personal stories to attest. I served in the Gulf War. Here's a man, Arthur Mason (ph), a Silver Star winner from Vietnam. We sent mail back to our home, a lot of mail made it to their destination. Why? Because the American people respected what we were doing. And it didn't have a postmark, so the state of Florida should also extend their respect to the men and women who wear the uniform and are serving our country abroad.

Now, I want to thank the attorney general for seeing the light.

He issued an opinion yesterday that said if it didn't have a postmark, it should be counted. But he also said that it should be signed and dated. Now, where do we go from here?

If there is a ballot in one of these 67 canvassing boards and it is an overseas ballot and it didn't have a postmark and it doesn't have a signature with a date signed, but it has a stamp that was received by that canvassing board received on the date of the election or before, that vote should count and that is what is extremely important.

Now, I don't believe that men and women, who are Floridians -- strike that. Military personal cannot control the means by which their ballots are delivered. Floridians serving in uniform, who may live and work in dangerous locations around the world, should not be disenfranchised because of circumstances requiring the delivery of their ballots without a postmark. And that's why the attorney general, I think, tried to do some damage control here, and I want to applaud him for his efforts to do just that.

I want to turn the microphone over to a colleague of mine, John Sweeney, who's with us here from the state of New York, for any comments he may have.

REP. JOHN SWEENEY (R), NEW YORK: Thank you, Steve.

I want to thank Congressman Buyer for coming and lending light and perspective on a very important part of this process, the process that I hope adds some relevance to in noting that it is very much this -- what we're doing here is very much a world turned upside down.

In this building on the 18th floor we have government officials trying to divine intent on ballots of voters from Florida who may or may not have intended to vote for one candidate or the other.

At the same time, we have the Gore campaign actively, directly attempting to take away from, to disenfranchise the very men and women who are defending freedom.

I propose to you that it would be very difficult to serve as a commander in chief when you try to disenfranchise those very defenders of freedom. It's a sad day for America.

PHILLIPS: Republican John Sweeney, Republican from New York -- Representative John Sweeney, excuse me -- Republican from New York, supporting Steve Buyer, congressman from Indiana, Republican.

Buyer is challenging the disqualification of oversea, military ballots, which came through without a postmark. He is saying those votes should count whether they have a postmark or not because military servicemen and women cannot control the means by which those ballots are delivered. Therefore, they're in many dangerous situation, situations where they cannot control that, therefore, those votes shall count or they are demanding that they should be counted.

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