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Special Event

Florida Politicians Hold News Conference on End of the Election

Aired December 14, 2000 - 1:07 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: We are expecting to hear from Governor Jeb Bush in just a moment. I'm going to keep my eye on the -- there it is -- on the podium there. He's going to be talking about the future of elections in the state of Florida. We'll try to re- establish our picture. Will dimpled and pregnant and whatever chads be a thing of the past in the next election in Florida? He's going to be talking about a review of the state's canvassing board system.

And here he comes into the room. Of course, we haven't heard much from Jeb Bush during all of this -- here he is.

GOV. JEB BUSH (R), FLORIDA: Good afternoon, everybody.

I first want to express my tremendous admiration for Vice President Gore and the gracious nature in which he conceded yesterday. I think he set a tone for reconciliation and healing for our country. I know it was tough. If you think about 25 years of public service to fight a very hard-fought election, as it was, and to do what he did, I thought showed tremendous grace under fire.

And Columba and I are great admirers of what he did, as well as what my brother did. I think they both set a tone that we hope to build on here in Florida and we will begin it in many different ways.

But today we'd like to speak about one particular way that I think is very important. Today, we begin an important first step in addressing statewide election reform for the people of Florida. Under the scrutiny of one of the closet presidential elections in history, numerous concerns were raised about the integrity in Florida's election's process. That's why we're creating a new task force, as I mentioned several weeks ago, on election procedures, standards and technology to recommend and propose new legislation to the Florida legislature to improve our system.

I think it is essential that the task force be bipartisan, which it is, to reflect the diversity of our state, which it does. And with its help, we will ensure the fairness of our system that our voting and counting mechanisms are fully modernized.

I'd like to thank Tad Foote, who's here with us by speaker phone, who's the president of the University of Miami; and Jim Smith for accepting the challenge of co-chairing this task force. Your efforts will help our system be one that every Floridian can be proud of. But this task force is just a start. Real electoral reform means, not only updating our technology and clarifying our standards. It also means reaffirming our commitment to making sure that every citizen has faith and confidence in our electoral procedures, even when the margin of victory in a race is very close.

Our task may not be easy, but it will be impossible if we don't work together. And that's why I'm so pleased that this group of diverse Floridians are here to endorse this concept. I know the Florida legislature will take all of the recommendations and, as policy-makers, craft the best possible means by which Floridians can have confidence in our electoral system.

With that, I would like to ask Secretary of State Harris to speak.

KATHERINE HARRIS, FLORIDA SECRETARY OF STATE: Thank you, Governor.

As secretary of state, it was indeed my honor and my elected duty to execute the law throughout these challenging weeks in this close presidential election.

A spirited battle for the presidency of the United States has now come to its ultimate conclusion, and it's time for everyone to move beyond partisan divides and to unite one nation under God. We've learned that the principles of our democracy are fundamentally sound, yet we need to address the practical aspects of voting.

While we have acted deliberately and independently in administering the Florida's statutes as they existed, the Florida Department of State believes much can be achieved through new legislation, and the task force will produce recommendations that will enhance our election laws.

As for counting the ballots, neither mechanical error nor fraud has been alleged. In fact, our voting system certification requires voting machine standards of no more than one mechanical error per 1 million votes. However, as secretary of state, I will concentrate on eliminating the core problem: voting systems that fail to make the will of the voter self-evident.

To that end, the Department of State's supplemental budget will request funding to assist our counties' independently elected supervisors of elections in obtaining technologically advanced voting systems that maintain the integrity of each vote.

Surely the investment in such technology is negligible as compared to the protection of our citizens' votes.

Thank you.

BUSH: General Butterworth?

BOB BUTTERWORTH, FLORIDA ATTORNEY GENERAL: Governor, thank you very much and also, Governor, I wish to echo your comments about the speeches of the vice president last night and your brother. Those were two of the finest concession and acceptance speeches I believe any of us have ever heard and those speeches, I believe, have gone a long way to reheal this country.

There's been a lot of comment about Florida and Florida's election system. Unfortunately, not all of it has been positive. If the last few weeks have made anything clear it is that our system for casting and counting votes need to be re-examined from top to bottom. And, Governor, I'm so pleased that you're forming this bipartisan task force to do that. But, you know, we have also learned that Florida is not alone. Many other states will certainly be looking at their election systems also.

