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Burden of Proof

How Can Florida Solve its Voting Problems?

Aired January 9, 2001 - 12:30 p.m. ET

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

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CO-HOST: Today on BURDEN OF PROOF, butterfly ballots, dimpled, pregnant and hanging chads, now infamous terms which will forever be linked to the 2000 election. How can Florida solve its voting problems?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. JEB BUSH (R), FLORIDA: We should bring clarity to the voting methods in this state. Every voter needs to know when they go to vote that their vote is going to count.

DAVID CARDWELL, FMR. DIRECTOR, FLORIDA ELECTIONS: They need to take a systematic look at the election process. Don't look at any one particular aspect of it in isolation, because all parts of it interrelate. And that's something that hasn't really been done by the legislature.

JAMES SMITH, FLORIDA ELECTIONS TASK FORCE: Certainly there has to be a longer look at the elections process. I imagine we're going to focus mainly on voting equipment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: This is BURDEN OF PROOF, with Roger Cossack and Greta Van Susteren.

VAN SUSTEREN: Hello and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF. Roger is off today.

The presidential election is over for most of us; and the recounts are over, well, for most of us. The transition of power has begun in Washington as George W. Bush continues to build his Cabinet and move his family into the White House. But in Florida, scene of a post-election legal slugfest, the ripple effects of election 2000 rage on.

Yesterday in Tallahassee, Gov. Jeb Bush, who's the president- elect's brother, kicked off a task force to find out how to solve voting problems in the Sunshine State. The group is comprised of 21 state leaders: 10 Democrats, 10 Republicans and one non-partisan member. They have until March 1 to propose changes to the system.

Joining us today from Tallahassee is Barbara Sheen Todd, a member of the governor's select task force on election procedures. In Miami, we're joined by Martin Baron, executive editor of the "Miami Herald." From Philadelphia, Ransom Shoup of Shoup Voting Solutions. And here in Washington, Crystal Galny (ph), election law attorney Ken Gross, and Ann Marie MacCubbin (ph). In our back row, Chris Kenny (ph) and Heather Law (ph).

Barbara, first to you. First of all, we're coming to you from where? What's behind you?

BARBARA SHEEN TODD, FLORIDA ELECTION TASK FORCE: I am in the room where we're having the meeting of the governor's task force. So that's the noise that you hear behind me.

VAN SUSTEREN: What's going on at the task force today? And what do you hope to accomplish?

TODD: Well, we hope to come up with a series of recommendations between now and March 1 to give to the governor and the legislature relating to elections procedure, equipment, technology, voter education, you name it. But whatever, we do not want a repeat of what happened in this past presidential election.

VAN SUSTEREN: Now, you say that you have to come up with a series of recommendations. These recommendations are obviously post- election. Why don't Florida recognize this problem pre-election?

TODD: Well, you know, I don't think that Florida is unique in this. There are at least 40 percent of the states -- or 33 percent is the figure we heard that had a similar voting system. Because it was such a close race, we had that. But the bottom line is that we, through the governor's leadership, are determined to come up with some positive proactive regulations, ideas, recommendations for legislation and so on that will prevent this from happening again.

VAN SUSTEREN: Barbara, you say that 40 percent of the states have the same problem as...

TODD: Thirty-three percent...

VAN SUSTEREN: OK.

TODD: ... had similar type of equipment. Chads are gone. If this morning's discussion holds true when we actually get to voting on our recommendations, everyone, to the last person on this commission, feels that the system that was used in this past presidential election should be phased out.

VAN SUSTEREN: OK, now you -- let me -- the number, 33 percent. To me, listening to you say that 33 percent of the states had this problem, that sort of ups the opportunity for states to recognize the problem before the election. Why did everyone -- why did your state and 33 percent of the other states miss this problem pre-election?

TODD: You know, I can't really give you a definitive answer except to say that I think all of us take our elections for granted. We assumed everything was going along just fine. And it wasn't until this past election that we realized the magnitude of the problem. I can assure you that everyone in this room, and certainly the majority of the citizens in Florida, recognize now the importance of moving ahead with technological innovations, working more closely with our citizenry to assure that they are educated as to voting procedures, setting up a system where our supervisors of election are more involved in working with the state.

Frankly, I see it as an opportunity for us to develop an intergovernmental partnership. When I leave here, I'm going to Washington to participate in a similar task force on the national level. And we will be looking at similar issues there. So -- because we recognize that this is not just unique to Florida.

