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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
May 16, 2002
Pages 1-5: Lucy Morgan supervises coverage of Florida state government for the St. Petersburg
Times. She talks about her experience with reporters coming to Tallahassee to cover the election
story. Morgan describes the reporters who had expected to stay a day and then had to buy
clothes because they ended up having to stay for thirty-six days. Morgan describes how
journalists would have to constantly change the focus of their news coverage because of the
continuous changes in positions and court rulings. She describes her staff as the "truth squad,"
saying that they had to correct the misinformation provided by journalists not familiar with
Florida law and politics.
Pages 6-10: Morgan talks about the challenges of covering a tumultuous presidential race. She
also offers her opinions as too why Gore lost the election. The role of votes for Ralph Nader and
Pat Bucchanan in the Gore/Bush election is discussed. Morgan also says that there were
essentially sixty-seven different areas deciding how to count votes because there was no standard
to how votes should be counted.
Pages 11-15: Morgan discusses the different ways in which people were recounting ballots. She
says that some were recounting the tallies instead of running the punch cards through the
machines again. Morgan describes the strategies of both the Democrats and the Republicans.
She also dispels ideas of intended discrimination towards voters.
Pages 16-20: Morgan talks about Katherine Harris' decisions regarding the election as well as
her perceived lack of knowledge concerning election law. Morgan talks about the problem of
having public officials who were also involved in the "campaign apparatus." The issue of when
absentee ballots and military ballots are postmarked is discussed.
Pages 21-25: She talks about the Seminole and Martin Counties in which identification numbers
were permitted to be added to ballot requests. She confronts the notion of ballot irregularities
versus tampering. Morgan talks about role the U.S. Supreme Court played in the recount debate
and, ultimately, the cause of Bush's victory in the election.
Pages 26-30: Morgan talks about the lawyers involved in the case She also discusses the
significance of the date and time that the Supreme Court decision was made. Morgan stresses the
lessons learned through the 2000 election.
Pages 31-35: She talks about the impact that the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks have had
on the public's psyche and may have on the 2004 election. Morgan describes the way the
election affected her personally and offers her opinions as a Florida journalist.
Interviewee: Lucy Morgan
Interviewer: Julian Pleasants
Date: May 16, 2002
P: This is May 16, 2002. This is Julian Pleasants and I am in Tallahassee, Florida,
talking with Lucy Morgan. Explain to me what assignments you had and what
activities you were involved in during the 2000 presidential election.
M: I generally supervise our coverage of state government in politics and write
some, so I was here on election night awaiting returns when we discovered we
were not going to learn who won the election right away. So, that was [my] role.
I was covering some myself and had reporters assigned, one of whom I sent to
the [Florida] Capitol late at night to await what we thought would be belated
P: It never came.
M: No. Not for thirty-six days.
P: What was Tallahassee like during the thirty-six days?
M: I guess one of the earliest signs of the invasion [was] when we all woke the next
morning and realized that we still didn't have a winner declared in the [race for
the] presidency. We prepared for a long haul. We dispatched people to Palm
Beach and I and my staff were here. We simply stood by waiting to get the count
in, for recounts to happen. One of the early signs, the day after the election, mid-
afternoon, one of my reporters was in the elections office on the eighteenth floor
of the Capitol and a reporter came in, threw her purse down on the counter and
announced I'm from the Los Angeles Times, someone here has to talk to me.
[That] was our first introduction to the belligerence of the outside world I guess,
and we laughed. Slowly, as the first day after the election went by, we became a
campground for out-of-town newspapers. The legislative officials decided very
early to let them simply set up broadcast areas underneath the overhang of the
Capitol and everywhere else around the Capitol grounds, so that we had what
became a trailer and tent city that sprang up almost overnight. Everybody
thought this might last a day or two in the beginning. In the end, they were
decorating the trailers and tents with Christmas lights, but it was a pretty
phenomenal invasion of news media. The time I thought the bottom was falling
was [when] I watched a Japanese TV group pitch a tent on the grounds of the
Supreme Court, and they let them [do that]. The state, I think, was as bewildered
as anybody. Then we began to get protesters coming in, on top of this. So, it
was an almost surreal scene, where we had at times chanting protesters,
carrying signs, many of whom were trying to get in the background for TV
broadcasting things that were set up. There was a moment where I was walking
back to the office and passed a guy wearing a paper-mache Pinocchio head
painted pink, with a long nose and the sign under it said Jeb-nocchio, referring to
the governor. I didn't even blink or look twice and decided that I had been
overcome by the whole thing. It was just a ludicrous scene.
P: I talked to some other people who were here who said it was difficult to get a
hotel room and difficult to get a restaurant. One person said they came to stay
two days and ended up having to go to Sears to buy underwear and clothes.
M: I think Bill Hemmer with CNN was one of those who came down here thinking he
would be here a day or two and wound up having to buy clothes, had to buy a
coat. It was very cold. Many of them had to buy extra underwear and things to
stay here because nobody anticipated, in the beginning, that this thing would last
thirty-six days. After all, how long does it take to count the votes? But as it got
drawn out and you have more and more people coming in, we even had some of
the big publications that sort of came in, in shifts, sending a second team down
after the first team wore out because it was an exhausting effort that went on,
seven days a week. We had press conferences coming one on top of another.
They let them set up in a senate meeting room at ground level, a press
conference room, and the way you knew who was about to have a press
conference was by whose flags went up.
The Democrats had a state flag and a U.S. flag, very plain, and if those were the
two flags in back, we knew the Democrats were going to have a press
conference. The Republicans decided that didn't look grand enough and they
ordered a dozen flags with very ornate flag poles with gold eagles on top, so
when the gold eagles started coming out with the flags, we knew the Republicans
were about to have something. In the early days, we had James Baker [U.S.
Secretary of State, 1989-1992; campaign manager for President George Bush,
1988] and Warren Christopher [U.S. Secretary of State, 1993-1997; Deputy
Secretary of State, 1977-1981] show up, [and] it became nothing unusual to see
one of them in a restaurant in town at night [or] at the end of the day. The hotel
room thing was hilarious because you had national news media who had come in
and gathered up hotel rooms at a relatively slow time in the year, who were
ordered out for football game weekends. The Florida-Florida State game
occurred shortly thereafter and I think these national news correspondents
thought they were so important that nobody would kick them out for a football
game, and many of them wound up having to move into private homes. We
opened our house to some of our own people. We realized at one point that we
had so many St. Petersburg Times alumni back that I had dinners for a couple of
nights of the alumni. We had somebody from The New York Times, The
Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The L.A. Times, The Chicago
Tribune, and two or three other publications that had once worked at The Times,
so I had a couple of dinners for them, just sort of a reunion-type thing. Almost
anybody that worked for a newspaper or a news organization anywhere in the
nation, that had ever worked in Florida, found it was a sure ticket back to Florida
because they knew something about Florida government.
P: Did Ricky Bragg [columnist, The New York Times; former writer at the St.
Petersburg Times] come back at all?
