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Democrats Make Case for Upholding Hand Counts

Aired November 25, 2000 - 12:20 p.m. ET


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: We just want to show you a quick live picture of a room in Tallahassee, Florida where we're expecting any moment Former Senator George Mitchell to come to that podium. In fact, he's coming in right now to answer some questions.

GEORGE MITCHELL (D), FORMER SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.

I'd like to make a brief statement. Then I'll introduce Mr. Michael Mone, who will make a brief statement. And then we'll be pleased to try to respond to your questions.

At the request of Governor Bush, the dispute over the election will go to the United States Supreme Court. Whatever the outcome, it is important that the process be fair and orderly, and that the will of the people and the rule of law prevail.

In its historic decision on Tuesday, the Supreme Court of Florida said that, and I quote, "the will of the people is the paramount consideration. The right to vote is the right to participate. It is also the right to speak, but more importantly, the right to be heard."

With those eloquent words, the court reached the very foundation of democracy. The word itself is a combination of two Greek words: demos, the people; kratia, the rule. Democracy is the rule of the people.

Elections are the means by which we determine the will of the people, so as to establish the rule of the people. That is why I believe that above all the clamor and confusion, there should be one clear and overriding goal: to ensure a full, fair and accurate count of the votes in this election. Only then will we honor our Constitution and reflect the will of the American people.

The Supreme Court of Florida, and many other courts across the country, have stressed the importance of the individual and the need to count every valid vote. There has been criticism of the use of hand recounts in this election. However, hand recounts are authorized by law in many states, including Florida. Hand counts are provided for in Texas in close elections. The laws of Texas and Florida and other states are based on the reality that the most fair and effective way to count every valid vote, and to discern the intent of the voter, is a careful, fair hand count. Up to now in this process, no court, state or federal, has accepted the assertion that hand recounts are unfair or unconstitutional. The courts and the people know better. They know that hand recounts are consistent with the law and with past practices in Florida, in Texas and all across the country.

The United States district court put it well when it said, and I quote, "The manual recount provision is intended to safeguard the integrity and reliability of the electoral process by providing a structural means of detecting and correcting clerical or electronic tabulating errors in the counting of election ballots," close quote.

In such recounts, every effort should be made to ascertain the intent of the voter. For example, in the now famous Delahunt case, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that if an impression is made on or near the chad portion of the ballot, that impression should be treated as a vote. That ruling, and others that hold similarly, are based on a simple and just premise: Whenever possible, valid votes should be counted and the will of the voters heard.

Texas law authorizes hand recounts and provides that a ballot should be counted if it meets any of several criteria that indicate the voter's intent. One such criterion is that a ballot may be counted if, and I quote, "an indentation on the chad from a stylus or other object is present and indicates a clearly ascertainable intent of the voter's vote," close quotes.

Thus, Texas law includes the counting of so-called dimpled chads. What the Texas law properly seeks is, and I quote again, "any clearly ascertainable intent of the voter," close quote.

So far, Florida has demonstrated that this process can be done fairly, with objective counters and observers representing both parties, despite some unfortunate attempts at delay and disruption.

I urge that the counts be permitted to proceed without interruption or disruption. It is essential to assuring the fairness and integrity of the process and of the result.

I mentioned briefly the Delahunt case. Here today is Michael Mone, who was counsel for Congressman Delahunt. He will describe that case in more detail.

Mr. Mone?


My name is Mike Mone. I'm a lawyer from Boston.

In 1996, I represented then-District Attorney William Delahunt, now Congressman William Delahunt, in a recount in the 10th Congressional District in Massachusetts. What was at issue there is what is at issue here in Florida, that is, the necessity of counting the votes that the voters have recorded. I come from Brockton, which is 20 miles south of the city of Boston. We have had two elections in Brockton that have turned on the ability of the election officials and judges to count the so-called indented chads. The law in Massachusetts is quite clear. It is in accord with the law in Illinois, and it is certainly in accord with the law that the senator just quoted to you from the state of Texas.

That is, that if in looking at these punch cards you can ascertain the will of the voter, the vote should be counted.

Now why is this punch card system -- does it produce this uncertainty where you have blank votes where people have voted? The reason for that, in my view, is simple. It is the only system of voting in which the voter records his preference on a piece of paper, but he can't see the piece of paper when he votes. And when he's finished voting, what he has in his hand is a card that has random holes in it. They are not next to the name of a voter; they are simply holes. And if he voted 16 times, he may not notice that on 14 of those he knocked out a chad, but on one occasion he simply dimpled it.

