Text: Gore Surrogates on Fla. Recount
Saturday, November 25, 2000
Following is the transcript of a news conference by former Democratic Senate
majority leader George Mitchell (Maine) and Michael Mone, former attorney for
Rep. William Delahunt (D-Mass.).
MITCHELL: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.
I'd like to make a brief statement. Then I'll introduce Mr. Michael Mone,
who will make a brief statement. And then we'll be pleased to try to respond
to your questions.
At the request of Governor Bush, the dispute over the election will go to
the United States Supreme Court. Whatever the outcome, it is important that
the process be fair and orderly, and that the will of the people and the rule
of law prevail.
In its historic decision on Tuesday, the Supreme Court of Florida said that,
and I quote, "the will of the people is the paramount consideration. The right
to vote is the right to participate. It is also the right to speak, but more
importantly, the right to be heard."
With those eloquent words, the court reached the very foundation of democracy.
The word itself is a combination of two Greek words: demos, the people; kratia,
the rule. Democracy is the rule of the people.
Elections are the means by which we determine the will of the people, so as
to establish the rule of the people. That is why I believe that above all the
clamor and confusion, there should be one clear and overriding goal: to ensure
a full, fair and accurate count of the votes in this election. Only then will
we honor our Constitution and reflect the will of the American people.
The Supreme Court of Florida, and many other courts across the country, have
stressed the importance of the individual and the need to count every valid
vote. There has been criticism of the use of hand recounts in this election.
However, hand recounts are authorized by law in many states, including Florida.
Hand counts are provided for in Texas in close elections. The laws of Texas
and Florida and other states are based on the reality that the most fair and
effective way to count every valid vote, and to discern the intent of the voter,
is a careful, fair hand count.
Up to now in this process, no court, state or federal, has accepted the assertion
that hand recounts are unfair or unconstitutional. The courts and the people
know better. They know that hand recounts are consistent with the law and with
past practices in Florida, in Texas and all across the country.
The United States district court put it well when it said, and I quote, "The
manual recount provision is intended to safeguard the integrity and reliability
of the electoral process by providing a structural means of detecting and correcting
clerical or electronic tabulating errors in the counting of election ballots,"
In such recounts, every effort should be made to ascertain the intent of the
voter. For example, in the now famous Delahunt case, the Massachusetts Supreme
Court ruled that if an impression is made on or near the chad portion of the
ballot, that impression should be treated as a vote. That ruling, and others
that hold similarly, are based on a simple and just premise: Whenever possible,
valid votes should be counted and the will of the voters heard.
Texas law authorizes hand recounts and provides that a ballot should be counted
if it meets any of several criteria that indicate the voter's intent. One such
criterion is that a ballot may be counted if, and I quote, "an indentation on
the chad from a stylus or other object is present and indicates a clearly ascertainable
intent of the voter's vote," close quotes.
Thus, Texas law includes the counting of so-called dimpled chads. What the
Texas law properly seeks is, and I quote again, "any clearly ascertainable intent
of the voter," close quote.
So far, Florida has demonstrated that this process can be done fairly, with
objective counters and observers representing both parties, despite some unfortunate
attempts at delay and disruption.
I urge that the counts be permitted to proceed without interruption or disruption.
It is essential to assuring the fairness and integrity of the process and of
I mentioned briefly the Delahunt case. Here today is Michael Mone, who was
counsel for Congressman Delahunt. He will describe that case in more detail.
MONE: Thank you, Senator.
My name is Mike Mone. I'm a lawyer from Boston.
In 1996, I represented then-District Attorney William Delahunt, now Congressman
William Delahunt, in a recount in the 10th Congressional District in Massachusetts.
What was at issue there is what is at issue here in Florida, that is, the necessity
of counting the votes that the voters have recorded.
I come from Brockton, which is 20 miles south of the city of Boston. We have
had two elections in Brockton that have turned on the ability of the election
officials and judges to count the so-called indented chads. The law in Massachusetts
is quite clear. It is in accord with the law in Illinois, and it is certainly
in accord with the law that the senator just quoted to you from the state of
That is, that if in looking at these punch cards you can ascertain the will
of the voter, the vote should be counted.
