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Bush Campaign Event Sounds Plea for Count of All Military Overseas Absentee Ballots

Aired November 25, 2000 - 1:47 p.m. ET


GENE RANDALL, CNN ANCHOR: We've got to take a break and go to Tallahassee. Three medal of honor winners are, apparently, addressing the issue of military overseas ballots on behalf of the Bush campaign.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... in casting their votes they must depend on a system that takes their ballots from them and sends them to the ballot places. Even with these obstacles, many Floridians serving this great nation of ours abroad, in harm's way, exercised their right to vote. They must depend on this great system to count their vote.

Last week, across Florida many of these precious votes were disregarded and abandoned based on the principle of the letter of the law. As a medal of honor recipient, my fellow veterans expect me to speak out on these important issues. I am but one of 150 living recipients of the medal of honor. We come from all walks of life within our society. We have different likes and different views. We definitely have different political leanings. It would be very difficult for me to get all of my 150 fellow recipients to come to a consensus on probably any subject matter.

However, today I assure you here that the rights of servicemen and women to vote and have their vote count is one which we will all join together and agree upon. We, like many of our fellow veterans, have fought to preserve this great nation in which we live. We, like our fellow veterans, have fought to uphold the laws of our cities, our states, and our nation. Now we find ourselves trying to use -- our people trying to use the letter of the law to deny fellow veterans their voting rights, while at the same time using such standards as clear intent to voters, or every vote must count -- to try to be very inclusive in other areas within our state.

These actions are of great concern to all veterans and, I believe, to most Americans. I believe that actions must be taken immediately by our county canvassing boards to ensure that our servicemen and women are treated fairly in this voting process. Anything less is totally, totally unacceptable. I, like all veterans, will be watching to see if our sacrifices on the battlefields and service to our nation around the world is recognized with fair treatment at the ballot boxes.

I'm honored to be here today and to be with two of my fellow recipients. They are Command Sergeant Major retired Gary Littrell and Doc Bob Ingram -- Robert Ingram, a Navy corpsman who served with the Marine Corps in Vietnam.

I would like to call on each of them at this time to make some brief statements -- Gary.


You know, as I stand here today and I think about our service members that have been separated from their families through the holidays and are in far away countries, and Bosnia and Korea -- you know, I think back of the 22 years that I was in the military. Out of that 22 years I had three combat tours.

At no time during any of those tours did I have ever have a stamp to put on a letter to be postmarked. The only stamps that I saw, the only postmarks that I saw was letters that I received from my family and my friends. The only thing we had to do when we were deployed was in the upper right-hand corner write the word "free," as our Congress has said. And those letters were delivered back to the states.

I don't think that our young men and women in Bosnia today or other parts of the country have these stamps and these stamp-marks. You know, also looking back at our military, our military morale is a little low at the present time. We've down-sized to where our strength is about 50 percent of what it used to be and the missions have increased to where our young men and women -- who are all, by the way, volunteers -- they have volunteered to serve this country and to go into foreign countries away from their families, especially during the holiday season, and their morale is a little low.

You know, their missions have increased, their strength has cut. Can you imagine how low their morale would be when we look them in the eye and say, I'm sorry, because of a technicality, because of an interpretation of a law, your vote, young man, your vote, young women, cannot being counted.

I ask today that every citizen, every canvass board member, every lawmaker, every mother or every father search their souls, look deep in their heart. How would you like to be the one to look that young service member, a young man and young woman in the eye and say, I'm sorry, your vote didn't count.

Thank you.

ROBERT INGRAM, MEDAL OF HONOR RECIPIENT: As a medal of honor recipient, we get these medals that we're wearing around our necks for -- one thing is courage, and that's really what I'd like to say to the public today, is I'd like to see these voters -- each and every voter, every resident in the state of Florida -- to stand up and do, and have courage; courage being the ability to do the right thing. That's what we need to do, is the right thing. If they're going to count a dimple, then they need to count a vet's vote. That's really all I have to say.

Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much. At this time we will be followed by Mr. Ben Ginsberg, with the national council for the Bush- Cheney campaign.

Thank you.

BEN GINSBERG, BUSH CAMPAIGN ATTORNEY: Good afternoon and, gentlemen, thank you on behalf of Governor Bush and Secretary Cheney; and we are honored to be able to stand with you today in your fight to have the votes of our fighting men and women overseas counted.

Last Sunday, November 19, Senator Joe Lieberman said, "Vice President Gore and I would never authorize and not tolerate a strategy that was aimed as disqualifying military ballots." Despite these words, when it came time to count these excluded overseas absentee military ballots over the past several days and, indeed, as recently as last night in Duval County democratic lawyers consistently and vigorously opposed the efforts of county electoral boards to reconsider and count these votes.

Based on recent statements by a number of county electoral boards and their representations at yesterday's court hearing here in Leon County, some boards have met, were planed to meet to reconsider counting the ballots of U.S. servicemen and women on duty overseas. Therefore, it appears the many wrongfully excluded ballots from U.S. military personnel serving overseas will now be counted through voluntary compliance.

Nevertheless, prided by Democratic lawyers, some county boards have sought to evade bipartisan calls to count overseas military ballots by raising procedural issues concerning venue, challenging the court's jurisdiction and posing other obstacles. Therefore, consistent with judge Smith's comments at yesterday's hearing concerning questions of venue, we voluntarily dismissed this action and are, instead, filing cases in individual counties to require the electoral boards to count the signed ballots of men and women risking their lives on the front lines of America's defenses overseas.

On Wednesday, November 22 Governor Bush called upon Vice President Gore to join them in taking action to ensure that the votes of our overseas military are counted. Vice President Gore and his campaign should do so now without delay.

Thank you all very much.

RANDALL: Another call by the George W. Bush campaign and its chief recount attorney Ben Ginsberg for all overseas military ballots to be counted.



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