Good morning again, ladies and gentlemen.
Let me begin by repeating what I said yesterday: The vote in Florida has been counted, and the vote in Florida has been recounted. Governor George W. Bush was the winner of the vote, and he was also the winner of the recount.
Based on these results, we urge the Gore campaign to accept the finality of the election, subject, of course, to the counting of the absentee, the overseas absentee, ballots, in accordance with law.
They obviously have decided instead to proceed with yet a third count of votes in a number of prominently 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, by last count - challenging, in different ways, the results of the election.
I said yesterday that we would vigorously oppose the Gore campaign's efforts to keep recounting until it likes the result. And therefore, this morning we have asked that the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida preserve the integrity and the consistency and the 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, quote, ''determine the voters' intent,'' close quote, 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 whole host of risks. The potential for mischief would exist to a far greater degree than in the automated count and recount that these very ballots have already been subjected to.
It is precisely, ladies and gentlemen, for these reasons that our democracy over the years 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 at all 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, and 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 the votes in the remaining counties. At this point, a changed result would not be the most accurate result; it would simply be 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, and 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 that was 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. They've even lost a recount of that vote. And sadly, they have chosen another course, and so the country has been pushed in a very different direction.
As I cautioned yesterday, there is no reasonable end to this process if it slips away, first in Florida, but potentially in other states as well.
But there is still a fair way to end all this. We urge our opponents to join us, join with us in accepting the recounted vote of the people of Florida, subject, of course, to the result of a count of the overseas ballots, which are greater than the present tabulation of the recounted vote. If they will do this, we will promptly dismiss this action.
Just a minute, just wait a minute.
QUESTION: Secretary Baker, was there a concern in the Bush camp that hand counting in a predominantly Democratic, that voted predominantly Democratic in the election, could put your margin at risk?
BAKER: Well, the concerns are those I've just alluded to in my statement. There is much greater chance for human error. The relevant statutes give no standards or objectives to the canvassing boards as to how they are to be guided in determining voter intent; it can be a very, very subjective process.
And indeed, as I think I pointed out in the statement, the potential for mischief in a situation that is not an ordinary vote-counting situation - when votes are cast in a ordinary presidential election, the people receiving those votes have no idea, of course, that their actions could affect the result. This is an extraordinarily unique situation. Now let me make this very clear to everyone here: We are not alleging that there would be any mischief, and hopefully, if this should go forward, there will be none. And we will have our people there.
But the potential is there. And the big point here that I hope everyone will keep in mind is that the nation has left manual counting in favor of machine counting because it is more fair, it is more objective, and it is less subject to human error and potential mischief.
Excuse me, this gentleman had the second question and I cut him off.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, today is Veterans Day, the day that we remember when ... died to preserve freedom and the right to vote. Why are you filing a lawsuit that in a sense deprives some people in their view of the right to vote?
BAKER: We are not doing that. We are preserving, in fact, the right to a constitutional process that has been traditionally followed in this country. That would be the effect, in fact, of this action.
And what we are saying is: There's been a vote, there has been a recount. And a third recount, which would be a manual recount, would be subject to all of the problems that I've outlined in my statement.
QUESTION: Secretary Baker, all that may be true, but a Republican official said this morning that such a challenge is, quote, ''on shaky ground,'' because under Florida law, the Democratic Party in Florida has 72 hours to ask for a hand recount, and the law apparently is very clear. What would you say to those who say that you're not willing to go for a lawful recount and that you're afraid of what the outcome will be?
BAKER: Well, we've gone for a lawful recount and we're not afraid of the outcome and we're quite willing to say here today, as we have over the course of the past several days, that we're willing to say that if we should lose the count of the overseas absentee ballots, it's over. We lose. And we're willing to respect the result, assuming that that count has been carried out in a proper manner.
So we've been very forthcoming about that from the very beginning. What we don't want is yet a third recount, a manual recount, if you will, that is subject to all of the deficiencies that I've just outlined here for you.
QUESTION: But isn't it true that a representative of the Bush campaign will be there during this hand recount? And why do you have a problem with that?
BAKER: Look, there are no standards. Yes, it is true, there will be representatives of both campaigns there. But there are no standards to guide the subjective intent of the electoral board, or the canvassing board as you call it here in Florida, and they can divine the intent of the voter. They can say, ''Well, I think the voter meant this,'' and they don't have to show any basis for that whatsoever, or any evidence for that.
Yes, right here?
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you pointed out yesterday you would be concerned that to continue any sort of legal action on the part of the Democrats simply prolongs what needs to be done. And you questioned whether or not this should not end as soon as possible for the best interests of the nation. Isn't this challenge that you're issuing today prolonging that and going against what is the lawful request for a manual count?
BAKER: I would hope it's not prolonging it. I don't think it's prolonging it. As I said in my statement, if the Gore campaign will simply join us, acknowledge that the votes in Florida have been counted, they have been recounted, the overseas absentees are to be counted, and agree with us that, subject to the count of those overseas absentee ballots, they, too, will respect the result, like we've said we will, the lawsuit's gone. It will be dismissed.
QUESTION: Then, if they continue these legal pursuits, whether it's an individual lawsuit questioning whether someone was able to rightfully vote, or any other legal remedies that they may consider to pursue, is it your suggestion, sir, that in some way this is unpatriotic, unstatesman-like?
BAKER: No, no, no. I haven't said that. I've just pointed out to you the fact that their supporters have filed eight lawsuits challenging the result. And so we were not the first to file a lawsuit. Their supporters filed eight lawsuits challenging the result.
And I have also said, I hope very clearly, that if they would simply say, ''Yes, we will respect the count, the result of the count of the overseas absentee ballots like you've said you will,'' we'll wait those six days and they'll wait those six days, whatever that shows, that will determine the winner in Florida, this action we filed would be dismissed.
QUESTION: Are you aware of any discussion between high-level members of the Gore campaign in Florida and ...
BAKER: I'm not aware of any discussions between high-level officials of the Gore campaign and canvassing board members, no, I'm not. So that's the way I would answer your question.
By the way, ladies and gentlemen, should you desire to have it, we have copies here of the action as well as copies of my statement.
Thank you all very much.