Now why is this punch card system--does it produce this uncertainty where
you have blank votes where people have voted? The reason for that, in my view,
is simple. It is the only system of voting in which the voter records his preference
on a piece of paper, but he can't see the piece of paper when he votes. And
when he's finished voting, what he has in his hand is a card that has random
holes in it. They are not next to the name of a voter; they are simply holes.
And if he voted 16 times, he may not notice that on 14 of those he knocked out
a chad, but on one occasion he simply dimpled it.
These machines are susceptible to misalignment of the cards, and that is the
problem with the system. The problem with the system is so severe that Massachusetts,
after the Delahunt campaign, abolished the use of these machines.
Let me tell you a little bit about the Delahunt case, because it really is
right on point as to what's going on now in South Florida.
In the Delahunt election, on the evening of the election, we discovered that
in the town of Weymouth, which voted on this punch-card system, 4,000 Massachusetts
voters in a primary had gone to the election polling place. And on the only
contest on the ballot, 1,000 of them, after going through a driving rain storm,
had decided not to vote. That did not seem to be logical.
The Delahunt campaign asked for a recount. We used the punch-card system in
four of the cities and towns. We looked at the votes in those cities and towns.
In the town of Brockton, where I live, the registrars, two Republicans and one
Democrat--I'm sorry, two Democrats and one Republican--looked at the votes,
and were able to assign most of the votes to either Mr. Delahunt or to his opponent,
Phil Johnson (ph).
In the town of Weymouth, the clerk took the position that unless they could
see light through the punch-card ballot, they would not count the vote. That
was not in accord with Massachusetts law. We protested 956 of those votes. Those
956 votes went to a judge. That judge, applying Massachusetts law, was able
to discern a voter intent in all but about 50 of those blank votes. At the end
of that process, Congressman Delahunt was declared the winner.
Mr. Johnson (ph) appealed to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts,
seven justices of that court. It was what legally is called a de novo review.
That is, the judges independently, not because the judge below had decided that
Mr. Delahunt won the election, but those judges independently looked at the
looks individually, and at the end of that process, they were able to determine
that in all but about 20 cases--so almost 1,000 ballots--in all but 20 cases,
they were able to discern an intent to vote for either Mr. Delahunt or Mr. Johnson,
and Mr. Delahunt was declared the winner of that election.
It is interesting to note that the Republican legislature here has just hired
Professor Charles Freid of Harvard, Harvard Law School, to represent them. Professor
Freid was on the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts at the time of the
Delahunt recount, and he was one of the seven judges who participated in the
recount. And since there was no dissent to the Supreme Court's decision, I assume
that Judge Freid, like the other justices of the Supreme Court, was able to
discern voter intent.
Lastly, I would leave you with the language of the Supreme Court of Massachusetts,
which is similar to what Senator Mitchell just quoted. The Supreme Court of
Massachusetts said that voters, the voters, are the owners of our government,
and we ought not to put barriers in their way in determining their intent to
vote. And they were not going to let a machine--which is incapable of producing
a fair count in a close election--they were not going to let that machine count
a candidate out.
And it shouldn't be allowed to count a candidate out in Florida four years
later. The registrars in Broward and Palm Beach County should look at those
ballots. Most of those ballots, if you look at them, you, any person, would
be able to discern intent. They actually are quite clear. And they should look
at them, they should count them, and they should determine who the voters of
Florida actually preferred.
Thank you very much.
QUESTION: Senator Mitchell, is the point of what you're saying today to try
and get the officials in Palm Beach to count more dimpled ballots, to somehow
broaden their interpretation at this point? Or are you just trying to lay more
of a foundation for a contest on this point Monday morning?
MITCHELL: It's neither. It is to state what we believe is the proper standard
of law, and to encourage the full, fair and accurate count of votes.
QUESTION: Senator, do you believe that you will prevail next Friday in the
Supreme Court, the U.S. Supreme Court? And if so, if you're confident in that,
why, if you're leading on Sunday night, would you go ahead and contest on Monday?
MITCHELL: Well, you used the word "you." I'm not directly involved in the
Gore campaign, and so I do not purport to speak for them. I have no authority,
nor am I involved in the decision-making process, so please don't take my comments
as those of the Gore campaign.
