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2000-11-10

Democrats Mount Legal Challenges to Florida Vote, Election Still Up in the Air

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Republican George W. Bush’s campaign said today that Democrats should drop legal challenges in Florida now that a recount showed the Texas governor had been elected president but Al Gore’s camp said they would not give up until the legal system had "run its course." [includes rush transcript]

The Associated Press said that with all 67 counties in Florida recounted, Bush was ahead of Gore by a mere 327 votes out of an estimated 6 million in the state. Under Florida law the state has until next Friday to certify the final election totals, giving officials time to count ballots mailed in by Florida voters living abroad.

With a week to go before the state’s votes will be official, several lawsuits have been filed in courts over the makeup of the ballot in Palm Springs County as well as other alleged irregularities. Thousands of Gore supporters across the county were fearful that because of the confusing layout of the ballot they had accidentally voted for Reform Party candidate Patrick Buchanan.

Florida’s 25 electoral votes are key to both camps winning the 270 Electoral College votes needed to become president. Gore won the popular vote by a slim margin but it is the majority vote in the Electoral College that decides who becomes the next president.

The focus was on Florida but a winner still had not been declared in Oregon and recounts were possible in some areas of Iowa and New Mexico, won by Gore, and New Hampshire, taken by Bush.

Guests:

  • Mitch Caesar, Chair of Democratic Party in Florida.
  • Evelyn Rivera, Vice-chair of the Democratic Party in Florida.
  • Ron Walters, Professor of Political Science at the University of Maryland.
  • Roody Bartholemy, from the Haitian Center for Family Services in Palm Beach.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: You are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!, as we move quickly on now to our next segment, which is happening in Florida, where the recount is taking place and a lot of questions have been raised in a lot of areas. Juan?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Amy, as I said earlier in the show, while there’s a lot of attention being focused on the 19,000 voided ballots in Palm Beach County and the 3,000 that went to Pat Buchanan, there’s another 6,600 votes in nearby Broward County that are the subject of continuing debate, and there will be a hearing this morning about that. And we have on the line with us Mitch Caesar, the chairman of the Democratic Party in Broward County, to explain to us what happened.

Mitch Caesar, welcome to Democracy Now!

MITCH CAESAR: Thank you. I appreciate it. Unfortunately, I only have a few moments, but I do appreciate the opportunity.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Could you explain to the listeners around the country what happened in Broward County?

MITCH CAESAR: What’s happened is that there were a number of folks who cast ballots, and the total of those who cast their ballots don’t equal the total of those who came to the polling place and took a ballot. What that means is there are three ways that that vote might not have been counted.

There were approximately 14,600 votes that initially weren’t counted, if you will. Almost 8,000 of them were eliminated the other day, because folks had voted for two candidates or more, so they’re disqualified. That left the 6,600 and change. Of those, only two reasons for them not to be counted: one is they simply skipped the race — perhaps they didn’t like anybody running — or because we have a little punch-card system where you punch a hole in the ballot, if it’s not punched all the way through, the computer may not read the ballot as being voted upon.

So we in the Democratic Party, and what I’ve asked for, is for a hand count, hand-eye look, a count of those 6,600-and-some ballots. Obviously, it could have a small or a significant effect on the outcome of the presidency.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And in Broward County, what was the breakdown of the vote, in general, between Gore, Bush and Nader?

MITCH CAESAR: Of those votes counted, Gore got 68% of the vote and George Bush got 31% of the vote. The margin in Broward County was about 209,000 actual votes, but the percentages were 68% to 31%.

JUAN GONZALEZ: So, conceivably, if there were significant numbers of people who just punched the hole incorrectly, Broward County could be the county that actually decides who is the next president?

MITCH CAESAR: I think what we’ve learned in the last few days: in politics, almost anything is possible.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain how the punch-card system works and how you could have had all these votes for other candidates, but not for the president, if in fact someone did vote for the president, but it didn’t get registered?

MITCH CAESAR: Well, again, if you punch a hole and it’s not all the way through, it’s not clean or a little piece of it’s called a "chad" is hanging, the computer may not read that, or if it’s only there’s a slight indentation and it hasn’t been pushed out at all, clearly Florida statute says that the intent of the voter is clear, that there was an attempt to push it out and didn’t realize it wasn’t pushed out, and that vote must be counted, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: So what’s going to happen this morning?

MITCH CAESAR: Well, I’m going before the canvassing board, made up of a judge, the head of the County Commission, the supervisor of elections. And we’re making the request that they allow a hand count of those ballots. If that indeed is granted, then a hand count will begin whenever they designate it, which could be today, tomorrow or Monday.

AMY GOODMAN: On what grounds could they say no?

