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Breaking News

Florida Governor Jeb Bush Assures a Fair and Bipartisan Recount of Votes

Aired November 8, 2000 - 4:19 p.m. ET

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

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Florida's governor stepped into the room in Tallahassee. We're going to see what he has to say about the recount now going on in Florida.

GOV. JEB BUSH (R), FLORIDA: We welcome you here under very extraordinary circumstances, but we're happy that you're with us. I'm pleased to be joined by my friend, Florida's Attorney General Bob Butterworth.

As you've learned from the Secretary of State's office earlier, because of the closeness of the presidential election results here in our state, an automatic recount, as abided by law, of Florida's ballots are currently under way.

From the beginning I've always said that Florida would be a hard- fought state, and in fact the attorney general and I sit next to each other in cabinet meetings and we have discussed how close and how hard-fought it's been all the from the very beginning to the end. And we thought it would be close. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine it would be this close.

I have the greatest confidence in the independently-elected, bipartisan group of county supervisors of elections that exists all across our state, as well as our independently-elected secretary of state. These public servants will perform the mandatory recount with the utmost diligence and professionalism.

I, along with Attorney General Butterworth, are firmly committed to protecting the integrity of Florida's election process and will seek swift enforcement of Florida's election laws. Voter fraud in the state -- in our state is a felony, and guilty parties will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Both of us have pledged to work together with Secretary of State Katherine Harris in this regard.

Furthermore, to ensure that there is not the slightest appearance of a conflict of interest, I have chosen to recuse myself from serving on the Elections Canvassing Commission. Under Florida law, this commission is the ultimate certifier of election results. Florida law requires that my replacement on the commission be appointed by the director of the Division of Elections in the Department of State.

The stakes are high, and the circumstances demand responsibility by both political parties, and by each of you. Both candidates, in my opinion, were treated unfairly by the early projections in Florida, as were the voters. In fact, maybe people outside of our state didn't know that we also have people in Central time zone and so the projection made at the beginning, in my opinion put in play or put at risk some of the voters in the panhandle part of our state.

I've been disappointed by the lack of care exercised by some of those in the news media, who have casually repeated or broadcast unsubstantial allegations of voting irregularities. Given the incredible weight of the circumstances at hand, I would hope and expect that news organizations will adhere to the highest standards of accuracy as they report on the events taking place here in our great state.

Finally, I'm incredibly proud of my brother and the substantive issues base campaign that he waged. I hope I'll never have to go through another evening like I did and I'm sure that the Gore family, if they were here today, would say the same thing.

Attorney General, it was one of the most amazing and emotionally intense evenings of my life. But I'm very proud of what my brother did. He ran a tough campaign. I believe he will be elected, but the rule of law will determine that in our great state.

With that I would like to introduce my friend, Attorney General Bob Butterworth.

ROBERT BUTTERWORTH, FLORIDA ATTORNEY GENERAL: Governor, thank you very much.

And as we had joked with each other off and on for the past few months, we thought it was going to be very close and the polls definitely confirmed that. The state of Florida is in a national spotlight right now, in the world spotlight. What happens here in the state will determine the next presidency of the United States.

Therefore, the integrity of our state is also at stake and the future of the confidence that people have in our state. And I'm confident that the secretary of state will proceed with the recount process as quickly as possible and that all issues associated, as the governor stated, with the balloting will be fully examined.

All of us in Florida are aware of the great importance of this process. All of us recognize the importance of ensuring that every vote is properly counted. I can also assure the rest of the nation that there is no way that Governor Jeb Bush or Secretary of State Harris would certify elections results and our governor will not be doing that, but someone else will in his place, that they had any doubt at all that may not be in perfect order. Thank you.

BUSH: Any questions.

QUESTION: Governor, what was it like? What you were thinking, especially as it got tighter later on?

BUSH: That kind of depends on what part of the night you are talking about. I didn't go to sleep. Well, I went to sleep for about an hour, but it -- I was having dinner with my family when the results came in that showed that at least the initial results that Vice President Gore won. So I decided after, frankly, apologizing to my brother that I didn't do what I had hoped I would be able to do along with a lot of other people, which is help him carry the state.

