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Florida 2000
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Transcript: James A. Baker III on Fla. Recount
Friday , November 10, 2000

Bush campaign adviser James A. Baker III addresses the media.


JAMES A BAKER III: Governor George W. Bush won 31 states with a total of 271 electoral votes. The vote here in Florida was very close, but when it was counted Governor Bush was the winner.

Now, three days later, the vote in Florida has been recounted. Over two-thirds of the state election supervisors overseeing that recount are Democrats. At the end of this recount, Governor Bush is still the winner, subject only to counting the overseas ballots, which traditionally have favored the Republican candidates. No evidence of vote fraud, either in the original vote or in the recount, has been presented.

Now, the Gore campaign is calling for yet another recount in selective and predominantly Democratic counties where there were large unexplained vote swings in their favor in the recount. It appears that the Gore campaign is attempting to unduly prolong the country's national presidential through endless challenges to the results of the vote here in Florida.

Furthermore, the more often ballots are recounted, especially by hand, the more likely it is that human errors, like lost ballots and other risks, will be introduced. This frustrates the very reason why we have moved from hand counting to machine counting.

Let me say a word specifically about the Palm Beach ballot. There's a rule of law to be followed in all elections. The state of Florida has established legal procedures to design, approve, publish, and if need be to protest ballots before the election. The ballot was designed by a Democratic elections supervisor. She approved it.

The Democratic Party did not question it before the election. This butterfly-type ballot was used in recent elections in the same county and under the same rules and, again, the Democrats did not complain.

The overwhelming majority of voters who used the ballot in this election understood it and they cast valid votes.

Our lawyers have confirmed the legality of this ballot. And we have with us here today relevant copies--copies of the relevant Florida statutes if you would like to have them.

The Gore campaign has also tried to make a lot of the fact that double-marked ballots are not counted. A key principle in American elections is one person, one vote. If we have ballots with two votes, of course we can't count them, and of course we can't guess about them.

Ballots that are double-marked can't be evidence of the voter's intent to vote one way or the other. No jurisdiction in the United States of America would accept such a ballot as a valid vote, and Florida law specifically does not. This happens in every precinct and in every election. And the procedure is very clear. Those ballots have to be disregarded.

We understand--and let me say that I understand personally, because I've been involved in them, that it is frustrating to lose an election by a narrow margin, but it happens. And it happened to the Republican presidential candidates in 1960 and in 1976. Both Vice President Nixon and President Ford put the country's interests first. They accepted the vote for the good of the country.

It is important, ladies and gentlemen, that there be some finality to the election process. What if we insisted on recounts in other states that today are very, very close--for example, in Wisconsin, or in Iowa, or, if we should happen to lose it, in New Mexico.

Let the country step back for a minute and pause and think about what's at stake here. This may be the last chance to do that. There is no reasonable end to this process if it slips away.

The purpose of our national election is to establish a constitutional government, not unending legal wrangling. We will, therefore, vigorously oppose the Gore campaign's efforts to keep recounting, over and over, until it happens to like the result. For the good of the country, and for the sake of our standing in the world, the campaigning should end and the business of an orderly transition should begin.


QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, are you saying that Vice President Gore should concede before next Friday's official count here in Florida ends?

BAKER: I didn't say that, Wolf, but let me--let me say that I am drawn back to the memory of 1960. I'm particularly drawn back to the memory of 1976 when I was in the room, and many, many people were arguing to President Ford that he should insist upon a recount, because he was only some 7,000 votes or so down in Ohio, and the change of a few votes would have tipped the election. And he said, ``No.'' He said, ``That's not what would be good for the country.''

What I am saying here is that Florida has voted twice; Governor Bush won the first vote. We have had a transparent and fair and orderly recount, and he has won that. And there have been no challenges, by way of vote fraud or otherwise in the recount.

And I think that it is very responsible of Governor Bush, if I can put it this way, to say, there needs to be some closure at some point. He is not saying today that he has won this election, because he acknowledges that the overseas ballots have to be counted, because they have not yet been counted.

But to suggest that we should keep counting ballots that have been counted once, and even twice, over and over again, I think is not a fair position to take, nor a responsible position to take. And it would be my hope that the candidate of the other party would acknowledge that.

Yes, sir?


BAKER: No, I haven't said that we would challenge, nor have I said that we would not challenge. What I've done is use that as an example of the kind of endless wrangling and procedures and legal maneuvering that we can get into, if we keep going down the path we are currently on, as a consequence of the Gore campaign insisting--asking for recount after recount after recount.

And what I'm saying further is that that will destroy, in my opinion, the traditional process for selecting our presidents in this country, which happens, in my view, to be one of the strengths of American democracy.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Mr. Baker, how long a time is too long a time to wait for a result here?

BAKER: The law of Florida requires that with respect to the overseas ballots, we wait until they can legally be counted. They have not been counted.

But except for that, the responsible and fair and legally I think sufficient and correct position to take would be for us to acknowledge that if we keep going down the path we're on, if we keep being put in the position of having to respond to recount after recount after recount of the same ballots, then we just can't sit on our hands and we will be forced to do what might be in our best personal interest, but not--it would not be in the best interests of our wonderful country.

And what's happening now, if I may say so, is not in the best interests of our country. And there's a way--and there's a way to stop that. There's a way to bring this thing back before it spirals totally out of control. And bring it back to--bring it back to rationality and to finality. And that's the responsible position, I think, that it would be my hope that both candidates could take.

Governor Bush has made it very clear that he participated in an open, transparent recount. He's willing to await the judgment of these overseas ballots because they've never been counted. But as far as continuing to play this game of unending wrangling and recount after recount after recount, that's just not something that we can do.




BAKER: Well, we are more than two months away from the Inauguration. But I would almost bet you that in many foreign countries, they're having a lot of difficulty understanding exactly what's going on here, and why, particularly given the tradition, the way we've traditionally handled these close elections in the United States where the losing party puts the nation's interests first, they're probably going to have some difficulty understanding what's happening here.



BAKER: I'm making the assertion that Governor Bush won the recount. You all know what the numbers are. I'm also...


BAKER: Wait a minute, just a minute. Do you want an answer or do you want to make a speech?

Let me say this. What I'm saying is, we know why the certifications have been delayed from these very same counties where we have these large, unexplained shifts toward the other campaign. If the purpose here is delay and endless wrangling and recount after recount after recount, that game can be played, but that's not the way--that's not the road we ought to go down, that's what I'm saying.


BAKER: Well, wait a minute.

QUESTION: Secretary Baker, the reason some of those ballots were not counted on Election Day and again on the recount is because there was no hole punched. There are reports that some ballots have pencil markings. Some voters were a little confused and circled the candidate's name rather than do a hole punch. Does the Bush campaign believe those votes should not be counted?

BAKER: Well, let me refer you to the lawyer, the Florida lawyers on that. If the law of Florida is that in order to vote a machine ballot you have to punch a hole, and that isn't done, then those votes are not going to be counted. That's all I can tell you.

Yes? One more question. Right here.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary?


QUESTION: Is Governor Bush concerned that because of the slim margin and there are so many questions about this vote that he might be seen as not waiting long enough to ensure that all Americans--Floridians have voted and that their votes are counted?

BAKER: Well, all Floridians have voted and their votes have not only been counted, they've been counted twice, except for the overseas ballot. That's, I think, beyond dispute. Nobody's going to dispute that. Double-marked ballots haven't been counted, but there's no jurisdiction in the United States where we count double-marked ballots.

Thank you very, much.

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