These machines are susceptible to misalignment of the cards, and that is the problem with the system. The problem with the system is so severe that Massachusetts, after the Delahunt campaign, abolished the use of these machines.

Let me tell you a little bit about the Delahunt case, because it really is right on point as to what's going on now in south Florida.

In the Delahunt election, on the evening of the election, we discovered that in the town of Weymouth, which voted on this punch- card system, 4,000 Massachusetts voters...

LIN: All right, this is a live news conference out of Tallahassee, Florida. That is Michael Mone; he is an attorney out of Boston who represented Congressman William Delahunt, who's congressional race back in 1996 was determined and finalized through a hand recount.

Just moments ago, earlier, former Senator George Mitchell made his case for the hand count to continue in the state of Florida, saying that a hand count is the only way to discern the will of the voter.

Right now this is a good time to bring in our elections analyst Ken Gross for further analysis.

Ken, one thing that we found interesting, and I think Michael Mone really crystallized what we always, sort of knew in the back of our minds is that when voters are voting, they're punching a card, a piece of paper, that they really can't see because it's buried within the ballot machine. Do you think they made a valid decision and a valid point in the state of Massachusetts to ban this form of voting as a result?

KENNETH GROSS, CNN ELECTION LAW ANALYST: Yes, I do. If this whole mess that we're in Florida stands for anything, it's that punch- card balloting has many, many problems. The ballot itself, in the butterfly situation was a problem; but even properly constructed ballots are creating innumerable problems with this dimpling and this punching of the chad, and I think something has to be done about it.

LIN: Well, at the same time, as we look forward to this case now before the U.S. Supreme Court, I suppose, you know, the issue of hand counts is a bit set aside because the court is going to be looking at different questions.

If the Supreme Court rules that the Florida state Supreme Court overstepped its authority, would you expect, then, that the Supreme Court would take that decision one step further and say what the fate of these hand counted or recounted ballots will be?

GROSS: Well, I don't know that they'll need to. If that's the case, then the Supreme Court's decision in Florida, which allows the recounting of the vote, effectively would be nullified and those votes won't count. So that will be the effect of a Supreme Court decision reversing the Florida Supreme Court. That would be -- I think, send the death knell for the Gore campaign.

LIN: All right, at this point let's bring in Bill Hemmer from Tallahassee -- Bill.


I don't know if Ken can jump in on this thought, too -- but it struck me, as I was listening to George Mitchell and the other gentleman inside the room there that, knowing that the Supreme Court has no case law on which to go when they're going to start hearing, you know, the briefs on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and the oral arguments on Friday -- wondering if this is a way to communicate to the court that, not just in Florida, but if you look at different parts of the country, perhaps you can or cannot make a case that the recount should continue and the state Supreme Court here in Florida was, indeed, correct for when they ruled: extend the deadline and count those votes.

Ken, you thoughts on that?

GROSS: Well we, frankly, have been surprised that the Supreme Court is even taking this case because it has always been the case of -- in other jurisdictions -- whether it was the Delahunt case that was just talked about in Senator Mitchell's press conference or in other instances, that it has been the province of state law to make these decisions regarding the balloting process. And I still believe that it's an uphill battle for the Bush campaign to convince the Supreme Court to step in and say that the Florida Supreme Court acted improperly here.

If they do, then that would send a signal to other states saying, what we decide to do at the state level could well be questioned in a higher court.

LIN: Ken, as the counting continues -- I mean, you look at the situation in Palm Beach County -- we don't see any conceivable way that they're going to be able to finish counting tens of thousands of ballots by tomorrow's 5:00 p.m. deadline. So if they do not finish, does it mean that all of the ballots that they have recounted so far will be excluded, then?

GROSS: That's my reading of the law. If they undertake to do a recount, they need to finish the recount in order for it to qualify. Otherwise it would be unfair to the counties or the voters or the precincts that didn't quite get into the count. You can't extrapolate a partial count and say that, well, you know, we expect the last 10 percent that we didn't get to would follow the same counting pattern as the other 90 percent. It would jeopardize the entire recount.

LIN: All right; thank you very much, Ken Gross, for joining us this morning.



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