VAN SUSTEREN: Let me go to Ransom Shoup out of Philadelphia of Shoup Voting Solutions.

Ransom, you hear Barbara say that, you know, that this problem was discovered Nov. 7 pretty much with this election. Is this a new problem? Is this just coming to the surface, or has someone ever spoken out about this problem before?

RANSOM SHOUP, SHOUP VOTING SOLUTIONS: No, actually, this problem happened back in 1967. Punch cards came into existence in the early '60s. But in 1967, there was a congressional election in the state of Georgia, and a subcommittee of Congress. There were so many problems with the chads, overvoting. And all the problems that they had in West Palm Beach they had back in Georgia back in '67. And it's been throughout the United States that there have been various lawsuits for the very same issue. But each county or state felt, oh, it couldn't happen to us. And, really, it's just been a ticking time bomb ready to go off anywhere in the United States. It is not unique to the state of Florida or to West Palm Beach.

VAN SUSTEREN: Marty, you're down in Miami, down in Florida. What do the -- are the voters scandalized by this, or is this something they just sort of knew all along and sort of have a different view?

MARTIN BARON, "MIAMI HERALD": Well, I think people are very concerned about it among the voters. This is something that was known about for many, many years. There were problems with a number of elections. The difference in this case is that the election was so close, and now people are beginning to focus on it. And I do think that many voters feel that something really needs to be done about it now.

VAN SUSTEREN: Marty, do the voters seem to have a sense that this task force created by the governor is going to be an effective task force, or is this just a showcase?

BARON: Well, I'm not sure what the majority of the voters think, but I think people are hopeful that something will finally be done about this. People saw the dangers of maintaining a voting system, an antiquated voting system as we have right now, and they feel that something ought to be done.

VAN SUSTEREN: Ken, you're an election lawyer. You've looked at a lot of elections over the years. Is this just the tip of the iceberg? I mean, is this a -- I mean, Barbara says 33 percent of the states have the same equipment. It sounds rather terrifying to me.

KEN GROSS, ELECTION LAW ATTORNEY: It's a pervasive problem throughout the country. This could have happened in any state. And this is controlled at the county level, at the local level, so you can't just look at the state, you have to look inside counties. Some states have 99 different counties, or 50 or 60 or 70 different counties, and they have short memories if there's an election that's close, not a big presidential election. And then it gets down to the question, do you need another fire engine, do you need another police car, or do you want to upgrade these voting machines that we have? And the voting machines seem to come in last.

VAN SUSTEREN: Ransom, what do you recommend? What's the best voting machine, the most exact?

SHOUP: Well, of course, the mechanical machines have been used since the turn of the century where we had no overvotes or anything as far as elections are concerned. Today, our recommendation and what we're coming out with is a touch-screen voting machine that has all the safeguards of the mechanical machines that have had for so many years, still has the capability for a recount. If you wanted to have a recount, we can give you a ballot image of every voter just in a random selection so that no one would know who the voter is, but we could give you every single voter in a recount if necessary.

VAN SUSTEREN: Barbara, do you think that the result of your commission, whatever your commission or task force recommends, do you think you're going to get the money to fix this problem?

TODD: Well, we're proposing that there would be a partnership with the state and local people, as well as with the federal people. As I mentioned earlier, the National Association of Counties, our president has formed a national task force in conjunction with county officials and recorders and clerks all over the nation, and we will be addressing the same thing.

On the issue relating to the touch-screen, I don't think that there's any one technology that is the best, but certainly the paper ballots are not. I think we need to continue to expand our vision and look at technologies as they are developed. There are pros and cons for every technology. Where the touch-screen is something that's interesting and exciting, I'm aware of other technologies that actually give audio clues to the voters. So I think we need to keep an open mind and assure that whatever we come up with is reliable, dependable, cost effective, something that's voter-friendly and so on.

VAN SUSTEREN: And can count correctly, which, of course, is the big issue.

TODD: Absolutely.

VAN SUSTEREN: But we need to take a break.

Last month, official manual recounts were halted in Florida, but the media is still counting. When we come back, what's the "Miami Herald" up to? Don't go away.

(BEGIN LEGAL BRIEF)

Cameron Reagan, grandson of former President Ronald Reagan, was ordered to spend 90 days at a drug and anger management facility for violating probation. Cameron Reagan admitted to possessing a small amount of marijuana. He was on probation from a 1998 conviction for receiving stolen property.

