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Election 2000: Hearing on Martin Co. Absentee Ballot Challenge ContinuesAired December 6, 2000 - 8:03 a.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: And once again, in this case, Democrats allege those votes should be thrown out because the law was the law in their words. However, Republican attorneys say it is all just a hyper-technicality.
Again, we are watching the Martin County case right now, inside the courtroom of Judge Terry Lewis.
For more outside of circuit court here's Mark Potter now with a quick update for us.
MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, again, Bill.
Yes, the argument here is twofold: Was something done wrong? The plaintiffs say yes, that Republicans should not have been allowed to add voter registration numbers to absentee ballot applications. They say that's a violation of law. The attorneys for the defendants, however, the canvassing boards, the candidates, the Republican candidates say: No that's not a violation of law, we're talking about a hyper-technicality, a ministerial act, nothing for which somebody should be punished.
The second issue being discussed is if the judge finds that indeed something was done wrong, what is the remedy? Who do you punish? Do you punish the wrongdoers? In this case, under that scenario, it would be a supervisor of election, maybe a couple of members of the Republican Party, they would argue.
The plaintiffs argue, no, because these ballots were obtained illegally under that scenario, because of problems with the application, then you have to punish the voters, you have to throw out the ballots.
And so those are the two core arguments: Was something done wrong? And if so, what should you do about it? A very heated argument and a lot of voters are claiming that they should not be disenfranchised. The plaintiffs say, we're sorry, but the law is the law, to borrow the phrase that, Bill, you just use a moment ago.
Now we have been listening in this court room, the Martin County case, one of two that we're going to be hearing here today, off and on, back and forth, from courtroom to courtroom in the Leon County courthouse. The reason for that strange schedule is that the cases are sharing the same lawyers, so they're going to do Martin for a while, then Seminole, and back and forth, into the -- perhaps the wee hours of the morning. We have been warned.
And as I said, we've been listening to lawyers fighting over these issues, and one of the lawyers, Robert Harper, has been talking about this issue of whether votes -- whether ballots should be thrown out.
Let's listen to what he had to say just a short while ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT HARPER, PLAINTIFF'S ATTORNEY: While we certainly respect the rights of those citizens serving in the armed services overseas, there are many citizens serving overseas, and serving in other capacities in the Peace Corps and doing work for the country whose privilege to vote, like every other citizen, has to be exercised through the operation of Florida statute, whether it's a presidential election or any other election. And we submit that, under the basic tenants of statutory construction, that the statute -- the Florida law applies. This is not a federal question.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
POTTER: The argument there is that a privilege to vote is not a right to vote, and that goes to the whole question of: Can you throw out a vote because of alleged wrongdoing on the part of someone in an elections office.
Now that is at the core of the argument that the defendants are making, they're saying you can't just throw out thousands of votes because of what they're saying is a hyper-technicality. The lawyer representing an intervener in this case has argued strongly against that, the lawyers named Mathew Staver. Let's listen to what he said in this court just a short while ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATHEW STAVER, BUSH CAMPAIGN ATTORNEY: It outrages me, your honor, to think that voting for president is considered a privilege, as opposed to a right; tell that to my client who is in a wheelchair, who cannot vote any other way. That is not a privilege under federal law, it is a constitutional right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
POTTER: So this is not just a political argument, because of all that is at stake, it also an emotional argument, as in we're going to hear a lot of that in the court today.
These two cases together -- in these two cases, the plaintiffs are arguing that, as many as 25,000 absentee ballots should be thrown out because of this alleged wrongdoing, and of course, if that were to happen, it would cost George W. Bush the election by about 8000 votes. A little bit more on the plaintiff in the Martin County case, the man who follow a lawsuit. His name is Ron Taylor. He is an electrical contractor from Stuart, Florida, which is Martin County, one county up from Palm Beach County on the east coast of Florida. He is a registered Democrat. He says he voted for Al Gore, but that he is not a party official. He claims he was never contacted by the party. He says he read in the newspaper what was going on and filed suit because he was angry.
