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Florida Governor Jeb Bush Discusses Election Reform

Aired May 9, 2001 - 07:22   ET

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


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Florida Governor Jeb Bush today signs an election reform package aimed at addressing problems with last year's presidential election. The measure will eliminate punch card and hand-counted paper ballots. All precincts will be required to have optical-scan ballot systems. The legislation also sets in a process for recounting votes.

Governor Jeb Bush, though, joins us from Tallahassee, Florida to talk a little bit more about how this is going to work.

Good morning, Governor.

GOV. JEB BUSH (R), FLORIDA: Good morning.

LIN: So exactly what happens when a voter will soon walk into the polling place? How will it change for them, their actual physical experience of voting?

BUSH: Well, a voter will come in and they'll first -- the first thing they'll see is a voters bill of rights that will outline the rights that people have when they go to vote. They will be in front of volunteers that will have been trained -- financed by state monies -- to give them the adequate training to deal with the machines.

And then they'll cast their ballot with an optical-scanning machine that, if they double-counted, if they double-voted, overvoted, it will reject it. Or if they didn't vote at all, it will reject it to allow them to vote again.

If they don't have -- if they're not on the precinct lists, they will be able to cast a provisional ballot. If they vote by absentee, it will be a simple system that will assure that their vote counts.

LIN: All right. So...

BUSH: So we created an Election Day -- a system that will be a standard, I think, for the rest of the country.

LIN: And a standard statewide, so that everybody goes through the same steps in order to cast their ballots, right?

BUSH: Absolutely.

LIN: All right. Well, apparently in Escambia and Manatee counties in the last election, they used optical scanners, but they had problems with it. Apparently, part of the function in scanning the ballot was able to be dismantled somehow. So it sounds like you're going to have to train your workers to use these things, as well.

BUSH: Absolutely. And that's why we have -- we have a $32 million appropriation for all of this. But we have $3 million for voter education and for training for these precinct workers. And I think that will be adequate to do it. The error rates for the optical-scanning machines at the precinct level were far, far lower than the punch card ballots.

LIN: The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is going to be issuing its final report this coming summer as to what happened to so many African-Americans at the polls. Months later, in your mind, what do you think happened in those African-American districts on election day?

BUSH: Well, I don't think that there was -- to be honest with you, I don't think that there was any overt discrimination. Many of these areas are controlled by Democrats. And so if there's some kind of partisan implication, one would assume that they would try to help people to vote better.

But rather than go to the past, my hope is that people will see that we have resolved the problem, and that other states ought to look at this as a model, because if there's another close election in another state, I guarantee you that they will not be able to withstand the incredible scrutiny that occurred in Florida. So I'm focused on the future. And I know in 2002, we'll have an election system that is a model for the rest of the country and something of great pride for all Floridians.

LIN: Well, many African-Americans and minorities are focused on the past, particularly because of this particular experience they had on Election Day. I mean, they were talking about illegal police blockades...

BUSH: That's untrue.

LIN: ... being rejected at the polls, lists that were supposed to contain names of felons and yet also contained names of legitimate voters who were not able then to cast their ballots. So there's some serious questions posed by the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.

BUSH: There are. And many of those questions that you just posed have been looked at by the Justice Department and by the attorney general's office in our state. And they have been rejected as -- in terms of not having any kind of systemic effort to restrict people's right to vote.

LIN: Well, you...

BUSH: But, having said that, there are technical aspects of this that clearly were a problem. And the legislature, in a bipartisan way, 159-1 in the Senate and the House, voted for a proposal that is landmark legislation that I'm signing today.

LIN: When is the next election where this new election reform system is going to be truly put to the test in all 67 counties?

BUSH: September, the primary of the 2002 election.

LIN: All right, coming up pretty soon.

BUSH: Yes.

LIN: In the meantime, let me turn your attention to another very high-profile case right now occurring in your state: the trial of Nathaniel Brazill. This 14-year-old is going to take the stand. And he faces life in prison. How closely are you watching this case?

BUSH: Well, I'm watching it as a concerned Floridian. And it breaks my heart that we have a society where young people, for whatever reason, feel compelled to take a gun and take it to school and shoot someone. I mean, it's -- this teacher was an extraordinary teacher. His wife and children now live without their husband and dad. It's a tragedy.

And while it's not appropriate, really, to comment on the specifics of the trial, because it's ongoing, I do think, as a society, we need to deal with this a little bit earlier than waiting for these, you know, high-profile trials. There's things that we can do and we're doing in our state to deal with these isolated cases of incredible violence.

And then I think there also ought to be some recognition that a 12-year-old ought to be treated differently than a 30-year-old. There should be some form of punishment if they're convicted. And it ought to be severe, but it shouldn't be the same as someone who is 30 years old.

LIN: Well, Governor, this is something you may have to consider if Nathaniel Brazill is convicted. And you may be in the position of deciding whether to pardon a 14-year-old.

Thank you very much for joining us this morning. I wish we had more time.

BUSH: Thank you.

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