One point needs to be made: Many of these problems would not have come to light if it had not been for Florida's government in the sunshine law. This is probably the first time that television cameras were present for the counting of votes and there wasn't a single moment in any of our courtrooms that the cameras were not present to show democracy in action and Florida can be proud of that.

As it did with open government, Florida now can show the nation the way in developing a state-of-art election process compatible with the new millennium. New technology can surely help. So will the commitment today of you, Governor. We have a history of bipartisanship in Florida and nothing has changed. I'm looking forward to working with you, Governor, and the task force in finding solutions for these most important issues in the months ahead.

Thank you.

BUSH: President McKay?

JOHN MCKAY (R), FLORIDA SENATE PRESIDENT: Thank you all very much.

In addition to supporting all the comments that I've already heard, I want you to know that the Senate will authorize an interim project for the Ethics and Elections Committee to work on the same problems and will be instructed to provide a report prior to the 2001 session. Our efforts will be to analyze the problem first to make sure we have a comprehensive point of view from which to proceed in order to strengthen standards and provide a foundation, so that the problems that have occurred over the last few weeks will not be repeated in the state of Florida.

We will need everybody's help to do that. From the Senate, we will be appointing Senator Jones, who has shown quite a bit of leadership in this area, and just as importantly, perhaps more importantly, Senator Sebesta, as a former supervisor of elections, who brings a real nuts-and-bolts knowledge to this effort.

So we will all be working together, working with the House, and we'll fix the problems of Florida on this, just like everything else.

STAFF: Thank you, John.

Speaker Feeney?

TOM FEENEY (R), FLORIDA HOUSE SPEAKER: Thank you all. And I thank the governor. I want to thank Secretary Smith, and President Foote. Obviously, if you're going to test your electoral process in a state as large as Florida, you couldn't have had a better test.

And we tested every part of the system from top to the bottom; we found some bugs, some small bugs, some rather large bugs. The Florida House, like President McKay suggested the Senate will be doing, will be moving simultaneously along with the assistance of Representative Frankel, our minority leader. And we have an ethics component to our Rules Committee.

They'll be working on some proposed solutions to some of the problems. We're going to appoint, at the request of Representative Frankel, Chris Smith and Marco Rubio to be our two members of the task force.

So we look forward to dealing with an issue that is not unique to Florida. I'd point out that over 1.2 million votes nationally were not registered in the presidential race. We just happened to be where the spotlight of the world was focused, and I think we can use it to our advantage to make sure that in the future our electoral system is the finest in the world.

BUSH: Thank you, Tom.

Lois?

LOIS FRANKEL (D), FLORIDA HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: Thank you.

Well, as you know, a lot of my constituents are concerned that their votes were not counted, and others in the state who wanted to vote and were turned away. And there are legitimate complaints. There was a confusing butterfly ballot in Palm Beach County, accusations of old voting machines in minority districts, accusations that voting machines were not properly maintained, voting lists that wrongfully listed some citizens as felons, therefore preventing their lawful exercise of their right to vote, poll workers turning away voters who didn't have voter's cards or photo ID, and a very confusing post- election timetable that was supposed to ensure the integrity of our election.

So I will agree, if there's ever been a matter that cries out for bipartisan effort, this is one. Our citizens expect it and they deserve it. And I'm pleased to recommend Chris Smith as representing the Democrats in the Florida House. I know he'll be an excellent addition.

And thank you, Governor, for this commission. And I hope it's well balanced, I'm going to trust you on that one.

(LAUGHTER)

BUSH: That will be -- that may be the first time...

(LAUGHTER)

FRANKEL: But I'll tell you this: I feel confident that today that we all agree that we want an elective system that ensures all Floridians that are eligible to vote that the process is fair and, yes, that all the votes will be counted.

BUSH: Jim?

ALLEN: All right, they're bringing in all of the players there in Florida government; those that were on opposing sides in this long ordeal are all speaking the same that we continue to hear, the thank goodness about unity and reconciliation and good thoughts all around.

And Jeb Bush announcing that there's going to be a task force put on the project of trying to change Florida's election procedures, standards and look at that technology. But Florida officials pointing out that other states have the same problem and that 1.2 million votes were not counted because they just didn't get punched all through.

There's been a lot of lessons for all of us here on how to punch, but maybe we won't have to do that anymore.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: And the first steps being taken in Florida, appropriately so, in what we expect to a be a series of steps to correct the problems in the national election.

We're going to take a break here. When we come back we're going to talk about the largest media merger in history -- hang on.

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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