Statements by James Baker 11/21/00
Text of statement by former Secretary of State James Baker regarding Tuesday's decision by the Florida Supreme Court extending the state's deadline for accepting vote tallies. Transcription provided by eMediaMillWorks, Inc.: ––– Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. At Monday's oral argument before the Florida Supreme Court, Justice Harding asked a key question about Florida's electoral laws and standards. He said, "Is it right to change the rules in the middle of the game?" The Florida Supreme Court and some Democratic county electoral boards have decided to do just that. In keeping with Section 4 of Article II of the United States Constitution, Florida's legislature enacted a detailed statutory system for voting, for recounting, and for certifying results of elections. This statutory system reflects careful decisions about the separation of powers among various branches of government. It also strikes a balance between Florida's interests in achieving finality, and in permitting multiple recounts by various methods. Today, Florida's Supreme Court rewrote the legislature's statutory system, assumed the responsibilities of the executive branch, and sidestepped the opinion of the trial court as the finder of fact. Two weeks after the election, that court has changed the rules, and has invented a new system for counting the election results. So one should not now be surprised if the Florida legislature seeks to affirm the original rules. In addition, the Gore campaign is working to try to change the counting rules and standards in the three counties that are still manually recounting so as to overcome Governor Bush's continuing lead after all of the counts and recounts. Statistical experts have indicated that, based on the results so far, unless the counting standards are changed, there won't be enough votes to overcome Governor Bush's lead. So they now argue that a punch card vote should count even if there appears to be only an indentation. This is, of course, is the famous dimpled chad. And at least one of the Democratic-controlled county election boards has already decided to use this new standard and the others are considering it. No hole in the ballot is necessary, not even one loose corner is necessary, not even seeing any light through the ballot is necessary. Even if a voter decided not to make a choice because he or she could not decide between two closely competitive candidates, the Democratic county election boards can divine a choice based on an apparent indentation. This new standard for manual recounts directly contradicts a guideline issued on November 2, 1990, by Theresa LePore, the Democratic supervisor of elections for Palm Beach County. In that statement, Ms. LePore wrote, and I quote, "but a chad that is fully attached, bearing only an indention, should not be counted as a vote," close quote. All of this is unfair and unacceptable. It is not fair to change the election laws of Florida by judicial fiat after the election has been held. It is not fair to change the rules and standards governing the counting or recounting of votes after it appears that one side has concluded that is the only way to get the votes it needs. And it is also not fair to refuse the count, even once, the ballots of many of our servicemen and women overseas. It is simply not fair, ladies and gentlemen, to change the rules, either in the middle of the game, or after the game has been played. Therefore we intend to examine and consider whatever remedies we may have to correct this unjust result. QUESTION: Secretary Baker, first of all, can you be more specific about what the Bush team might do now in the way of an appeal or some other challenge? And second of all, when you alluded to the Florida legislature, what relief would you seek from the Florida legislature? BAKER: Well, I'm not suggesting that we are seeking relief – (that) we've made a decision to seek relief from the Florida legislature. But it does occur to me that the Supreme Court has pretty well rewritten the Florida electoral code even though they disclaim, in the opinion, that they intend to do so. And so I would not be surprised to see the legislature want to, perhaps, take action to get back to the original statutory provisions that were in place initially. I cannot tell you specifically tonight what additional actions Governor Bush and Secretary Cheney might authorize. There are some actions that we can take. And as I indicated in my statement, I think it's incumbent upon us to consider and examine whatever remedies are available to us to reverse what we consider to be an unjust result. Yes? QUESTION: If the legislature... BAKER: Just a minute; I've got a question right here. QUESTION: If the legislature takes this up, would the Bush campaign support that, condone it? BAKER: Depends on what they take up. QUESTION: But if they take up a remedy as, I guess, I've heard some members talk about setting the standard. Earlier a state senator said that he felt the Supreme Court was essentially trying to undo what the legislature did. BAKER: I think that ... QUESTION: And that's what you're saying. BAKER: I think the legislature – some people in the legislature – probably feel that the court has undone the statutory provisions that were laid out in compliance with the U.S. Constitution for the conduct of the election in Florida. QUESTION: So if the Republican-controlled legislature then writes a bill that would redo it, would the Bush campaign support and endorse that? BAKER: Well, I think we'd have to see what the bill said before I could answer that question for you. We'd have to see what it said. I can't give you a carte blanche answer here today. Yes? QUESTION: If you're behind on Sunday at 5 p.m., if the vote total puts you behind, would you not accept those results? BAKER: Well, I don't know. I'm going to give you the same answer that you've been getting from the Gore campaign for, since the 8th of November: All options have to remain on the table. We have to see what the situation is at that time. Yes, sir. QUESTION: As ... pointed out, you've been involved in many presidential campaigns; this one looks like it's ending in a court room. I wonder, you think that's a sign of the times, and is that troubling to you? BAKER: Yes, it does a little bit; it troubles me as I indicated right here in this room on November the 8th. But I've never been involved in any that were quite as much of a dead heat as this one. But I think it is, I think it is troubling. On the other hand, we are a resilient nation and our Constitution and laws provide for remedies and actions and procedures in the event that a very close election like this happens. And therefore, I think it's important that we look at those and examine them and consider whether or not to move on any one or more of them.