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James Baker Announces Bush Team Seeks Injunction Against Hand Recount in Florida

Aired November 11, 2000 - 10:23 a.m. ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: James Baker at the podium, James Baker representing the Bush campaign in Florida.

JAMES BAKER, OBSERVER FOR BUSH CAMPAIGN: Good morning again, ladies and gentlemen.

Let me begin by repeating what I said yesterday: The vote in Florida has been counted, and the vote in Florida has been recounted. Governor George W. Bush was the winner of the vote, and he was also the winner of the recount.

Based on these results, we urge the Gore campaign to accept the finality of the election, subject, of course, to the counting of the absentee, the overseas absentee, ballots, in accordance with law.

They obviously have decided instead to proceed with yet a third count of votes in a number of prominently Democratic counties. This course of action is regrettable.

Moreover, in recent days, supporters of our opponents have filed a number of lawsuits -- at least eight, by last count -- challenging, in different ways, the results of the election.

I said yesterday that we would vigorously oppose the Gore campaign's efforts to keep recounting until it likes the result. And therefore, this morning we have asked that the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida preserve the integrity and the consistency and the equality and finality of the most important civic action that Americans take: their votes in an election for president of the United States. We feel we have no other choice.

The manual vote count sought by the Gore campaign would not be more accurate than an automated count. Indeed, it would be less fair and less accurate. Human error, individual subjectivity, and decisions to, quote, "determine the voters' intent," close quote, would replace precision machinery in tabulating millions of small marks and fragile hole punches. There would be countless opportunities for the ballots to be subject to a whole host of risks. The potential for mischief would exist to a far greater degree than in the automated count and recount that these very ballots have already been subjected to.

It is precisely, ladies and gentlemen, for these reasons that our democracy over the years has moved increasingly from hand counting of votes to machine counting. Machines are neither Republicans nor Democrats, and therefore can be neither consciously nor unconsciously biased.

There are not even any procedures or standards to govern this third and selective vote count. A manual recount permits the electoral boards in each county in Florida to determine the intent of the voter, without setting forth any standards at all for deciding that intent.

One electoral board may decide to count votes that are not fully punched; another may not. One electoral board may decide that a stray mark indicated an intent to vote for a particular candidate; another may not.

One electoral board may try to determine the intent of voters who marked multiple candidates on a ballot, and another may not.

If this new selective recounting process proceeds, the votes in some counties will be counted in a completely different and standardless manner from the votes in the remaining counties. At this point, a changed result would not be the most accurate result; it would simply be the most recent result.

Therefore, we ask that there be no further recounts of already recounted ballots. We regret that we were compelled to take this action.

At some point, however, Florida's voters, and indeed all Americans, are entitled to some finality in the election process.

I keep remembering that day when I was with President Ford following another hard-fought election that was decided by a razor- thin margin. Many in the room advised President Ford to challenge the result with just one recount. President Ford said no. He spoke about the country's interest.

Now, 24 years later, our opponents have lost a vote. They've even lost a recount of that vote. And sadly, they have chosen another course, and so the country has been pushed in a very different direction.

As I cautioned yesterday, there is no reasonable end to this process if it slips away, first in Florida, but potentially in other states as well.

But there is still a fair way to end all this. We urge our opponents to join us, join with us in accepting the recounted vote of the people of Florida, subject, of course, to the result of a count of the overseas ballots, which are greater than the present tabulation of the recounted vote. If they will do this, we will promptly dismiss this action.


BAKER: Just a minute, just wait a minute. Yes?

QUESTION: Secretary Baker, was there a concern in the Bush camp that hand counting in a predominantly Democratic -- that voted predominantly Democratic in the election, could put your margin at risk?

BAKER: Well, the concerns are those I've just alluded to in my statement. There is much greater chance for human error. The relevant statutes give no standards or objectives to the canvassing boards as to how they are to be guided in determining voter intent; it can be a very, very subjective process.

And indeed, as I think I pointed out in the statement, the potential for mischief in a situation that is not an ordinary vote- counting situation -- when votes are cast in a ordinary presidential election, the people receiving those votes have no idea, of course, that their actions could affect the result. This is an extraordinarily unique situation.

BAKER: Now let me make this very clear to everyone here: We are not alleging that there would be any mischief, and hopefully, if this should go forward, there will be none. And we will have our people there.

But the potential is there. And the big point here that I hope everyone will keep in mind is that the nation has left manual counting in favor of machine counting because it is more fair, it is more objective, and it is less subject to human error and potential mischief.


BAKER: Excuse me, this gentleman had the second question and I cut him off.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, today is Veterans Day, the day that we remember when (OFF-MIKE) died to preserve freedom and the right to vote. Why are you filing a lawsuit that in a sense deprives some people in their view of the right to vote?

BAKER: We are not doing that. We are preserving, in fact, the right to a constitutional process that has been traditionally followed in this country. That would be the effect, in fact, of this action.

And what we are saying is: There's been a vote, there has been a recount. And a third recount, which would be a manual recount, would be subject to all of the problems that I've outlined in my statement.


