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," close quote.
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 the result.
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 Texas.
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 work now?
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 should concede?
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 party.
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 the election?
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 other states.
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 voter.
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.