(END LEGAL BRIEF)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAN SUSTEREN: This week in Tallahassee, a new governor's task force was launched to find ways to fix Florida's election process. Meanwhile, media organizations are completing work the U.S. Supreme Court halted last month, a manual recount from Florida's 67 counties.

Marty, let me go to you. As the executive editor of the "Miami Herald," what are you guys up to?

BARON: Well, we are reviewing all the so-called undervotes, those are the ballots that registered no vote for president. There are an estimated 60,000 of those, and we are manually looking at all of those. We retained the services of an independent accounting firm, a national accounting firm, and they are actually looking at all the ballots, recording them. They will tabulate them. And when we have the results, we will report those to our readers and to the public.

VAN SUSTEREN: Marty, are they tabulated -- what are the standards that are being used in your count?

BARON: Well, we are not actually setting a standard, we are actually looking at the characteristics of the ballots and recording those. If there's a pinprick, we will record that; if there is a clean punch, we will record that; if there is one corner detached, same thing; a dimple; right down the line. And we will record that, and we will tabulate them, and we will report those exact results to our readers and to the general public.

VAN SUSTEREN: Now the "Miami Herald" was sort of the first out of the box and doing this very early on, even before the case went to the Supreme Court, you guys were already getting started on this. How far are you in this process of getting the ballots and actually looking at them?

BARON: We are pretty far along. It's coming along. It is a tedious process. We are looking at about 120 ballots an hour, but we have completed 14 counties, at this stage. We will complete about 36 at the end of this week, and probably 44 by the end of next week.

VAN SUSTEREN: And when do you think you will be done -- are there 67 -- have I learned enough about Florida election law and geography, do you have 67 to go through?

BARON: Sixty-seven counties to go through; that's correct, but there are some big counties.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, well, my geography is better than my math. At 120 an hour, when will you be finished with these ballots?

BARON: Well, we figure that we will finish some time in February, we are not quite sure when.

VAN SUSTEREN: Any surprises so far?

BARON: No surprises except for one elections official who wouldn't allow our people to go to the bathroom.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Any trouble getting any ballots at all? Has everyone agreeing and acquiescing?

BARON: At this stage, it looks like our access is pretty good. There is one county where they have not segregated the undervotes from the other ballots. There may be one or two other counties where they have done that, the one big one. We are having to sort that through and take a look at how we handle that.

VAN SUSTEREN: I'm curious about the actual handling of the ballots. I mean, because these are fragile, and there may be -- somebody may want to go through them again at some future date in history, or in the future. How are you handling them?

BARON: Well, we are not actually handling them because, under the law, only the employees of the supervisors of elections can handle the ballots. They are showing them to us, displaying them, we are looking at them carefully, spending as much time as necessary to record the characteristics and then writing those down.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is this done with a bare eye, or are you using anything to magnify the ballots at all?

BARON: It's done with the bare eye.

VAN SUSTEREN: Ken, what do you make of this?

GROSS: Well, it's going to be interesting. Of course, it has no legal implication what is happening, except to show that the machines themselves may be problematic, and ti could find its way into a lawsuit saying that the votes were diluted, and therefore equal protection rights were not granted, or Voting Rights Act were not granted.

VAN SUSTEREN: Let me follow-up, and let's say that it happens, so, I mean...

GROSS: Well, if there's a viable lawsuit that perhaps minority votes were diluted because a certain type of machinery produced undervotes or just a disparity...

VAN SUSTEREN: What is the remedy?

GROSS: The remedy is is that you better fix it before the next election because you are going to have a potential invalidation of that election, if it is in violation of civil rights or equal protection rights.

VAN SUSTEREN: So you agree that no matter what has happened so far nothing can be undone. I mean, let's assume, hypothetically, I have no idea what is going to happen with these votes. Let's assume hypothetically that Gore was the real winner, not Bush, anything?

GROSS: That's correct. The only legal implication of what is happening now would be going forward. There could not be any retroactive legal implication that would have any assistance to Al Gore.

VAN SUSTEREN: Barbara, let me go back to you and your task force. Does this "Miami Herald" going through these ballots, does this going to have any impact? Do you expect to call any of the "Miami Herald" people to report their results to your task force? Any bearing at all on your project?

TODD: No, it just reinforces the need for us to move forward and come up with better voting procedures. Right now, I think that what they are going the find is it is difficult to look at a ballot and determine what the voter's intent was, and we shouldn't have any question. Every vote that's cast should count. That's what the governor indicated he wanted us to come up with, in terms of recommendations, as to procedures, and that's our chore in the next several weeks.