The plaintiff in the other case, the Seminole case, Terry Jacobs, is an attorney. He was more actively involved in party affairs. He was a volunteer vote count observer for the Democratic Party after the last election.
So, Bill, we're going to have a long day here, going from courtroom to courtroom, lawyer to lawyer, plaintiff to plaintiff. We'll try to keep it straight, and we will be back with you later.
HEMMER: OK. Hope you have some comfortable show, Mark. Mark Potter at circuit court.
Again, let's bring in David Cardwell quickly here. We're going to hear a lot throughout the day, similar themes of what Mark was just talking about. The privilege to vote vs. the right to vote. What does the state of Florida say on that?
DAVID CARDWELL, CNN ELECTION LAW ANALYST: Well, in Florida, under our state Constitution, you have an absolute right to vote, if you meet the qualifications set forth by the Legislature. But when it comes to absentee voting, that's considered to be a privilege because you're supposed to vote in your precinct on election day, and in the case of absentee voting, you have to satisfy certain conditions set by the Legislature.
But the Supreme Court has also said that, when you do vote absentee, that every effort should be made to try to count your vote.
HEMMER: The Republican attorneys thus far today bring up several federal issues here. Is that the ultimate strategy, to make it a federal case or not?
CARDWELL: Well, they may be trying to get a federal question here so that, if they don't prevail in the state courts, they could go over into the federal courts.
There may be issue here, as you heard one of attorneys who is representing an intervener who is in a wheelchair. They may try to argue that the Americans with Disabilities Act may apply, or the Federal Voting Rights Acts apply.
HEMMER: OK, Barry Richard inside the court room right now, a well-known man throughout this entire deal. We'll go back inside now to circuit court and the court room of Judge Terry Lewis now.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS) BARRY RICHARD, BUSH CAMPAIGN ATTORNEY: ... and were not cast to affect the results of the election. There is no allegation in this complaint that any single vote was cast by any voter who was not fully qualified to do so, or that any voter who desired to cast an absentee ballot was prevented from doing so by any action of any public official, or misled into not doing so by any action of any public official.
And I pause here to note that there is an allegation in the complaint, as I mentioned at the beginning, that the supervisor did not notify Democrats of their right to correct inaccuracies on their request for absentee ballots, but there is no allegation that there was any Democrat or any other voter who had submitted an improper request for an absentee ballot and was desirous of correcting it, but did not do so.
This being the case, it is impossible, your honor, based upon the allegations of this complaint, for the court to conclude that any votes were affected sufficient to change the results of the election. The complaint is fatally defective and must be dismissed.
Thank you your honor.
JUDGE TERRY LEWIS, LEON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT: Thank you.
HEMMER: Barry Richard, you may be quite familiar with him, he's had a busy, busy couple of weeks here, actually a month now in Tallahassee, but making a case that we should hear more from throughout the day today. Democrats say, you're unfair because the Republican applications were altered, but the Democrats were not. He is saying that there is no proof just yet that the Democratic applications needed to be altered, correct or not?
CARDWELL: That, plus he's also saying that there's no evidence or will be no evidence, when they get into the evidence part of the case, that any Democrat or Democratic Party official went to the supervisor of elections, said: Can we change our -- correct these ballot applications and denied. So he is saying the fact that the Republicans did it and the Democrats didn't, should not be an issue.
HEMMER: All right, Judge Terry Lewis hearing the case on Martin County right now. We do anticipate probably, in about 17 minutes or so, Judge Nikki Clark to start the Seminole case in the same court, circuit court across the street here. We'll watch it for you, let you know what's happening. Also state Supreme Court will get their briefs in about four hours time on the appeal to Judge Sauls' decision from earlier this week. A lot to follow, we will have it for you.
Back to Leon and Carol now in Atlanta.
LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: All right, thanks, Bill.
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