QUESTION: Secretary Baker, all that may be true, but a Republican official said this morning that such a challenge is, quote, "on shaky ground," because under Florida law, the Democratic Party in Florida has 72 hours to ask for a hand recount, and the law apparently is very clear. What would you say to those who say that you're not willing to go for a lawful recount and that you're afraid of what the outcome will be?

BAKER: Well, we've gone for a lawful recount and we're not afraid of the outcome and we're quite willing to say here today, as we have over the course of the past several days, that we're willing to say that if we should lose the count of the overseas absentee ballots, it's over. We lose. And we're willing to respect the result, assuming that that count has been carried out in a proper manner.

So we've been very forthcoming about that from the very beginning. What we don't want is yet a third recount, a manual recount, if you will, that is subject to all of the deficiencies that I've just outlined here for you.


QUESTION: But isn't it true that a representative of the Bush campaign will be there during this hand recount? And why do you have a problem with that?

BAKER: Look, there are no standards. Yes, it is true, there will be representatives of both campaigns there. But there are no standards to guide the subjective intent of the electoral board, or the canvassing board as you call it here in Florida, and they can divine the intent of the voter. They can say, "Well, I think the voter meant this," and they don't have to show any basis for that whatsoever, or any evidence for that.

Yes, right here?

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you pointed out yesterday you would be concerned that to continue any sort of legal action on the part of the Democrats simply prolongs what needs to be done. And you questioned whether or not this should not end as soon as possible for the best interests of the nation. Isn't this challenge that you're issuing today prolonging that and going against what is the lawful request for a manual count?

BAKER: I would hope it's not prolonging it. I don't think it's prolonging it. As I said in my statement, if the Gore campaign will simply join us, acknowledge that the votes in Florida have been counted, they have been recounted, the overseas absentees are to be counted, and agree with us that, subject to the count of those overseas absentee ballots, they, too, will respect the result, like we've said we will, the lawsuit's gone. It will be dismissed.

QUESTION: Then, if they continue these legal pursuits, whether it's an individual lawsuit questioning whether someone was able to rightfully vote, or any other legal remedies that they may consider to pursue, is it your suggestion, sir, that in some way this is unpatriotic, unstatesmanlike?

BAKER: No, no, no. I haven't said that. I've just pointed out to you the fact that their supporters have filed eight lawsuits challenging the result. And so we were not the first to file a lawsuit. Their supporters filed eight lawsuits challenging the result.

And I have also said, I hope very clearly, that if they would simply say, "Yes, we will respect the count, the result of the count of the overseas absentee ballots like you've said you will," we'll wait those six days and they'll wait those six days, whatever that shows, that will determine the winner in Florida, this action we filed would be dismissed.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Are you aware of any discussion between high-level members of the Gore campaign in Florida and (OFF-MIKE)

BAKER: I'm not aware of any discussions between high-level officials of the Gore campaign and canvassing board members, no, I'm not. So that's the way I would answer your question.

By the way, ladies and gentlemen, should you desire to have it, we have copies here of the action as well as copies of my statement.

Thank you all very much.

O'BRIEN: Former Secretary of State James Baker, the Bush campaign's lead person in Florida, speaking with reporters, confirming what CNN has been reporting all this morning, that the Bush campaign will file suit, or has filed suit, in federal court in Florida to stop the third recount of this election in Florida, the so-called "hand recount," the previous two recounts having been done by machine.

In essence, Mr. Baker saying that a human recount would be subject to many more errors, the potential for mischief much greater, he said. And machines, he said, are neither Republican nor Democrats. He asked the Gore campaign to "join us," as he put it, and the lawsuit will be gone in acknowledging the current recount, the machine recount, cognizant of the fact that absentee votes from overseas will in fact be factored into all of this.

There was a peremptory comment from the Gore camp before this news conference even occurred, based on the reports that have been coming out about what Mr. Baker would say. Campaign spokesman Doug Hattaway with the Gore camp saying, "We believe the hand count should go forward. There's absolutely no reason why people's votes should not be counted by human beings. These recounts are authorized by local officials. They're going into court to stop local officials from counting their citizens' votes. We support the decision to have full, fair and accurate count."

So the plot thickens -- Kyra.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: And to get more into that thickening plot, Greta Van Susteren, our legal analyst, joins us now from Florida. She's been listening in.

Greta, an interesting point that Mr. Baker made, and that is if there were to be another recount, there are no standards of guidance for the canvassing board for voter intent.

Could you go a little bit more into that and explain what that means?

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Kyra, obviously Mr. Baker is an advocate for his position. Of course, there were times when we did recounts before we even had machines to count ballots. I mean, that is a piece of advocacy, just as the statement that was just read was a piece of advocacy by the Democrats.

What's interesting here is that the federal injunction has been filed. And what the standards are to get an injunction are twofold. One is they must demonstrate irreparable harm if the vote goes forward, and secondly that they're likely to prevail on the merits -- a very high standard.