M: No, I did not see Bragg. I don't think he was back at all. The New York Times
had David Barstow [journalist, New York Times, wrote story after the 2000
election regarding absentee ballots] who had been on our staff previously. They
had more than one person here, but Barstow was the main one they were
depending on to know about Florida.
P: What was your reaction to all of the politicians coming in? Mark Racicot
[Montana governor, 1993-2001], who was the Governor of Montana, came in and
then the Democrats would counter with John Kerrey [U.S. Senator from
Massachusetts, 1985-present]. How did you approach their participation in this?
M: We interviewed them, we went to their press conferences. Most of them were
here for a drop-in press conference, where they said whatever they had to say
and got out. It became a situation where at noon every day, you would think,
well, I know what the story for tomorrow is going to be, and then by 4:00 it would
have gone totally the other way. Because we were so dependent on events that
were happening in courts in other places; we often would start out in one
direction, only to have a court filing or a court decision change the whole text of
the day. I remember one Saturday, the Florida Supreme Court had ordered them
to count again, so they started counting again on that Saturday morning, and we
had reporters down at the [Leroy] Collins [Florida governor, 1955-1961] Library,
where they were counting, watching the count.
P: That was Judge Terry Lewis [Leon County Circuit Court Judge, 1988-present]?
M: That was Judge Lewis' setup of the count. Some of us were watching the hourly
press conferences that were going on over there, and then all of a sudden the
U.S. Supreme Court issued an order stopping the count. We just were in a
constant turmoil of not knowing what the next event was going to bring us.
P: How many hours did you work every day?
M: Probably from about 8:00 in the morning until 10:00 or 11:00 at night, almost
every day, seven days a week. All of us, we looked dreadful by the time we got
to the end of it. One of my reporters, Diane Rato, one day announced that she
was wearing her husband's University of Michigan boxer shorts because it was
the only clean underwear in her house. She had three children and she had not
been able to wash and when she got up that morning to come in, that's all she
could find to put on.
P: When you look back at this election, how fair and how accurate was the St.
Petersburg Times in reporting these events and evaluating and analyzing them?
M: I think we were as fair as we could be, given that we are a newspaper that had
editorials that supported, generally, the Democratic candidates in it. I think our
news stories were balanced. It's hard, when you're covering a breaking news
event like that, to be sure that every day you dot every "i" and cross every "t" in it
and still sort of reflect the color of the situation, but I think we were, on balance,
quite fair. The thing that bothered me more was to see things that were just flatly
erroneous, which we saw from time to time. One that stands out in my mind was
when Katherine Harris [Florida Secretary of State, 1998-present; Florida state
senator, 1994-1998] hired the Steel Hector law firm, The Washington Post had a
story that described it as a Republican law firm, and all of us knew that Janet
Reno [U.S. Attorney General, 1993-2001], Sandy D'Alemberte [President of
Florida State University, 1993-present; Florida state representative, 1966-1972;
attorney], Buddy MacKay [Florida Lieutenant Governor 1991-1998; acting Florida
governor 12/98-1/99; U.S. Representative, 1983-1989], Joe Klock [attorney
representing Katherine Harris during 2000 election], all of those people came
with very Democratic roots. There were things like that that were done that were
hilarious, there were things asked that were even more hilarious. I had one of the
reporters walk in here and say, now, I know you wouldn't write this if you knew it,
but don't you believe that Jeb Bush [Florida governor, 1999-present] is having an
affair with Katherine Harris and I just died laughing because [Jeb] Bush detests
Harris. He supported her opponent in the last election.
P: Sandra Mortham [Florida Secretary of State, 1995-1999]?
M: Yeah. Their staffs aren't even really on speaking terms. There is nothing cordial,
except a sort of public veneer, about the relationship between them. So for those
of us who knew the Capitol, it was laughable. I think for a lot of people that didn't
know Florida law, or Florida's public records law, there were people who were
sort of feeling their way through it and made some really ridiculous mistakes. We
were sort of the truth squad, half the time.
P: Do you think some of the more conservative papers, let's say The Orlando
Sentinel, might have been biased in the other direction?
M: I think everybody's editorial bias was out there, except I think most of the news
stories were not. We barely had time to read the papers back then, so I can't say
that I've ever truly analyzed the fairness of each day's news offering. That's
something you could do in retrospect that would be an interesting study.
P: What about the print media's analysis of the television coverage? Did you do
much of that, particularly the fact that on election night they changed the call
M: We had a lot of criticism of that. I think all of us learned the fallacy of the exit
polls, and apparently one of the exit pollers in Florida was just flat wrong about
what they were doing. I think a lot of us had been queasy for a long time about
the tendency of a network to announce the winner on the basis of exit polls within
minutes of the polls closing. And in fact, when they first announced, about 8:00
or a little earlier, that [Al] Gore [unsuccessful Democratic presidential candidate,
2000; U.S. Vice-President, 1993-2001] was the winner in Florida, I was sitting
looking at the county-by-county breakdown of what we had on the computer
screen and I was saying, wait a minute, we have a lot of Republican counties still
out here. I don't think you could declare this as being won. Then we began to get
calls from the Republican party, from others, questioning the call, and I agreed
with the questioning of the call. At one point in the night, I had suggested to the
desk, somebody had started writing a "Gore Won" piece, and I said, wait a
minute, I think you're way too early to do that based on where the votes are out.
Because we had votes [still out], of course, the far Panhandle [was out], which
votes heavily Republican in national elections. A lot of [the] Orlando area was
out, there was some [of the] Jacksonville area out. Areas that you knew would
come in Republican were still out at the moment they were declaring Gore the
P: Do you think the early call had any impact on voting in the Panhandle?
M: No. My guess is there weren't many [that it impacted]. You could probably
dredge up a few people over there that would say it, but that early call didn't
come until fairly close to the polls closing.
P: An hour.
P: If people were going to vote, they were going to go ahead and vote. Of course,
there were other races as well. It wasn't just the presidential race.
M: Yeah. That was one claim of many that I thought was just quite specious. I don't
think that had any influence on what people over there did.
P: With the increase in conglomerate control of papers, not your paper, but say,
Knight Ridder, there's been a discussion that there was less coverage even of an
important election because they simply did not have the manpower and the
resources they had in the past.
M: Less coverage at what point?
P: Of the election, they just didn't have enough people.
M: Before the election?
P: Both before and after.
M: We had no shortage of people here, covering it afterwards, certainly. I think
basically it had been a pretty ho-hum election until we got to election night.
Certainly from our own paper, I don't think there was any lack of coverage of
what was going on, but I think there was a lack of interest in it which might have
reflected itself that way in some places. That was one of the few times, in fact, in
recent years, when there did not seem to be a shortage of reporters to write stuff.
P: I talked to Tom Fiedler [editorial page editor, The Miami Herald] and they had
three editorials to choose from, one if Gore won, one if [George W.] Bush [U.S.
President, 2001-present; Texas governor, 1995-2001] won, and one if the vote
were indeterminate. So they were sort of hedging their bets on that.