So I decided to start making phone calls around to talk radio in Sacramento and Seattle and Medford, Oregon and other places where the polls were still open to urge people vote for my brother in those states, where it clearly could have made a difference.

And then, somehow the results were overturned and so there was a moment of -- a period of a couple hours of incredible anxiety and then the results were changed again. And I thought, frankly, prematurely on the last one. As I said, I believe when it's all said and done, that obviously this is a close election that my brother will win. But it was very emotional time and amazing.

I mean, I just can't describe it other than to tell you that hopefully this will be a lesson to be very careful about projections in states as dynamic as Florida. Look, I mean, one that thing we're a little bit different, perhaps, because we have a fast-growing population.

We have a lot of people moving in and out, and we have a large elderly population and we have a growing young population. Because of that, every four years we have a whole new group of voters and to try to extrapolate out in a state this size with the sample size for these exit polls and project a winner, I think is perilous, and I hope that in the future maybe people will be cautious about it. Yes.

QUESTION: Bob, what about the situation of Democrats today that they have been shutout of the voting process and the Republicans are being overly secretive and back channeling information to George W. Bush?

BUSH: Absolutely not. I mean, right now, as I understand it, the recount process is taking place in 67 counties. My guess is that of those 67 counties a majority of the counties are -- have supervisors of elections that's are Democrats and they have a process, and it's under way, and that process should be allowed to continue on.

There's no information that I'm aware of that's even relevant until all the information comes to the Secretary of State's office, I believe -- I think she asked for it to be done by 6:00 tomorrow.

QUESTION: Governor, was the secretary of state correct when she says it will take 10 days for voter results of this election?

BUSH: It's possible, if the absentee ballots from the military are -- which I think the law requires that they be counted over a 10- day period. And if those -- if it takes 10 days to do that, then it could take that long, but a lot of that would probably -- I think it probably depends on, and general correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe that first the recount of the existing ballots has to take place first, and if there's still enough of a number of ballots in the military ballots, overseas ballots that would change the difference, then I guess we would have to wait that long.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Governor, you mentioned the wide and varied reports of voter irregularities around the state. Have you heard anything that concerns you? Who will look into these and how long will that take?

BUSH: I have not seen anything that has concerned me after a review. The one that did concern me was a box, I heard, of votes that was in a precinct and it turns out it was school supplies, a precinct where a school was taking place. And there were school supplies and it went on for a while on one of the stations.

I watched it this morning and that gave me a little concern, but it turned out when the box was actually open there were, you know, crayons and things like that, I guess. But there's a process.

The point is that it's not -- there's a process in place. If there are real concerns, let the process work, but please don't over- exaggerate the incidence that, you know, the accusations. Let's let this be done in a thoughtful way. This is huge, hugely important business and, you know, what's at stake is the next leader of the free world. And I think that everybody ought to allow this process to work. It is a transparent one. You all can see how it goes and I think it will work out fine.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Governor, what does the Bush family think about the electoral college. Earlier this week, some Republicans suggested it was a sham if it wasn't in sync with the popular vote. Your brother is going to lose the popular vote. Is it honorable to still win the electoral college?

BUSH: Yes, it's honorable. You didn't, fortunately, get me on record saying that it was a slam. I mean, this is our process. And in fact, I think that one of the beauties of the electoral colleges is that candidates in this election, in this close election -- you saw both the vice president and my brother go to smaller states that otherwise probably would have been left behind.

They went to places where that extra three electoral votes or four electoral votes made a difference and that's not a bad thing to be able to campaign across the depth and breadth of our great country. Instead, I mean, you might find people just going to the major urban areas. I don't know. I know that the best time to be discussing all of this is after this election is determined and allow people to thoughtfully review what's appropriate for our country.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Bob Butterworth, what should the state do about the situation in Palm Beach County where you had an unusually high vote for Buchanan.