But it's clear that both sides, Governor Bush on Tuesday, the Gore campaign
on Thursday, made it clear that this process will go on beyond the certification
of Sunday, no matter what happens then. Indeed, as I noted earlier, Governor
Bush has petitioned the Supreme Court to take the case. They will do so, and
will hold a hearing next Friday. So this case is going beyond, and it's obvious
that both sides are pursuing their rights under the law.
QUESTION: A week or two ago, a number of Democratic Party leaders were suggesting
that perhaps Al Gore's campaign should not push this too far. I'm wondering
if you think the political situation has changed, and if you can give me your
sense of how strongly the Democratic Party is behind Al Gore at this point?
MITCHELL: I'm not familiar with the number of Democratic leaders to which
you refer. But my impression is that Democrats, and others across the country,
who supported Vice President Gore, are very strongly supportive of his effort.
Look at it from their perspective. Vice President Gore won the popular vote.
In almost every presidential election in American history, the person who won
the popular vote was elected president.
Now of course, we have an electoral system in this country, and a candidate
must win the Electoral College. In the electoral votes, Vice President Gore
is ahead. Many Americans believe that in Florida, more people intending to vote
for Vice President Gore went to the polls and tried to vote for him as opposed
to his opponent. And the question is whether a full and fair and accurate count
of those votes will reflect that reality.
And so I think there's a rather broad and strong support among Democrats for
Vice President Gore's position. And I acknowledge that there is very strong
and broad support among Republicans for Governor Bush's position. And I think
in both cases, there are many Americans who are not affiliated with either party,
who voted for one or the other, who share that view.
QUESTION: Is there a point at which the need for some kind of orderly transition
overtakes the need to have a full, fair and accurate count? Is it December 12?
Is there another point a little later? What do you think?
MITCHELL: The events of the past 18 days ought to induce in all of us humility
about our ability to predict future events. I don't know of a person on Earth
who accurately forecast what would occur after the election. And therefore,
I think it's prudent and wise not to try to see into the future and make decisions.
I do think it is important that at an appropriate time--and that obviously
will come soon--there be a clear decision, and that it occur in a manner that
enables whoever is elected president to govern effectively. Clearly there will
be a new president sworn in on January 20. There is a president in place now
who will continue until that time. And I think that both candidates have an
interest, a very strong interest, as do the American people, in seeing that
the process is as fair and orderly and as accurate as possible, so as to establish
the basis upon which the new president can govern effectively.
QUESTION: If I could try again, because I just don't think you made this statement
in the abstract. If it's not directed to the officials in Palm Beach or laying
some foundation for a contest, then could you explain a little more what action
you want to have happen as a result of what you said just now?
MITCHELL: I'll try again, too, so we're even in that regard.
I believe that, as the Florida Supreme Court said, the paramount consideration
is the will of the people. And my hope is that in a manner consistent with law
and in a fair and orderly way, the votes will be counted so as to accurately
reflect who won, whether that is Governor Bush or Vice President Gore. I think
the American people and both candidates have an interest in assuring that the
outcome is perceived to represent a fair and accurate summary of the will of
the people. That's what I believe; that's my purpose in being here.
QUESTION: The Florida Supreme Court has also said that there's a hard and
fast deadline tomorrow of 5:00. Are you in agreement with that, as well?
MITCHELL: Well, I have no choice to but to agree with that, of course. That
is the deadline that they established, and they--but they also said that a reason
for establishing the deadline so early was to permit the other processes of
law, that is, the contest of the election, to occur.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) the counting of the dimpled and the pregnant chad, isn't
that going on? Isn't the assessment of each individual ballot going on, just
as you say it should? So, then, isn't the process working as you want it to
MITCHELL: I hope that it will work, and that all of the votes will be counted.
That's what I believe should happen. I believe that there should be every effort
to permit the counting of valid votes.
QUESTION: Do you think that the candidate with the least votes at 5:00 tomorrow
MITCHELL: Well, that's an academic question because both have already said
that they will proceed beyond that. And at the request of Governor Bush, the
case will now go to the Supreme Court next Friday.
QUESTION: Senator, I realize that we can't look into the future, but isn't
it logical to assume that if the U.S. Supreme Court had agreed with the decision
by the Florida Supreme Court, which you have praised here today, that they would
have simply let it stand? I mean, aren't you concerned that they perhaps are
indicating that they can improve upon...