M: Yeah, I think a lot of people did. Tim could show you, we ran through a whole
bunch of different headlines as the night went on. I don't think we ever had a
"Gore Wins" headline. I know we had a "Too Close To Call" type headline, but
we went through this sequence of "Too Close To Call", [to] "Bush Wins." We did
have a "Bush Wins" headline at some point. There was quite a difference as we
ran through the editions.
P: It must have been a nightmare putting the paper to bed because, as you know,
something would happen in Palm Beach that would change the lead for the next
M: Oh yeah, it was.
P: You could never quite keep up. As somebody said, there were something like
sixty court cases at various levels.
M: Yes. We had cases in circuit court, federal court, and in the Florida Supreme
Court here. Then we had cases in Palm Beach County, Seminole County, Martin
County, Collier County, Broward County, Dade County. It became just a legal
nightmare and it happened on a very fast track. You would have court cases
where you would have the suit filed, an almost immediate trial, and then an
immediate appeal, and rulings coming out of the appellate courts. Most of the
appellate court rulings simply passed it on to the Supreme Court, but it was the
fastest track I've ever seen for court cases.
P: Cases that would normally take three months were taking three days.
M: Oh yeah. You would have a trial on international television in the Leon County
courtroom. The logistics of it were a nightmare for everybody.
P: When you assigned your staff, did you assign one group just to the court issues,
and one to the politics?
M: No. We did it more by what was going on, on any given day. Usually, Tim
Nickens [St. Petersburg Times political reporter] and I took the courtroom,
whichever of us wasn't doing something else, because I have extensive
experience in covering courts and he has some. So we did it that way, letting our
other reporters sort of monitor the ground. We had to keep somebody at the
Capitol all the time because you would have these visiting notables appear and
suddenly have a press conference with virtually no notice of it. In fact, it was one
of the few times in my life where having the television turned to CNN, or
someplace like it, was a tremendous advantage because people would tell the
TV crews before they would announce, we're going to have a press conference.
They would be warning the TV people because they wanted the TV time.
P: Let me ask you a couple of broad questions and get some details. When you
look back on it, why do you think Gore ultimately lost this election, not just in
Florida, but the election overall?
M: I think tactically, the Gore people sought to limit the votes that were counted as
opposed to count[ing] them all. For example, the Democrats came up with this
scheme to block the counting of military ballots. In fact, one of the local lawyers
[Mark Herron] put out a memo with instructions on how to challenge an overseas
ballot, and I think they tried to limit the count on the hope that they would win in
the areas they counted. The places they went after the counting of votes were
places like Broward County, where they expected to win, Palm Beach, and Dade,
where there were a lot of Democrats, and neglected the rest of the state. I don't
think any of us will ever know what the true number would have been if we had
had a complete and thorough recount twenty-four hours later. Now, the way a lot
of counties recounted at the time, was to simply recheck the totals that had
come. But I am told by the election supervisors that every time you pass the
punch card ballot through the counting machines, the vote total changes because
chads fall out of the ballot. That's why my inclination is to think that we will never
know exactly how many votes were cast on that night for either candidate.
When they opened the Pinellas ballot boxes on the morning they started to
recount, they found the bottom of the boxes filled with chads that had fallen out of
the punch cards since they had been boxed up. We don't know what they fell out
P: I talked with David Cardwell [attorney, CNN elections analyst], who has good
knowledge of this, and he and other people I've talked to say it's very clear that
when the one-half of one percent automatic recount comes, it is it is not a tally of
the machines, it is an actual recount.
M: But they didn't do that.
P: They didn't do that.
M: And I don't know who would have won, had they done that. I don't think anybody
else does either. I mean, all these people that say either Gore or Bush won, I
think are not aware of the logistics of recounting that stuff. The Pasco [County]
election supervisor, who if you haven't talked to, you ought to, is a guy named
Kurt Browning, who's probably the best of the election supervisors and certainly
one of the more articulate. He knew this problem existed [and] had written to his
own commission years before, urging them to [find] the money to do it. None of
the election supervisors, however, yelled too loud about it because they didn't
want to discredit elections before they had the equipment to handle one.
P: You mentioned earlier a key point for the Republicans, and that was that Gore
was talking about counting every vote, but then he picked out Democratic
counties and tried to restrict the military vote, so that was bad from a public
M: Right, he was gaining the higher ground in the PR [public relations], but at the
same time, the only places he was formally seeking a recount were in those
places where he expected to win. To my knowledge, no one ever filed a demand
for a recount in each of the jurisdictions, which is what you would have had to do.
P: Dexter Douglass [attorney for Al Gore in 2000 election] was of the mind that Gore
should have gone to the contest much sooner than they actually did because
they eventually ran out of time.
M: I think that's probably, tactically, their worst mistake. I was, myself, disappointed
to see the two courts react in the predictably political way. I don't know what
would have happened had we gotten in a contest sooner, it might have been that
the two courts would have done exactly what they did. In a way, I think the
courts lost some credibility. I don't know whether it's deserved or not, but the
opinion that came out of the Florida Supreme Court was exactly what you would
expect a group of Democrats to give you. The opinion that came out of the U.S.
Supreme Court was exactly what you would expect from a group of Republicans
and I'm not sure that either court's ruling was convincing to me that they had the
correct ground underneath it.
P: One of the issues that comes up very early is the vote of the Ralph Nader [Green
Party Presidential Candidate, 2000; activist; author, Unsafe at Any Speed]
people. How important do you think that was?
M: I think clearly it was important in Florida. Nader and [Pat] Buchanan
[unsuccessful presidential candidate, 1992, 1996, 2000] both took enough votes
to have decided the election in Florida.
P: Nader got about 96,000 votes. That's a lot.
M: I think you could logically assume that those votes would have certainly gone to
Gore, had Nader not been on the ballot. If those people had voted. Now, I do
think a lot of the people who go out and vote for third-party candidates in any
election are people who may not vote for either of the other two parties.
P: Also, Dexter Douglass, and I talked to Mark Herron [Florida attorney, sent memo
to Democratic election canvassers instructing them on how to disqualify overseas
ballots] yesterday, one of their arguments was had they gone to the contest, you
wouldn't have had all this conflict and chaos in Palm Beach. The judges would
have been counting the votes and they argue that in that case, votes that they
believe did belong to Gore would have been counted.
M: That could be. Like I say, I'm just not convinced that you can go in [and recount
accurately]. I mean, [if] all of us went back and counted those ballots and tried to
come up with some definitive answer, I'm not sure that, particularly the punch
card ballots, could be recounted accurately under any circumstance.
P: And of course, there is an argument that they made with over-votes. They had
shown in this New York Times study that occasionally there would be somebody
who would circle Gore and write in Gore instead of blacking the circle out. Now,
the machine will reject that as an over-vote, but if you looked at it as an
individual, you could say that person wanted to vote for Gore or for Bush. Are
those considered legal votes?
M: I think that if your standard, which we lacked a good clear standard, that if your
standard is to determine the intent of the voter, then that would be a clear vote.