I have no idea how a federal judge is going to look at this and what decision is going to be made, but what the Republicans want to do is they want to stop a manual recount in the counties that are predominately Democratic counties, because when you have manual recount, when you have recounts, the votes always go up. And by theory, the person who is leading in the county, if you have a highly Democratic county, in all likelihood they're going to go up higher towards Vice President Gore because he's a Democrat. So what they're trying to do is stop manual recount in these counties.

Now it is indeed true. When you manually recount a ballot, there is a lot of subjectivity. Supposing you have two blocks and you have a little dash between them to indicate the mark or a little mark to indicate how you vote. The question is, how do you know? How do you know which way the voter intended to vote? Now sometimes it might be quite obvious, because it might be very close to the box, but these are the types of subjective issues that trouble the vice --= that trouble the Bush campaign. And that's what they're trying to do is stop that.

But on the flip side, we've had lots of manual recounts in this country, and we've certainly had manual recounts long before machinery. But it certainly is an intriguing legal issue.

PHILLIPS: Greta, what would be the chances of finding a judge? I mean, it's a holiday weekend. Does this have to go into emergency mode?

VAN SUSTEREN: Oh, you can always find a federal judge. That's very easy. In fact, on weekends, holidays, there's always someone who's in charge of being an emergency judge. There's a federal courthouse here in Palm Beach. We're trying to find out if it was filed actually here in this federal courthouse.

But I'll tell you, that's not a problem. They wake up judges in the middle of the night to handle emergency matters. So finding a judge on a Saturday is not hard. In fact, in all likelihood, the lawyers tipped off the federal court last night that they would be intending to file, just to put the judge on notice so the judge can take a quick look at it. So that's not a problem. Finding a federal judge isn't a problem.

PHILLIPS: Greta, how long could this go? I mean, when the heck are we ever going to find out who our next president is?

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, if I knew that answer, Kyra, I yell you, I wouldn't be sitting here before the cameras, I'd be picking lottery numbers someplace and I'd be a very rich person.

I mean, nobody really know. Lookit, this is unprecedented. We have never seen anything like this. We have sort of the verge -- first we had a political event, and now we have a court event. We have both sides having gone to court, the Republicans today in federal court, yesterday they started court actions by sort of state representatives in New Mexico.

We've had Democratic voters here in the state of Florida filing lawsuits. I mean, there are so many shots being fired across the respective bows of their ships that it's amazing how many court battles. And so to answer your question very succinctly, I don't know. But I'll tell you one thing, nobody else does either.

PHILLIPS: Very safe answer. Is there a reasonable end?

VAN SUSTEREN: I hope that there's a reasonable end for the benefit of the American voters, and I can only say, we shall see. But I can tell you one thing, the plot thickens. And there's going to be a lot of confusion, a lot of legal action, a lot of legal pleas. And there's also got to be evidence taken.

I mean, we don't know what the facts are. You know, at this point it's never been established exactly what the facts are. We have no idea the concentration of the ballots, we have no idea why 19,000 ballots in this county were thrown out, we have no idea why there's double voting. At this point, we only have lots of suspicion. And there's a lot more to the bottom of the facts.

And while there are a lot of people who hate litigation and hate courts, at least in the courtroom we do have standards. You have to present proof, and hopefully that may be one safe resolution. But at this point, we simply don't know. We have lots of intriguing legal issues, lots of intriguing political issues. But we also have an enormous amount of uncertainty.

PHILLIPS: Greta, is there an absolute legal deadline where this has to be wrapped up? I mean, is it possible that this could go into next year?

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, by statute, on December 18th, the electors are supposed -- the electors from the Electoral College are supposed to meet and vote. And, you know, that's when we expect that the next significant event in this election should occur.

It's unclear. I mean, I can give you all sorts of bar question hypotheticals. For instance, suppose that down here in Florida that for whatever reason that the election is not certified so they can't have the Electoral College members here in the state in Florida vote. Suppose, though, that they allow it to go forward hypothetically on December 18th and the question then is who has the majority of the Electoral College votes? Of course, then it would be Gore because there are so many Electoral College votes here in Florida.

But those are simply hypotheticals. And the reason that as a legal analyst I keep giving you hypotheticals is because when we examine these issues, we look at precedent, we look at history and see how it's handled before. But we don't have that here. We can't look back and see how it's handled four years ago because -- or eight years ago or even a hundred years because this is so new. This is brand new. This is something we've never seen before, so we can't even begin to predict the future on how it will unravel.

PHILLIPS: All right, Greta, this could be a crazy question, and forgive me if it seems just so crazy, but is it possible that President Clinton will have to remain president even into the next year?

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, he's certainly going to remain president until January 20th, which is Inauguration Day. The question is, if he can't run for another term -- I know that's a very technical question. I don't know the answer to that, Kyra. I wish I did, and maybe by the next time I get on the air I'll try to figure that one out. But it certainly is another -- at least it's another -- maybe another...

PHILLIPS: Hypothetical.

VAN SUSTEREN: bar examination -- maybe another bar exam question.

PHILLIPS: There you go. All right, Greta Van Susteren, thank you so much.

And we're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back.



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