VAN SUSTEREN: Marty, what are sort of the tough issues that you about in your newsroom in terms of how to report these, or when, or even the whole idea of whether to go forward with it?

BARON: Well, I don't think it was a difficult decision to go forward. The fact is is that we have a very basic mission in the news business, and that is to tell the public the facts. Even our worst critics say, just tell us the facts, and that's all we are really trying to do here, and that was an easy decision for us.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, we are going to take a break. Up next, a U.S. Commission on Civil Rights will meet this week to focus on the 2000 election. Scheduled to appear: Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAN SUSTEREN: Beginning Thursday, the United States Commission on Civil Rights will hold hearings in Tallahassee. During the November election, black voters in Florida charged that Black precincts were targeted with police roadblocks, and that legally registered black voters were turned away. In addition, voting equipment in minority communities tends to be older, and less reliable.

Marty, when I was down in Florida one of complaints I also heard from minority voters is that they were required to show more than one piece of identification. I guess Marty cannot hear me. Let me go to you, Ken, on this issue of the civil rights. Explain to me what are the types of civil rights violations that we are looking at?

GROSS: Well, there are going to be cases brought under the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution because big case of Bush v. Gore has now said that you have a case if there's disparate voting machinery, say in downtown, where lots of minorities might live, as opposed to the suburbs. Secondly, the Voting Rights Act says that minority votes cannot be diluted, and if they are diluted because there are more undervotes or poorer equipment used in minority communities, as opposed to other communities, that gives a legal case. And I think the big winner of all this mess may just be the minority community because these lawsuits now have some real teeth to them.

VAN SUSTEREN: Except for the fact that they have been allowed to vote for an awful long time, and the fact that we even got to this point where they are facing the hurdles, it is hard to sort of think of them as being the real winners.

Let me ask you the question that I started to raise to Marty, but he couldn't hear me, apparently, the issue of having to display more than one form of identification. Is that something that the Civil Rights Commission is interested in?

GROSS: Yes, the Civil Rights Commission is not only interested in this disparate voting machinery, but the voter registration process, names being properly on the registry, as well as the identification process, which is sometimes used to discourage people from voting and turning them away, actual intimidation. And then sort of intimidation with small "i," where people are just overwhelmed by the circumstance and don't know how to ask for additional ballots or how to operate the machine. All of that is going to be addressed.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, Marty, now can you hear me?

BARON: Yes, I can hear you now.

VAN SUSTEREN: Oh, good. Let me ask you the question about the Civil Rights Commission, we've been told has subpoenaed Jeb Bush, the governor of your state, to testify. What is the purpose, do you have any idea of what his testimony, what do they want to hear from him, what kind of information?

BARON: I assume they are going to ask him a lot of general and specific information about the voting system here in the state of Florida. I don't know specifically what their questions are going to be, the governor has made the point that he didn't need to be subpoenaed, all they needed to do was ask them to show up and he would have.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, it's sort of funny, Ken, I'm not quite sure I understand why the governor has been subpoenaed. I mean, obviously, he said he would show up. But putting that issue aside, he said would he show up without being subpoenaed. But isn't this sort of a nuts and bolts investigation? Isn't he a little bit too far up the totem pole? I mean, don't we really need to see what happened at the actual polling spots?

GROSS: Yeah, I think he's just one part of the big picture. And I think people are curious as to whether he had any role or any involvement in this whole process. So I think he's part of the question mark that has to be answered, but is only a small part of the overall picture.

VAN SUSTEREN: Ransom, I want to talk to you for a second about the optical scanning equipment. Is that our answer, or is that -- which is used in part in Florida, is that a good choice?

SHOUP: I really don't think that it is. Optical scanner -- any paper ballot system, when you have to use ink, pens, you can have various inks that the readers will not pick up. So that when the voter, in good faith, is going there to cast their ballot, if they are given the wrong pens with different kind of ink that the reader won't read, they can vote, but when they go to count their ballot, it will not be counted unless there were a recount where they are physically looking at each ballot and recounting it.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. That's all the time we have for today. Thanks to our guests, and thank you for watching.

Today on "TALKBACK LIVE": Will the controversy surrounding Linda Chavez keep her from being confirmed as labor secretary? Send your e- mail to Bobbie Battista and tune-in at 3:00 p.m. Eastern time.

And tonight on "THE POINT": How far back do we go into someone's past when it comes to serving the country? Should there be a limit? Join me at 8:30 p.m. Eastern. And join Roger and me tomorrow with another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF. We'll see you then.

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