One of the problems we had during the recount was absence of a really clear
standard for deciding those kinds of votes. I think in some counties those were
counted and in others they were not. I remember the Bush people complaining
that there were some ballots in Lake County, I believe, where they wrote-in Bush,
circled Bush, but because they voted twice, that county decided not to count
them. I think that's one of the whole problems with what happened here. We
had sixty-seven different fiefdoms, if you will, each of them deciding how they
were going to handle the recount. And it was legal for them to do that. The state
had not taken a hold of this issue and firmly promulgated standards to determine
how to recount. I discovered somewhere along the way that there had been a
letter sent by [Bob] Butterworth [Florida Attorney General, 1986-present] to the
judge down in Seminole County, I believe, telling him how a recount should be
done, but that was never a policy of the Division of State. It was a letter that had
once been sent by a former employee of the Division of Elections, [and]
Butterworth picked it up and sent it to that judge as the standard for he was
supposed to do, but it was not the standard of the Division.
P: But isn't that the responsibility of Clay Roberts [director, Florida Division of
Elections] and Katherine Harris?
M: Oh, absolutely. There should have been a standard elaborated by the state and I
think they've done that or they're in the process of doing that now, but that was
one of the big problems. You had essentially sixty-seven different organizations,
each deciding how to proceed.
P: But by law, the canvassing boards can use different standards.
P: Another issue that's been bandied about probably too much is the butterfly ballot.
Did you consider that to be illegal?
M: No, I don't think I did, no. There is no question that it's confusing. Everywhere
it's been used, it's confusing. As I recall, Cook County [Chicago], Illinois, had
butterfly ballots and threw out 220,000 votes in this very same election. But [is it]
illegal? Probably not. That county had used them before, without complaint.
P: I notice that ninety-six percent of the people had no trouble with the ballot.
M: Right. I think there are a percentage of people that will have trouble with any
instruction you give them because they don't pay attention to it.
P: We've already discovered with the touchscreens in Palm Beach County, in the
recent local elections, they did have problems with it, so that's going to be the
case. Theresa LePore [supervisor of elections, Palm Beach County] obviously
did not intend the butterfly ballot to have this kind of impact, but was that one of
the factors that cost Gore the election?
M: It could. It's reasonable to believe that Buchanan didn't get as many votes as
were accredited to him in Palm Beach County. So, I think you have to assume
that was one of the factors there.
P: Talk a little bit about your reaction to the spokesmen for each side, particularly
Warren Christopher for Gore and Jim Baker for Bush. How do you think they
presented their positions?
M: I think each one pretty well did a credible job. They're both good talkers, if you
will. They had enough prominence and background to sort of represent the two
[candidates]. One thing I don't think ever really got thoroughly explored, either
on the air or in print, was the extent of what was going on in each one's
background. Both sides denied us access to their war rooms, so we never saw
exactly what was going on behind the scenes in each law office. We know a little
bit from what we've heard from both sides. For instance, in some cases the Gore
people were set up in a law office that traditionally had two or three lawyers in it
and expanded to take over part of a floor where there were some empty rooms.
P: That was Mitch Berger's [attorney for Al Gore in 2000 election] office.
M: Yeah. And some of them were set up down at Dexter [Douglass's] office too.
But I mean this is a relatively small town by comparison to Washington, so a lot
of these people had a lot of trouble getting enough space. The TV networks had
a problem. I believe it was CBS [that] had a big motor home parked between the
Capitol and the Supreme Court, but they didn't have enough room in it to set up a
broadcasting studio, so they rented space at the Doubletree Hotel and they were
constantly having to run videos back and forth between their two locations.
There was a kid that did a sprint for them every night to make the 6:30 news as
they would get the stuff edited down there and have to run it up to transmit it.
P: The Democrats have a lot of criticism of Jim Baker. They thought he was too
harsh. I've talked to a lot of Democratic lawyers and they say that he really
denounced and impugned the Florida Supreme Court unfairly and had
announced at one point, that when the 4-3 Florida Supreme Court decision came
down, we should have an election that is not decided by the courts but then when
you get the 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision, you don't hear that argument
M: I don't recall him saying that, but both sides were filled with a lot of very angry
rhetoric. It was not the finest hour of politics in Florida. Depending on which way
the courts were ruling, you had the other side trashing them from the very minute
that Terry Lewis ruled in the very first case. And it did make the courts, I think,
look much more political than they might have looked otherwise.
P: Was it a smart PR ploy that Baker kept saying the votes have been counted,
recounted, and recounted again? And over and over again the Democrats said,
the media let them get away with that because that was an erroneous statement.
M: Well, it was, in a sense, and it wasn't. I think a lot of the media, particularly the
national media, never understood what recount meant in some of these counties.
We did a story on the fact that a recount wasn't truly a recount, but I'm not sure
how widely held that knowledge was among the rest of them. I was stunned as I
was calling around talking about the sort of mechanics of the recount and [finding
out if] you could actually recount punch card ballots, when I realized, I think
maybe [it was] from Kurt Browning, where I first learned that in the mechanics of
that recount they did not run the cards back through the machines. They simply
P: One argument was, and a lot of the Republicans I've talked to agreed with this,
that the Republicans out-organized, out-spent, and out-worked the Democrats,
and when you come right down to it, that may have been the difference in the
M: It could be. For reasons that are totally unclear to me, I have never covered an
election where the Republicans did not outwork the Democrats as to absentee
ballots. Now, if you took merely the absentee ballots in this case, they would
make the difference in the race. And so they certainly did that here. I think they
worked extremely hard, but both sides did. It's hard for me to say that one side
worked harder than the other, out of what we saw here, because both sides were
out there working. They were working a legal battle, a PR battle, and a political
battle all at the same time. And it may be the only time, I hope it's the only time I
ever have to get involved in it, but it may be the only time in our history that we've
had this confluence of events where you had a race that was just so close that
they were waging all kinds of war, political, legal, and PR.
P: Talk about what happened specifically in Miami-Dade, where there was a very
strong opposition to the recount and therefore ultimately, David Leahy, who is the
election supervisor of Miami-Dade, said they didn't have time to recount the
votes. He said that it was not due to intimidation, but based on the
circumstances, it seemed that it was.
M: The Democrats thought it was. I think it was widely believed that he backed
away from it for a political reason.
P: At the time they decided not to continue the recounts, after they had started, he
had three more days. When the court ordered Judge Lewis to count those votes
on that Saturday, they had almost finished in one day. Now that was a count
whereby they had no outside influence and somebody wasn't challenging each
ballot, which obviously took a long time. But some of the Democrats argue that's
where the Republicans were successful, and we know now that Gore wouldn't
have gotten the votes from Miami-Dade anyway. But at the time it appeared,
according to Jeff Toobin [author of Too Close to Call: The Thirty-Six Day Battle to
Decide the 2000 Election], that the Republicans were willing to win at all costs.
Gore was more concerned with public opinion.
M: I don't think so, I would disagree with that. I think both sides wanted to win at all
costs. I think the best example [of how] that's not true of Gore is the military
ballot issue. For the Democrats to even think about doing something to try to
deliberately knock out the ballots of men serving in the military, I think was the
best example I saw of win at any cost in this process. This was for all the
marbles, and that both sides knew it and that they went after it in that fashion.