MITCH CAESAR: Frankly, I’d have a hard time understanding any grounds in which they could say no. We think it’s a very small, specific, narrow request. It’s a request that’s totally orderly, almost pro forma, in that it’s in line with just counting votes.

You know, we talk about every vote counting, and we tell our children that they have to exercise their rights to vote, and here are folks who wait in line for an hour or two, actually went there, voted, and perhaps voted correctly. And therefore, they certainly have the right to have their vote count.

AMY GOODMAN: Does the fact that Jeb Bush is the governor have any effect on all of this?

MITCH CAESAR: I don’t think so. I think everything will be administered properly. Certainly that’s my hope. And I’d be surprised if it wasn’t conducted in an honorable manner.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, thank you very much for giving us a few minutes. And good luck to you in the hearing this morning. We were speaking with Mitch Caesar, the chairman of the Democratic Party of Broward County.

Now that we have someone else on the line with the continuing problems that are occurring throughout Florida, and this is the situation I mentioned earlier that was occurring in Orlando, Florida, in the central part of the state, where hundreds of Puerto Ricans had problems voting. And we have on the line with us Evelyn Rivera, who is the vice-chair of the Orange County Democratic Party. And Orange County is the county where Orlando is situated.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Evelyn Rivera.

EVELYN RIVERA: Good morning. How are you?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Good. Could you tell us a little bit about what happened on Election Day in and around Orlando?

EVELYN RIVERA: Well, let me backtrack a little bit. I want to say that in Orange County, there was a big push to register new voters, and the majority of the voters that were registered were Puerto Ricans or Hispanics. And many of these people did not receive a letter saying where they had to go and vote, or if they went to their precinct, once they got there they were turned away. We have instances and people that have voted there many times, and then they went this time to vote and they were not on the list.

So what we want to do is we want to see if there’s an investigation on what happened, why these people were disenfranchised when they went to vote.

AMY GOODMAN: This was the precincts in and around Orlando.

EVELYN RIVERA: Yes. And here, the way that the elections were run was very, very professional. We have a Bill Cowles, who is our supervisor of elections. He’s very professional and very down to earth and very down to the law of how things are run. However, you know, it’s out of his control, once you go into the precinct, of what happens out there.

Now, there were people with the — some of the deputies inside the precinct that had computers that could have accessed information. So some of the people that went to vote, they could have received information right then and there of why they were able to vote or not able to vote.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, as I understand it, there were some — many Puerto Ricans who were asked for two pieces of identification?

EVELYN RIVERA: There were some precincts in which, you know, you were supposed to bring a photo ID and you were supposed to be asked your name and address. And in some instances, they were asked for more than one piece of identification.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And now, there are some people who claim that this is being alleged after the fact, after the election. But what happened in Orlando on Election Day that indicates that you made your complaint even before the closing of the polls?

EVELYN RIVERA: There was a — some of — we were getting phone calls of people that were not allowed to vote. They were not even given an affidavit to be able to cast their vote. In some instances, there were people that would sign their affidavit, but were not given a ballot. So that’s what we want to find out, why this happened. We don’t know yet. So we have to go and find out.

JUAN GONZALEZ: But there was an actual formal complaint registered with the Justice Department?

EVELYN RIVERA: Yes, there was a complaint filed with the Justice Department by one of the volunteers by the name of Trini Quiros phon.. And she based on the — her complaint that the people were being asked for two forms of identification. And that’s against the law.

AMY GOODMAN: Who was asking?

EVELYN RIVERA: The deputies in some of the precincts. See, the way that the process is here is that the supervisor of elections puts out a notice for you to apply for these jobs. Of course, you cannot check what political party they belong to, because that’s against the law. So they come and they work. And they are given training. Whatever happened in the precincts, I don’t know. I wasn’t there with them. But I know in some precincts they were asking for two forms of identification.

AMY GOODMAN: We are also joined on the line, Evelyn Rivera, who is vice-chair of the Democratic Party in Orange County, Florida, by Roody Bartholemy, who is from the Haitian Center for Family Services in Palm Beach. Roody Bartholemy, welcome to Democracy Now! Roody?

RON WALTERS: I think you’ve called up Ron Walters.

AMY GOODMAN: Ron, it’s good to have you with us. And also, Roody, are you there?

ROODY BARTHOLEMY: Yes, I am there.

AMY GOODMAN: Hi. Can you tell us what happened in Palm Beach with the Haitian community?

ROODY BARTHOLEMY: First of all, we must say generally what happened is a sudden — not really sudden, but a very understanding reaction of frustration and dissatisfaction, when people — when we start witnessing the result, how tight the election was in — late in the evening that day, and people were — they started to raise their concerns in terms of who they have in fact voted for. And the next morning, when we hard, I mean, from CNN, you know, watching and listening to all the medias, I have to say that it just like was a surge in the Haitian community in terms of concerns, the ballot, the way that it was designed and the lack of information. And, of course, also the way that some of the voters and the Haitian voters, they were treated, in terms of at the precincts.

