James Baker: Accept the recount, Al!

A transcript of a statement by the former secretary of state, who says the vice president lost the Florida vote and should concede to Bush.

By James Baker

Published November 11, 2000 4:22PM (EST)

As I said yesterday, the vote in Florida has been counted and then recounted. Governor George W. Bush was the winner of the vote. He was also the winner of the recount.

Based on these results, we urged the Gore campaign to accept the finality of the election, subject only to the counting of the overseas absentee ballots in accordance with law.

They obviously have decided instead to proceed with a third count of votes in a number of predominantly Democratic counties. This course of action is regrettable.

Moreover, in recent days, supporters of our opponents have filed a number of lawsuits -- at least eight at the last count -- challenging the results of the election.

As I explained yesterday, "We will ... vigorously oppose the Gore campaign's efforts to keep recounting until it likes the result."

Therefore, this morning, we have asked that the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida preserve the integrity, consistency, equality, and finality of the most important civic action that Americans take: Their votes in an election for president of the United States.

We feel we have no other choice.

The manual vote count sought by the Gore campaign would not be more accurate than an automated count. Indeed, it would be less fair and less accurate. Human error, individual subjectivity, and decisions to "determine the voter's intent" would replace precision machinery in tabulating millions of small marks and fragile hole punches. There would be countless opportunities for the ballots to be subject to a host of risks. The potential for mischief would exist to a far greater degree than in the automated count and recount that these ballots have already been subject to. It is precisely for these reasons that over the years our democracy has moved increasingly from hand counting of votes to machine counting. Machines are neither Republicans nor Democrats -- and therefore can be neither consciously nor unconsciously biased.

There are not even any procedures or standards to govern this third and selective vote count. A manual recount permits the electoral boards in each county in Florida to determine the intent of the voter -- without setting forth any standards for deciding that intent. One electoral board may decide to count votes that are not fully punched; another may not. One electoral board may decide that a stray mark indicated an intent to vote for a particular candidate; another may not. One electoral board may try to determine the intent of voters who marked multiple candidates on a ballot; another may not.

If this new selective recounting process proceeds, the votes in some counties will be counted in a completely different and standardless manner from votes in the remaining counties.

At this point, a changed result would not be the most accurate result, simply the most recent result.

Therefore, we ask that there be no further recounts of already recounted ballots.

We regret that we were compelled to take this action. At some point, however, Florida's voters -- indeed, all Americans -- are entitled to some finality in the election process.

I keep remembering that day when I was with President Ford following another hard-fought election decided by a razor-thin margin. Many in the room advised President Ford to challenge the result with just one recount. President Ford said no. He spoke about the country's interest.

Now, 24 years later, our opponents have lost a vote -- and even a recounting of that vote. Sadly, they have chosen another course and so the country has been pushed into a very different situation. As I cautioned yesterday, there is no reasonable end to this process if it slips away ... first in Florida, but potentially in other states.

But there is still a fair way to end all this. We urge our opponents to join us in accepting the recounted vote of the people of Florida -- subject of course to the result of a count of the overseas ballots. If they do, we will promptly dismiss this action.

James Baker

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2000 Elections