P: One author said that the Republicans had the home court advantage because
the Governor and the Secretary of State and legislature were Republicans and
therefore they controlled state law firms, they had significant resources that they
M: Well, I think that's true, although in this state we have about 400,000 more
Democrats than Republicans. Now, they don't always vote Democratic, but I
think both sides had adequate forces in play. We had this herd, the Democrats
flew a plane of people down here before daylight of that first morning, out of
Tennessee, as I recall. So, we had this herd of workers who came in from
everywhere. I don't know how anybody involved in this fray could have used one
more lawyer or one more anybody in it because there were so many people
involved in it. I mean, we had simultaneous trials going on in the Leon County
courthouse in several of the different cases on several days where it took all the
staff we could muster to get them over there, and the lawyers were doubling back
and forth between [courtrooms]. Barry Richard [attorney for George W. Bush in
2000 election] tells some hilarious stories about going from one court room to
another, trying to remember which case he was working on.
P: Both of them have said that on one occasion somebody came at 9:00 and said
you've got a deposition at noon or you've got a brief you have to present, and
that's all the time they had to prepare.
M: Oh, yeah. That's why I say it was such an expedited schedule. You had all
these cases that would ordinarily take months and months to get through, just
being shuttled through the court system in days.
P: Jesse Jackson had a rally here in Tallahassee, and the point of his argument
was later taken up by the Civil Rights Commission and they indicated there was
some anecdotal evidence of discrimination. Did you see any of that at all?
M: I saw no evidence of organized discrimination. You could say there was
anecdotal discrimination there probably is in everything we have that goes on. I
have frequently heard the argument that the poorest neighborhoods had the
worst problems. Well, if you look at the per capital income of Florida, I think nine
of the top ten per capital income counties in Florida used punch card ballots,
which were the worst system, and the least reliable.
P: As did Palm Beach County, probably the wealthiest.
M: Yeah. Collier's the wealthiest. Collier and Palm Beach counties, the top two in
per capital income had punch card ballots, which had the highest error rate of any
P: As one study indicated, it probably had more to do with economic-educational
level because there were a lot of African Americans voting for the first time. We
see that in Duval County, where they had so many over-votes.
M: I think that in those areas you probably do have more mistakes made by the
voter himself, and there is not much question that Florida had done very little to
educate voters. There was virtually no money in the budget anywhere for voter
education at that time.
P: If that is the case, that's not discrimination. If they go to the wrong precinct or
vote for all ten presidential candidates, that's certainly not an example of
M: No, unless you wanted to take that back to the root of discrimination, which
would be the failure to educate poor people.
P: One of the terms used, which was rather offensive to some experts, was
disenfranchisement, which harkens back to a much more segregated society.
M: I also think that the Civil Rights Commission was the closest I've ever seen to a
kangaroo court. That group is heavily Democratic, they donate to Democratic
candidates. If you run them through the federal campaign database, you find that
Mary Francis Berry [chairperson, U.S. Civil Rights Commission, 1993-present,
commissioner, 1980-present], although she officially is an independent, donates
to Democratic candidates, including Hillary Clinton [U.S. Senator from New York,
2001-present; First Lady of the U.S., 1993-2001; First Lady of Arkansas, 1983-
1993], and a majority of that commission did. That commission has gone on to
greater ignominy than it had here, but it is clearly a biased commission. Several
of the members of it, in order to remain on it and get reappointed, shed their
registration as Democrats and re-registered as independents so that they could
be reappointed to that commission because it's supposed to contain a certain
number of Independents, Republicans, and Democrats.
P: I noticed that Abigail Thernstrom [commissioner, U.S. Civil Rights Commission]
had a very strong dissent to the report.
P: I also want to ask you about the issue of highway patrol stops on election day.
M: We did a story by the way on that commission's make-up.
P: Good. The law enforcement checkpoint was Oak Ridge Road, which is here in
Leon County, and I did a little background on that. They stopped 150 vehicles in
an hour and a half, 63 percent were white, 37 percent black, sixteen citations of
those were white, ten were black, but the African Americans argued the very
presence was intimidation.
M: Given my knowledge of the Florida Highway Patrol, I would not be surprised if
those guys didn't know there was an election going on and probably didn't know
they were anywhere near a poll at the time, but I think certainly there would be
people who would see troopers there and be intimidated and turn around and go
back. I also suspect that a very small percentage of those people would have
been voting at all. We looked into that when it happened and I've read the
various reports that have come out on that stop. I don't have any feeling that [it]
was an organized effort to keep anybody from voting. I am sure that there are
individual poll workers in precincts all over the state that do what they can to
discourage people who they don't like from voting. I suspect there would be an
element that wouldn't want Middle-Easterners to vote, certainly now. There
would be some who wouldn't want to see blacks vote, some who wouldn't want
women to vote. I think you can never uniformly wipe out that kind of
discrimination, but I would be really surprised to see, after all is said and done
and all these suits are over, if anyone found any organized discrimination that
was sanctioned by any government entity. I just don't believe that existed.
P: Would you assess the performance of Katherine Harris during all of this activity?
M: On a scale of some sort?
P: Yes. How fair was she in her decisions? The New York Times argues that every
decision she made favored Bush.
M: Well, I think it did. I think the facts she had at hand probably led her to that at
each moment. At each moment that she made a decision favoring Bush, the
vote totals were that way. Fortunately, I don't think Katherine Harris had very
much to do with the outcome. I think that was determined in each of the sixty-
seven counties that reported totals into Tallahassee and that Harris's
involvement was rather limited. I think on balance, she probably was not a very
good public official, but I think she didn't know anything about election law. She
did very little to talk about what was going on, she had maybe one very
disastrous press conference [about] two days afterwards, in which it was clear
she didn't know anything about the election law. She had no interest in election
law before this. Her interests had all been in international trade, so she knew
quite a lot about that, but I doubt that she could have recited to you any portion of
the state election law. I don't think she was well qualified to run an election, but I
also don't think she had much power, given the fact that it was fractured into
sixty-seven pieces in this state. I think a lot of the out-of-state press thought that
the state Division of Elections had more power than it actually did, when you look
at the way an election operates in Florida.
P: Was the national press unfair to her, calling her Cruella de Vil [villain in Disney's
film, 101 Dalmations]?
M: Well, I think some of that was. I think that was a little over-the-top. I would be the
first to criticize her competence and note the lack thereof and I have done so.
But to criticize her looks is pretty sexist in origin and a little over-the-top. I mean,
you can make jokes about public officials and everybody thinks they're funny,
[but] I didn't think most of that was particularly funny. Although I probably
laughed at the time I saw Saturday Night Live, but I did think that part of it was an
unfair rap. I think part of what happened at the top is once the Governor
removed himself from the picture and became sort of holed-up in his office, you
had no one to lead, to sort of speak for the state, except Katherine. At one point,
Bobby Crawford [Florida Commissioner of Agriculture, 1991-2001] sort of
stepped into the breach and tried to do some of that, but I think part of the image
that reflected poorly on the state and on Katherine was caused by the fact that
she was not someonee who should have been cast out into the middle of that
and asked to explain something that she didn't understand. There should have
been a public official, ideally it would have been the governor. In this case, it
couldn't be the governor.