BUTTERWORTH: Well, I believe that some people will be assessing that particular vote. I'm not privy right now to have -- I've not asked what the vote was in Palm Beach, and if anybody believes that there was a problem for some reason, that that vote is out of line, I believe someone will make a complaint to an appropriate authority, whether it be to the secretary of state or whether it be to a civil court or to a local state attorney.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: This is second election in 12 years statewide in which a particular ballot, a particular county has caused controversy. The last one, of course, was Hillsborough County in that election in 1988. Is there something more, anything more the state should be doing, could be doing to ensure that these problems don't happen before they happen?

BUTTERWORTH: Well, that is not going to -- that's the question for tomorrow. The question of today is that under the laws of the state of Florida, after all the votes are counted, as they have here in the state, someone has won by less than half of one percent, and there's an automatic recanvassing, And that's what we're involved with right now.

So the system does work that way, and now it's the job of the secretary of state and others to make sure that every proper vote is recounted. If there's a problem with the ballot, it would then be her responsibility to look at it or for other people to bring it to someone's attention, which could be the local prosecutor or just a civil lawsuit.

BUSH: But the law says that the ballot needs to be published and be given ample airing prior to the election and in the precincts the ballot should be shown as well. And so this ballot, as is the law, was published, I believe, in newspapers. It may have been sent out in mailings -- in some counties, that's the case.

So people had ample opportunity to challenge the ballot itself. And this ballot itself has been used in previous elections. I'm not sure it's been used in Palm Beach County, but it's been used in other counties as well. So again, the general Butterworth is right. There's a process to look at these things, but the challenge probably should have occurred as the law allows, which is prior to the election.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Final question.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: When do you think we're going to get a final decision out of Florida whether we get absentee ballots in or not? When do you think we're going to finally know who's going to be our next president?

BUSH: I think we're going to have to wait and see what the recount -- first phase of this, the recount brings which we expect to have information by 5:00 tomorrow. And if there are -- at that point, I think then we can access whether or not these overseas ballots are going to be the deciding factor.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Are your officials taking steps to see, county by county, absentee ballots they handed out so we can get a total of how many might be out there.

BUSH: I'm not because from what I've been told by, at least, my staff, the secretary of state wanted to make sure that there weren't any distractions for the recount. That may happen after the recount of all the ballots. It's extraordinary work. It's not an easy to do. I'm confident it can be done in this day-and-half period of two-day period and after that it might be appropriate to look at the total universe and find out how many actually have been sent it.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Who is taking your place on the election board?

BUSH: The supervisor of the Division of Elections head is the person that appoints that person and they'll -- no, I don't.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Did you have any contact with any election officials by e-mail or by phone or anyway last night to try to get any information?

BUSH: Election -- I got about 500 e-mails last night.

QUESTION: Can you sit down and (INAUDIBLE)

BUSH: What's the question again?

QUESTION: Do you have any contacts -- you talked about recusing yourself...

BUSH: Right.

QUESTION: Did you have any contact with any election official at the local level or the secretary of state's office by e-mail or by phone, about this whole matter?

BUSH: I did not have e-mails. I called someone who was passing on information, trying to get information because in 3:30 in the morning, we were trying to make a determination, not knowing what the vice president was going to do about whether to go out in front of 20,000 people and make a statement. And my advice was to be very cautious because it was impossible to know exactly what the vote count was going to be.

And so I did make an inquiry, and basically, made the assessment that it was not appropriate for my brother to be making any statement of victory, although I do -- again I do believe while this close, that he will win. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's it, guys, thank you.

WATERS: The eyes of Texas, Tennessee, and indeed the nation on the Sunshine State. The Governor Jeb Bush and his attorney general giving assurances, bending over backwards to assure a thorough and fair bipartisan recount of the Florida vote.

The governor, in fact, recusing himself from the Election Canvassing Commission. That is the group of folks that will finally certify the Florida vote. The governor said, I believe my brother will win, but the rule of law will determine that.

We had heard earlier in the day that by 5:00, the close of business tomorrow, that we will have an idea of who won Florida. But the governor is leaving open the possibility that some of the absentee ballots that are coming in from overseas from military personnel may factor into this and we may or may not know for sure by the close of business tomorrow whether or not we have a president-elect.

So, we wait now for Al Gore, who is expected in Nashville to step out and make his statement in about a minute or two, we understand. We will take a quick break. When Al Gore steps out we'll have that live.

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