MITCHELL: No. With all due respect, it is not logical to assume that because
a court agrees to hear a case it will necessarily side with the party that petitioned
the court to hear the case. And one need only go back over dozens or hundreds
of Supreme Court decisions in recent years to see that the court has granted
certiorari on the petition of one party, and then ultimately ruled against that
Secondly, let me say that this Supreme Court has been notable for the deference
it has given to states in a wide range of cases over the past several years.
And I believe it likely that the court will be consistent with its previously
expressed view in many other areas in many other cases.
MITCHELL: That is my expectation, based upon the many decisions by the court
to that effect--that is, the effect of granting great deference to states, state
law and state courts.
QUESTION: Could I ask you about the military ballots question? There's a case
pending today in front of the Leon County Circuit Court, I'm sure you're aware,
in which the Bush attorneys are asking for every military ballot to be counted
regardless of some of the rules that have been established for military ballots.
Do you have a position on that? Do you feel--you're saying that all votes should
be counted. Should all of those military overseas ballots be counted?
MITCHELL: I said that every valid vote should be counted. And I read and agree
with the decision of Attorney General Butterworth that every effort should be
made to accommodate those votes, even if they lack a postmark, if they have
other indices of being an appropriate and valid vote.
QUESTION: Senator, have you offered the vice president any advice about contesting
MITCHELL: No. I haven't. He hasn't asked me for my advice in that respect,
and I haven't offered it.
QUESTION: In fact recently, though, he has reached out to you, and you've
had phone conversations with the vice president, right? Can you tell us what
you are advising, and how you are trying to shore up support from other Democrats,
like Senator Torricelli, who's expressed some concern about this?
MITCHELL: I've had several conversations with officials of the Gore campaign
and with the vice president, and I offered to be of help. They asked that I
come down here and say what I believe, and that's what I've done.
QUESTION: Senator, do you believe that the vice president's contest of the
election results will be decided based on a reconsideration of the dimpled ballots?
MITCHELL: I don't know that. That, of course, remains to be seen.
Let's be clear: Both sides have made it clear that this case will go forward
no matter what happens on Sunday.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) of what you've been saying here on this subject today,
it would seem that you're placing a lot of strength in this question. Mr. Mone
is saying the same thing. Do you think this case will end up on that question?
MITCHELL: I do not know that. What I have said, and what I believe Mr. Mone
has said, is what we believe. We believe that in this country, first, in most
states, there is a provision for hand recounts. The effort to discredit hand
recounts is inconsistent with American law and with past practices all across
this country, including Florida, Texas, Massachusetts, and a large number of
And as the United States district court said, and which I quoted in my statement,
which I will not repeat, the law clearly contemplates that hand recounts are
the best method of preserving the integrity of the process, of determining the
full and accurate count of votes, and of discerning the intent of the individual
Secondly, we believe that in determining the intent of the voter, as the Texas
law states clearly, and as Mr. Mone has indicated the Massachusetts Supreme
Court has said, the effort to punch through, where it provides a clear and ascertainable
intent on the part of the voter, should result in a counted vote.
QUESTION: Could you speak to the danger of either side, either candidate,
on tomorrow night declaring himself the president-elect? How worried are you
that that might happen?
MITCHELL: Well, I said in response to an earlier question that Vice President
Bush has not asked my--I'm sorry--Vice President Gore has not asked my advice
in that regard. You didn't ask, but I'll volunteer that Governor Bush has not
asked my advice in that regard either, and therefore I wouldn't presume to tell
them what they should say or do tomorrow night.
But it is clear from the public statements made by Governor Bush on Tuesday,
and by Gore campaign officials on Thursday, that they have both determined that
this process is going forward no matter what the result is on Saturday.
So that, I believe, is merely a statement of fact. And the question of what
will happen on Sunday night, while interesting, will not be decisive in terms
of whether the process goes forward. It will go forward. My interest in seeing
that it does--is in seeing that it does so in a fair and orderly way that results
in the will of the people being determined and implemented, and in enabling
whichever of these men is ultimately sworn in as president to govern effectively
in what will obviously be a very difficult time.
Thank you all very much.
Thank you, Mr. Mone.