[End of side Al]
P: One of the issues that comes up is that Mac Stipanovich [chief of staff for
Governor Bob Martinez] was put in Katherine Harris' office to "give political
advice." Who determined that he should be there? How influential was he?
M: Well, my guess is that Mac determined he should be there. Mac helped to run
her campaign for Secretary of State and the intriguing thing is that Mac sort of
broke with the rest of the establishment Republicans who went with Sandy
Mortham. But he had gotten out and sort of groomed Katherine to run for that
race and stayed with her, whereas a lot of other people went back to Mortham,
once Mortham dropped out of the Governor's race, so Mac would have naturally
been the closest political advisor that she had at the time she went in there. I
suspect that she was fairly isolated from the very beginning because none of the
Governor's people liked her. They won't say this, but it's clear to anybody who
has watched the dynamic of it that there's just very little affinity for her anywhere
in the Governor's empire, which would include the party establishment.
P: You wouldn't see the Bush administration trying to influence Harris?
M: Absolutely not. I think the role of the Bush people was to keep an eye on what
was going on, and I would bet money that each thing they found out, they
transmitted to the George W. campaign. But I never saw, and we looked awfully
hard for it, I never saw that Jeb was influencing and I don't think they put Mac [in
her office]. As a matter of fact, when Mac broke off to go back [to] Harris, there
was a lot of distance put between him and the Governor. He had once been
close to Jeb and helped run the 1994 campaign. By the time we got to 2000, he
was not nearly as close to him and part of it was that Mac has always had this
sort of shoot-from-the-hip attitude. In 1999 maybe, it could have been spring of
2000, Mac had given a quote to me, in front of the Governor, on the last day of
session as he was leaving the Capitol. I was spending the day with the
Governor. As we walked back into the Capitol, we ran into Mac in the doorway
and Mac said, I don't know what the little people got, but I got everything I need
and I'm going home. I used that to lead a column and it horrified the Governor
that Mac said it. He heard it. I was holding the tape recorder in my hand when he
said it, but the Governor was appalled at the comment from the moment Mac
uttered it, and then when I used it in a column, it was picked up and used in
campaign literature everywhere all over the state by the Democrats. So, Mac
became sort of persona non grata to Jeb.
P: But that's pretty typical of Mac.
M: It's very typical of Mac, but I understand that Donna Blanton [attorney for
Katherine Harris in 2000 election], who was in there for Steel Hector, I
understand that Donna and Joe Klock and the other lawyers fairly quickly said,
Mac needs to depart from here in the first few days afterwards. We have some
photos taken, in the first few hours of the recount and the people there with
Katherine in the early morning hours, were some party people, Randy Enwright
[GOP consultant; former executive director, Republican Party of Florida], who
worked for the Republican party and was their executive director and three or
four others. Nobody of particular importance, I mean nobody really important. I
think she got to that early Wednesday morning in a crisis, with not a lot of support
around her, other than her own staff, and most of them are not political veterans.
P: Clay Roberts had just taken over that job, had he not?
M: Yeah, and he was a creature of the legislature. He was staff director for the
House Elections Committee. He's an attorney, he's got a lot of knowledge of the
elections law, he's not a political person, really. Clay, as long as they were
dealing with election law and counting votes, Clay was fine. He probably would
have done better had they put him out front to answer questions, but I don't think
their egos could ever let them do that. I just don't think she had enough really
experienced political hands around her and Mac probably filled that vacuum very
quickly because Mac would have had easy access to her, Mac would fancy
himself as somebody who could run something like that, and as I understand it,
Mac was viewed as being sort of political advice as opposed to [giving advice on]
how we count the votes.
P: Exactly. As a matter of fact, at one point he said, we need to bring this election
to a close. So he was more interested in how to deal with it, I think, from a
political point of view.
M: Yes. I think until this election fiasco that Mac, and probably whoever else was in
the Harris camp, viewed her as a potential candidate for Governor or [for the]
U.S. Senate. I know that when she was first introduced to me in 1994 as a
candidate for the Senate....
P: You mean the state senate because she was a state senator.
M: Right. The person who introduced her to me identified her as the woman most
likely to become the first female Governor of Florida. I think there were a number
of people around her who saw that as a possibility. The ironic thing is [that] there
was another group around Sandy Mortham that had seen her as having that
potential and had worked real hard to get it for her. I think there a lot of good ole
white guys around this system who want to be there in the courtyard of whatever
woman makes it first, and Mac was probably looking at that when he went out to
P: Another issue that I recall you investigated, was that there was some sense or
some charges that they had deleted or destroyed some of their computer files.
M: We, in the end, found no evidence that had happened. We paid a bunch of
money to a company from somewhere up North who took apart all the hard
drives and we found very little that we had not already found in public records
requests made at the time of the election. There were a few little things. I guess
the most serious offense, if there was an offense committed, was that she was
doing a fair amount of composing political speeches on state equipment and
things like that, but I suspect it's not anything that everybody in the building's not
doing over there.
P: But part of the problem was, of course, and it is true of Bob Butterworth as well,
that both were public officials who were part of the campaign apparatus.
M: [They were part of the campaign] apparatus for each of their respective
[candidates]. It's funny, Butterworth escaped a lot of the public attention, but I
thought it was pretty outrageous that Butterworth was trying to intimidate that
judge down in Seminole County and we wrote a story about it. He was calling
down there trying to intimidate him into recounting those votes in a certain way
and sending him written opinions on it that were unsolicited and contrary to those
being put out by the Division of Elections. The intriguing thing is that his own
website said he didn't issue opinions on elections.
P: I talked with Judge Charles Burton [County Court, Palm Beach County;
chairman, Palm Beach County Canvassing Board] and he sent him the same sort
of advisory which was exactly the opposite of what they got from Secretary
M: I think that Butterworth was protecting his own turf there.
P: Although the Democrats are mad with Butterworth because he came out and
opposed them on the military vote and technically, they said he didn't help them
M: No. Well, I think Butterworth was savvy enough to realize how destructive the
military vote [issue] could be to the image of the party. I think that is about the
dumbest move made by either side in this whole process. Particularly in a state
with so many retired military people. I mean, you had to know that was going to
really make them mad.
P: Particularly in Okaloosa or Escambia Counties. Another thing that intrigued me,
and I've never gotten an explanation, was that on November 26, when they
formally certified the vote, the state canvassing board had a public televised
ceremony in the Cabinet room. Wouldn't you think, under the circumstances,
that you would certify as quietly as possible?
M: Well, no, because if they meet, they have to meet in public. It's a Sunshine Law
P: In this case, if they did, it'd be covered.
M: Right. And you had the whole world's television cameras here waiting to cover it,
so they had to have it, logically, in a room to hold whatever was there, but that's
why they did it that way. The Sunshine Law covered their meeting. We were
convinced that there was a lot going on behind the scenes where they were
calling each other to discuss what [to] do next. All of us had been making
demands to get into whatever meetings were going on.
