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The Miami Herald's Martin Baron: Florida recount results


(CNN) Experts hired by The Miami Herald and USA Today conducted a comprehensive review of 64,248 "undercounted" ballots in Florida's 67 counties that ended last month. The count showed that Bush's razor-thin margin of 537 votes -- certified in December by the Florida Secretary of State's office -- would have tripled to 1,655 votes if counted according to standards advocated by his Democratic rival, former Vice President Al Gore.

Martin Baron is executive editor of The Miami Herald. Before obtaining this position, Baron worked for many papers including the Tampa Tribune, the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times.

CNN Moderator: Why did the Miami Herald pursue a recount? What difference would it have made now that the election is over?

Martin Baron: Many people had questioned what would have happened if the Florida Supreme Court order to conduct a manual recount had been allowed to proceed. Our mission as a news organization is to answer questions in the minds of the public, and that's what we did. We were fulfilling our basic mission as a news organization to tell people the facts.

Question from chat room: What standards did the auditors use for the recount?

The Florida vote

Martin Baron: We did not set a standard. What we told the auditors to do was to examine every mark on a ballot, and to record those markings, tabulate them and present results to us. Clearly, there are many different standards that could have been used. We did not pick a standard. What we did was present all the information on the different markings on the ballots for the public to see. The public can come to its own conclusions, based on the detailed, complete information that we have presented today.

Question from chat room: Did the Miami Herald recount include only affected counties or all 67 Florida counties?

Martin Baron: We actually looked at all 67 counties. However, in determining whether Bush or Gore would have won had a recount gone forward, we needed to take into account whether a number of counties, including Palm Beach and Broward, had already conducted their manual recounts, and whether those recounts would have been accepted in any statewide manual recount.

CNN Moderator: Under what conditions could Al Gore have won the election?

Martin Baron: Al Gore could have won the election if the recount had proceeded under one scenario: Only ballots with clean punches constitute legal and valid votes. That was a standard ironically recommended by many Republicans. If you use a more inclusive standard, the standard that was recommended by the Democrats, that every notation, mark, be counted as a legal and valid vote, then ironically, Bush emerges as a victor by a larger margin.

Question from chat room: What have we learned from this, and what preparations are being made to prevent a situation like this from occurring again?

Martin Baron: I think we've learned several things. We've learned that the punch card ballot is riddled with problems, and almost certainly should be discarded, in the state of Florida and any county where it is currently in use. There also needs to be one consistent standard for conducting manual recounts. As you will recall, the U.S. Supreme Court, in its majority ruling, called upon the state of Florida to come up with a consistent standard for conducting manual recounts. However, to date, state legislators in Florida have paid absolutely no attention to that subject. And the final lesson, I think, is that we need a campaign of voter education, to tell people how to vote. There is an assumption that people know how to vote when they enter the ballot booth. However, many do not.

CNN Moderator: Was this recount meant to bring finality to the election controversy?

Martin Baron: I'm not sure I'd put it that way. Our mission was simply to answer the question that was on the minds of so many people. To some extent, I think it will help bring finality to the election. I should point out that many people are awaiting the results of a survey of over-votes. There are approximately 110,000 over votes and those are ballots that recorded more than one vote for president when run through a machine. We and others are in the process of looking at those overvotes and we expect to report the results of that survey within a month. However, I should note that when the Florida Supreme Court ordered a statewide manual recount, that recount has included only undervotes.

Question from chat room: What kind of response do you expect to get from the public?

Martin Baron: I think the response is relatively predictable, in that Republicans on the whole are pleased with the results, and Democrats on the whole are not pleased with the results. But we did not set out to please any one group of people. All we set out to do was find the facts and present them to the American public.

Question from chat room: Has there been any response from Bush on the final count?

Martin Baron: Yes. The Bush Administration issued a response last night at our request and the request of USA Today, our partner in this project, and the White House said that its view was that the election was settled months ago.

Question from chat room: Did Al Gore have reaction to the results?

Martin Baron: He did not, as of last night, and I've not had the opportunity to see whether he had any comment today.

Question from chat room: Why did the Miami Herald believe that it was its role to carry this task out?

Martin Baron: We're the largest newspaper in the state of Florida; we are a newspaper that attempts to do ambitious, enterprising journalism. We knew that many of our readers were disturbed that the U.S. Supreme Court put a halt to a statewide recount, and we knew that they wanted an answer to the question of what these ballots showed. We simply felt it was our obligation as a major news organization in this state. It was simply fulfilling our mission as a news organization -- that is to tell people the facts. I think it would have been irresponsible of us to have the capacity to answer those questions, but refuse to do so.

CNN Moderator: Do you have any final thoughts to share with us?

Martin Baron: Simply that we were committed from the start to approach this ballot review in the most careful, deliberate and impartial manner. And in that regard, we retained a national independent accounting firm to review the ballots on our behalf. We wanted an accounting firm because we knew it would have great credibility, they could approach this in a completely impartial way, and that their auditors were accustomed to looking at detailed data for days on end, and getting things right.

CNN Moderator: Thank you for joining us today.

Martin Baron: To everyone, thanks for joining us. We'll have more stories on this subject over the next four days, and people can see the stories at

Martin Baron joined the chat room via telephone from Florida, and provided a typist. The above is an edited transcript of the interview on Wednesday, April 04, 2001 at 1 p.m. EDT.

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