We had a show right after the day of the elections, and many callers, Haitian — of Haitian descent, you know, or origin, they have called and voiced their concerns in the way that they were treated. Some of them said that they are not even sure — well, although that they are sure they voted for Gore, but they are not even sure that their ballots, you know, were dropped in the appropriate box. That’s one of the many cases. And, of course, I have heard the other [inaudible], you know, on your show, and some of the issues with — that’s the same. They’re the same complaints in terms of treatment, in terms of confusion, you know, in the ballots.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you something. We have all seen now from TV and the newspapers the picture of the ballot in Palm Beach County, which is an unusual one. You’ve got, both on the left and right column, the names of candidates. So you’ve got Bush in the left, and then in the right column you’ve got Buchanan, and then under Bush you’ve got Gore. But it is a little hard to follow the holes, because they are all in the center, whether it’s left or right column. Anyway, that was a little confusing. I hope people actually saw this to understand it.

ROODY BARTHOLEMY: Exactly.

AMY GOODMAN: But what I hadn’t known before is something that you have raised, which is the issue of those who can’t read or write. There are photographs of the candidates there?

ROODY BARTHOLEMY: No. No, no. No photographs. And I think what upsets the most or probably frustrates the most is the fact that — an explanation, you know, attempted to — for this matter is saying that it’s a matter of illiteracy, that the voters could not read to a point that — well, we know that, you know, I mean, in the entire world, that people are — they are having the perception right now that Palm Beachers or residents of Palm Beach County, especially in West Palm Beach, they are illiterate or they are inept, and so on. It’s very frustrating.

And this image that is being built right now, it’s unfair, to the point that — it’s very difficult to read the ballot. But what hurts the most is that there was no prior explanation, you know, or at least warning or information that was given in terms of this new design in Palm Beach County. No one knew. And in West Palm Beach especially, where we have 60,000 to 80,000 Haitians, many of them are voting for the first time, if it’s not for the second time. It’s just for the first time, many of them. And we know that the elderly population of Jewish descent that we have there also — well, they said that the elderly, they need glasses to read and so on, big characters, you know, Reader Digest and so on style, you know, big print. But it’s not the matter of not being able to read. It’s a matter of interpreting or following, you know, when we vote, in terms of readability. It’s very difficult, very confusing to read, you know, appropriately this type of ballot.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Roody Bartholemy, in an interview I did with Reverend Jesse Jackson yesterday, he’s indicated that in Miami, there were some problems in the Haitian and black community, that posters were put up with Al Gore’s picture outside the polling places, but telling people to pull — to vote for the wrong number on the ballot, and that some of the Haitians who went into the polling places were actually directed, when they asked questions, to vote for Bush. Have you heard those reports in West Palm Beach, or is this just something that happened in Miami?

ROODY BARTHOLEMY: No, I have not heard that this — I have not heard this. But I will not be surprised. And since Reverend Jackson mentioned it, I’m sure that did happen. But I have no direct [inaudible], so I have not confirmed that, in terms of putting pictures of one candidate and asking or trying to persuade the voters to vote for the other guy.

But in West Palm Beach, it’s different. And I think the ballot, the ballot design, the new designing of the ballot and the unfamiliarity of the voters to this type of newly designed ballot is the main question, because definitely they did not want to vote for Pat Buchanan. Or, you know, many concerns, the many calls that we have received, they say that — some of them, this is the [inaudible] Buchanan.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Roody Bartholemy and Evelyn Rivera, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Roody Bartholemy of the Haitian Center for Family Services in Palm Beach. Evelyn Rivera, vice-chair of the Democratic Party in Orange County, Florida.

We’re going to take a break. When we come back, we’ll be joined by Ron Walters and ask him about the Electoral College: Where does this whole microscope on how the electoral process works in this country leave us? Is the Electoral College threatened? Is that a good thing?