P: Let me go back to this military and overseas absentee ballots. I talked to Mark
M: Did he give you a copy of his memo?
P: Yeah, which is very interesting. He argues that the five-page memo was merely
outlining the law as it existed, and as you know, there are some issues. There
was an administrative brief issued....
M: The postmark issue.
P: ....in 1984 which was then modified in 1989, and then there's the conflict between
state and federal law. But from the law itself, based on the 1989 court decision,
it's very clear that the ballots had to have a postmark, they could not be sent from
the United States, they had to be delivered by November 17, people couldn't vote
twice, all that sort of thing. In retrospect, in this lengthy article from The New
York Times, these two reporters came up with quite an outline of information that
was very surprising to me. They came up with a large number of votes that
came in after the November 7 that did not have a witness signature, some were
M: Were these military ballots?
P: Military ballots. Two were postmarked November 8, five were postmarked
November 17, and the argument that Mark Herron was making, which I thought
was interesting, there is no way to tell when the vote was sent unless there is a
postmark. In other words, you have ten days from November 7 to the 17 and he
argued that half of the absentee ballots came in on the November 16 and 17. So
these could have been ballots filled out after November 7.
M: Well, I think again, you have sixty-seven different standards being applied here.
In some counties, they wouldn't open up and go back and recount, and in others
they did and each county that did used a different standard to count by.
P: I'll read to you from The New York Times. There were 680 questionable ballots
which were judged by markedly different standards in every case. In Escambia
and Okaloosa Counties, they went back and counted votes they had earlier
M: Two very heavily military counties.
P: The New York Times reported that there was some intimidation. They said, look,
you live here, it's a military base, are you going to deny soldiers the right to vote?
M: Absolutely. It became a sort of cause celeb to count the votes. You had, all over
the state, the parents of military people, some military people, Leroy Caulkins's
son from Gainesville came to testify at one of the elections commissions about
the military ballot problem. It became sort of a mom-and-apple-pie issue to count
those damn ballots, whether they were legal or not, and in some counties they
P: I noticed that, having talked with the elections supervisor in Alachua County, a
vote that was not counted in Alachua County would have been counted in
P: The very same ballot.
M: That variable existed all over the states in all of the counties.
P: Isn't that a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment?
M: Probably. I don't think there's much question that this was not handled equally.
Nor do I think that there was any chance that it would be done equally without a
single standard. When you allow sixty-seven different places to set the rules, it's
an invitation for this.
P: Also, I just wanted to point out that the Republicans had a fifty-two page memo
that they sent out and apparently, even according to Mark Herron, they did a
better job of getting their people on the ground to deal with these ballots. And it's
quite possible that, again another example, the election could have been decided
in not just the military ballots, but overseas absentee ballots, which includes a lot
more votes. I wanted to ask you your views of what happened in Seminole and
Martin Counties. You know, in Seminole County, Sandra Goard....
M: Let somebody in to fix the ballots.
P: Well, to fix the requests, so they had a voter identification number. In Martin
County it was a little different in that they were allowed to take those outside of
the supervisor's office and put in those numbers. Did you see that as a violation
of election law?
M: When you're dealing with the request for the ballot and not the ballot itself, I'm
not sure that [it] was. It certainly was odd. To say it was a violation of the law, I
suppose there could be a lot of things that would violate the law, but not the
extent that they would overturn the results in the election. That was sort of the
way I saw both of those cases. You could say, yeah, they probably shouldn't
have done what they did, but do you throw out an election based on that? I don't
think so. Mainly because nobody was tinkering with the ballot itself. I think that if
someone had been allowed to mess with the ballot, that would have been a
P: In fact there are a couple of cases. Gus Beckstrom v. Volusia County
Canvassing Board [1998 Florida Supreme Court ruling that stated that an
election could be voided even if there was no fraud, if there was substantial
noncompliance with statutory election procedures and if there was reasonable
doubt that the election expressed the will of the voters] is one case where the
issue was that if the ballot envelope had been tampered with, they didn't count it.
And of course, Judge Lewis and Nikki Clark [judge, Leon County Circuit Court],
in their decisions on these two cases, came to essentially the same conclusion
M: I think that very early on in this case, as I looked at the cries of foul that were
coming from the butterfly ballot, from all the various things, I could not see those
things rising to the point that they should overturn an election, if you looked at
each one of them individually. I'm trying to think what each complaint was. We
rarely have an election where there's not some sort of irregularity. It is extremely
rare, as you know, to see one overturned and you almost have to have the
presence of out-and-out fraud there to [overturn an election].
P: That's what the law says. Either an ineligible voter or fraud. The other issue
was, and many of the Gore lawyers, like Mitch Berger, have said that they didn't
think that case had any legs anyway. They didn't think they could win it because
you can't throw out all the absentee ballots because you don't know which ones
were "tainted", so you can't deny people who voted fairly.
M: Yeah, you would be denying [the vote to] people who had done exactly what they
were supposed to do.
P: The object, according to the Florida law, is that you want to encourage voting, not
discourage voting. But nonetheless, it's interesting that in Martin County, by the
very fact that they allowed those identification numbers to be put in by the
Republican party, that was enough to give Bush the election. Had Robbins not
done that, the outcome could have been different.
M: Well, there are a whole bunch of things that had they not happened, things might
have been different.
P: Let's talk about the decisions of the Florida Supreme Court. There's an
argument, and Dexter Douglass laughs about this, that there are seven
Democrats on that court, but if you look at their decisions, they declared the Palm
Beach ballot legal, they're going to vote against Gore on any number of other
issues. Do you see them as politically motivated in their decisions?
M: I don't know I think that they were widely perceived to be political because of
the way it came out. I thought Judge Lewis's initial decision was a correct
interpretation of the law and I thought their response to it was not correct, that
there was not enough shown to overturn the results of the election. So I was
surprised by the vehemence of that decision, the first decision they put out.
P: This is the November 21, 7-0 vote to allow the recounts to continue and they put
November 26 as the deadline.
M: Yeah. I thought that Judge Lewis had reasonably interpreted what the law was
and that they were reaching when they reached that opinion to reverse it. I didn't
think it was good for Florida or the country to have this thing drag out
interminably, whoever won it. I just thought that they looked political, and I had
not expected them to, I guess. In fact, I was interviewed by one of the networks
down here and I [said] well, I'm not sure that you could say this is going to go
either Democratic or Republican, but Dexter picked a bunch of those judges and
put them over there, so if you were hunting any one attorney in this town that
might have some influence with him, and I don't suggest at all that Dexter got him
to do it, but he was an ideal pick for the Gore people because he handled the
selection of judges for Lawton Chiles [Florida governor 1991-1998 (died in
office); U.S. Senator from Florida, 1971-1989].
P: Although it's very clear that Chief Justice Charlie Wells [chief justice, Florida
Supreme Court, 1994-present] is pretty conservative, on the first opinion with the
majority, on the 7-0, but on the 4-3, he was at the center. If we look at that
decision, one of the problems that comes up later, you don't see it at the time, is
the Supreme Court changing the date by five days to November 26.
