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In Baker's Words . . .

November 22, 2000|From Associated Press

Text of statement by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III 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 [Al] 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 Gov. [George W.] 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 Gov. Bush's lead. So they now argue that a punch-card vote should count even if there appears to be only an indentation.

This, 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 Nov. 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 to 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.

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