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Florida FOIA Could Give Private Citizens Access to Presidential Ballots

Aired November 27, 2000 - 2:53 p.m. ET

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

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, we want to talk with our -- one of our legal analysts, Ken Gross. Ken was formally with the Federal Election Commission, so he knows a lot.

Hi there, Ken.

And what struck our attention was Dick Gephardt saying just a couple of hours ago that you can have an academic assigned to count all the votes in Florida once the whole thing's over. Tell us about that.

KENNETH GROSS, CNN ELECTION LAW ANALYST: Well, references made during the conference call that we eavesdropped on between president -- Vice President Gore and Senator Lieberman and Congressman Gephardt and Senator Daschle, and reference was made to the Freedom of Information Act. And in fact, the Freedom of Information Act is a federal one, and most states, including Florida, have their own freedom of information act, which allows you to access documents that are maintained by public agencies.

It just so happens that Florida has one of the most expansive freedom -- state freedom of information acts in the country. It's very broadly written, and it includes all agencies of the state, which would presumably include canvassing boards and that type of thing. So at some point, if an academic group or other group or organization wanted to undertake their own recount after the fact to see who really had the most votes, I suppose that could happen.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: You mentioned documents, Ken, access to documents. Does that mean also that someone could go in afterward and have access to the actual ballots, many of which are in dispute, as you know here?

GROSS: That's right. I use the word documents, and I should have been more specific. What I was really referring to is the ballots themselves. Those are considered physical documents that can be obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. So once again, these dimpled ballots could be examined under the eyes of other individuals, I would expect.

WATERS: What's the implication of that?

GROSS: I think at the time something like that could happen it would be purely academic. It could, I suppose, become a story that the wrong person got elected after the fact, which would be very dramatic, I think, for the moment, but I don't know -- it wouldn't have any legal effect after our new president has been sworn in.

ALLEN: And of course, what standard would this group use to count the ballots would be another question.

GROSS: We'd be right back to that. They could say under this standard it would be x and under this standard it would be y. Who knows? They could do all sorts of things.

ALLEN: All right, Ken, thanks very much. We appreciate it. We're learning so much about the election law in all of this.

WATERS: We'll get to the bottom of this in our lifetime.

ALLEN: Yes, perhaps.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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