And then, we’re going to go to Texas, where George W. Bush has been standing by — not for an interview on Democracy Now!, but waiting for the results of the election. But he also made another decision yesterday, and that was to follow through on the execution of a young Mexican national named Miguel Flores. And we’re going to find out what happened at 6:20 yesterday, descriptions of people who were there. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: You’re listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, here with Juan Gonzalez, as we continue on Florida, the state of confusion. We’re joined by Ron Walters, who is distinguished leadership, scholar and professor of political science at the University of Maryland. Juan?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes, well, Ron Walters, I’d like to ask you one question. I saw some reports in some of the newspapers today about what could possibly happen in the Electoral College, and there were some reports that if there is a legal challenge and there are no electors chosen by December 18, I think it is when the electors are supposed to vote, that conceivably the vote could go on without counting the Florida votes, in which case it would be just a majority of whoever was seated as an elector at the time of the vote on December 18. Is that accurate? Or is that —

RON WALTERS: That’s accurate. There are all kinds of constitutional loopholes that have not been filled by constitutional amendments or by precedent. And that’s one of them. This is a totally unprecedented situation that we’re facing now, and people can come up with any kind of scenario. But the practical force of this is that I don’t think that’s going to happen. There’s too much at stake. The legal system, of course, is responsive. There are indications that the judges want to move quickly. As a matter of fact, there was a suit filed in Miami two days ago. The judge scheduled a hearing on that suit the next day. So there’s some indications that the legal system understands how important this is, and they want to move forward quickly.

AMY GOODMAN: Just a little background, because I think we’ve discussed this before. But the Electoral College, I think, in general, makes people’s eyes glaze over. But right now, everyone is very concerned and focused on it, how it came into being, why the popular vote is not the determining vote for the President of the United States.

RON WALTERS: Well, the Electoral College came into being at the time the Constitution was being written, primarily to make possible for some of the leading elites to select a president of the United States. And what they did was to base the popular vote on the states. Now we all vote for president, but that is registered at the state level. So it’s the popular vote in the state that matters. So if one candidate wins the popular vote in the state, then the electors in that state are the ones to cast the votes. So we don’t vote directly for the president. We vote, in effect, for electors in that particular state that you’re living in.

AMY GOODMAN: And who are these electors?

RON WALTERS: The electors are chosen by different methods in different states. In some states, they’re appointed by the governor. They’re a combination of appointment by the governor and by other officials. In some states, they’re put on the ballot during the primary season and voted on just like everybody else, and they’re identified as electors.

AMY GOODMAN: Of course, in Florida, the governor is Jeb Bush, the brother of George W. Bush. How are they chosen there?

RON WALTERS: That’s right. And in Florida, they were chosen by a process of nomination by the party, Republican Party and the Democratic Party in the state of Texas.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And what is your best guess about what happens here at this point? Or do you envision that a legal challenge would go beyond December 18 and that we’d be facing the possibility of an inaugural date on January 20 with the presidency not decided? That happened once before. I think it went up to a few days before the actual inauguration, didn’t it?

RON WALTERS: Yes. I don’t expect that this will — that will happen. We’ve got almost three months for the transition to take place. And again, I think that the courts are responsive to all of this. The problem, of course, is with the counting. How long will it actually take to do the counting? Now, officials in Florida have said that by next Tuesday, they want to have all of the sixty-seven counties recounted, except that two counties, Broward and Miami-Dade, have not determined that they are going to participate in the recount. Well, I think they probably will, because if they don’t, then there will be an injunction. There will be some legal action to force them to do it.

In any case, by next Tuesday, the process of recounting all of the sixty-seven counties will have taken place. And then you’re talking about the vexing problem, of course, in Palm Beach County with probably a re-vote. That is a different question. And that’s going to take a while, if in fact the judges order it. The judges may not order it.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, that really is something if the whole county comes out to vote again. And then we just heard this discussion from Broward County with something like, what, 6,600 votes, cards that this morning they’re going to be asking a judge to weigh in on, to have them hand counted to see if the pieces of paper that were punched out were actually punched, since the other candidates were chosen, but it seems that the presidential choice did not come through.

RON WALTERS: Well, Amy, we ought to keep this in perspective, because this — Florida’s part of the South. And for hundreds of years, the practice of invalidating by very sophisticated methods the votes of blacks and browns and poor people have been a part of the landscape. And here, we have reports coming from all over the place. For example, the NAACP has found that bags of ballots an elderly poll worker brought into the office the following day, she forgot to deliver the night before, bags turning up in places like Hillsborough, a black man being asked to be identified or turned away, 500 people turned away in another county.

So this widespread, it looks like, intimidation of voters, loss of a lot of these voting ballots, so that even beside what’s going on in Palm Beach, you have a pattern here in some of the other places, what it looks like, widespread voter fraud.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, the electors of the Electoral College, they can vote for someone else? Even if Florida goes to Gore or goes to Bush, they could just change their vote individually?

RON WALTERS: Yes. There are two sets of electors chosen. Each one — each party chooses a set. And, for example, if the Republicans win, then nothing — in twenty-five states, nothing keeps the electors from, say, voting for the Democrat.

AMY GOODMAN: And those are called faithless electors.

RON WALTERS: They’re called faithless electors, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Ron Walters, I want to thank you for being with us, distinguished leadership scholar and professor of political science at the University of Maryland.

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