M: Yeah, I thought that was wrong. When they start tinkering with changing it, I
thought that was not a correct legal interpretation.
P: So that's not an interpretation, that's making law?
M: Yeah. It essentially was creating a whole new scenario by which you counted an
P: One of the problems was, as Justice Sandra Day O'Connor [U.S. Supreme Court
Justice, 1981-present] indicated, that when the U.S. Supreme Court remanded it
to the Florida Supreme Court, they never really explained why they added those
days. Later on, they argued that Harris was incorrect in her interpretations and
therefore delayed the recount, so they gave back five days. In the long run, that
may have been the undoing of the Florida Supreme Court.
M: Yeah, I think so.
P: Did you ever expect that this would end up in the United States Supreme Court?
M: Yes, from the minute it happened. In fact, one of the sort of funny things, on the
day before the election, I flew to Orlando and back to do a seminar for public
information people and clerks of federal and state courts, who were meeting in
Orlando at the request of Craig Waters, the spokesman for the Supreme Court.
One of the panels done down there was high-profile cases. I flew back that night
to get ready for the election the next day and the day after the election, I either
called or sent an e-mail to Craig and said, get ready, it's coming. I knew that
both sides would sue at the drop of a hat because it was just apparent that this
was for everything there was in the world of politics, and they had to sue. I just
thought that was where it had to end up.
P: I thought Craig Waters did a very nice job of presenting that information, and if
the U.S. Supreme Court had done it that way it might have been easier for the
media and the public.
M: Oh yeah, the U.S. Supreme Court, the way they put it out was awful. Now I
thought Craig, of all the sort of players in this, may have been the most
professional and balanced in what he did, in the way he handled it. I also
thought that it really made the Internet come to life. The [way] they put the
pleadings on the Internet the minute they were out was inspired, because they
would have never been able to meet the demand for copies over at the court. It
was funny, up until that opinion, if you got a piece of paper out of that courthouse
other than on their regular opinion day, you paid a buck a page for anything over
there. And all of a sudden, when faced with what they had, they gave away
paper copies and gave it away on the Internet. Leon County did the same thing
with cases that came there, they put them on the Web.
P: The could have made a lot of money.
M: Oh, yeah. But they would have never been able to keep up with the demand.
P: You covered the Gore contest case before Judge Sanders Sauls [Leon County
M: Some of it. Tim Nickens and I both did. I think Nickens did the weekend trial that
P: What was your assessment of how Judge Sauls officiated that case and his
decision, which, of course, stated that there was no probability that the votes
would change the outcome and that the canvassing board had acted within their
M: When I read the decision, I thought, I don't know how in the hell anybody is going
to appeal this decision because he had gone into so many corners to find. Of
course, the Democrats didn't like that decision at all and took great umbrage at it,
but I couldn't argue with his decision in that case. I became convinced fairly
early on, that no amount of recount in those damn ballots was going to produce
something that was any more accurate. It might have produced a different
winner, but I don't know that it would have been any more accurate than what we
P: This was a precursor to the Florida Supreme Court. Obviously, the Democrats
wanted to get this case over with. They were pretty sure that with Sauls, they
would lose. It's interesting that the presiding judge was chosen by lot, and that of
all the people Dexter Douglass said that Sauls was the worst one they could
have gotten because they saw him as a closet Republican and he was slow. Was
that a fair assessment of Judge Sauls? I thought the trial was just two days, I
thought it was fairly expedited.
M: No, I think the biggest reason to have questioned giving that to Sauls was that he
had several arguments with the Florida Supreme Court in the past, so he might
not have been the best one to take a case and then pass it to the court. If I were
the Republicans, I might have had more concern knowing that he'd had a history
of disagreement with the [Florida] Supreme Court, but I thought Sauls did a fair
job. I wasn't in the courtroom all the time, I watched a lot of that trial on television
and I didn't think he did a bad job. He was folksy, but he ran a pretty good
courtroom and he didn't let anybody run over him. Too many circuit judges that
I've covered over the years will let half of our lawyers just run slam over them,
but I thought Sauls did a pretty good job of it, to be a country judge, basically.
P: Presiding before the world, as it were.
M: Yeah. I thought the worst thing that Sauls did was to allow his wife to talk to
reporters, that was the biggest mistake he made.
P: Now, the Florida Supreme Court is going to vote 4-3 to overturn his decision, to
reverse Judge Sauls. Were you surprised by the decision or the closeness of the
M: I was surprised both by the reasoning in the decision and by the closeness in the
vote. The story I did that morning was on the Wells dissent. I had never seen a
dissent in that court as impassioned as that one that Wells put out and I
wondered if it didn't signal some really serious trouble for that court in the future.
P: Based on what Speaker of the House Tom Feeney [Florida state representative,
1990-1994, 1996-present; speaker of Florida House of Representatives, 2001-
present] was doing, some people have argued that what the Chief Justice was
trying to somehow halt the legislative undermining of the power of the court, that
it was both a legal response and a political response.
M: I suppose it could have been. I certainly haven't heard Wells say that. I think
everybody on both sides of the issue was concerned at seeing the legislature get
involved. I don't think that either side really wanted them on the playing field, for
a whole lot of reasons.
P: You mean the legislature?
M: The legislature. When Feeney got this idea that they should get in the middle of
it, I think most of us didn't really take him seriously. At first, we thought he was
just saber rattling. But I think Feeney and those around him loved the notoriety
they got out of it and they were out there pandering [to] the television cameras
every minute of the day. At one point, Feeney comes out of the House chamber,
where they were, and turns to the Florida reporters and says, just a minute, I
promised these television guys that I'll talk to them. Julie Osmond, who works
for me, said, Mr. Speaker, when they are gone we will still be here. And he didn't
do that again, from then on he made certain [he talked to us]. It was interesting
to see how caught up some of these legislators got in national publicity. A
number of them who had probably never even been interviewed by a Florida
television camera were suddenly international news stars, if you will.
P: A lot of lawyers were jostling for the spotlight too.
M: Oh, yes.
P: The House voted 68-31 to seat the electors for Bush, if the legal issue had not
been resolved by December 12. In the Senate, John McKay [Florida state
senator, 1990-present; president, Florida state senate] never allowed a vote.
Isn't that a dangerous precedent?
M: Oh, I think it is, yeah. I think that's why everybody involved was so concerned
about seeing them get into the middle of it.
P: Is it constitutional? Does the legislature have the right to do that?
M: I suppose it's arguable. I don't know where a court would have ruled on that
P: Section Two of the United States Constitution implies that the legislature should
determine elections, and then the 1887 Electoral Count Act with the same issue
also pursues that. Let me go back to the 4-3 vote. One of the things they
decided to do was turn down some of the Gore votes, they don't give him the
Nassau County votes, they don't let these 9,000 votes in Palm Beach County get
counted again, but they decide to count all the under-votes in the state. Why do
you think they did that?
M: I don't know. There was a lot about that decision that simply was not logical to
me. Giving back some votes and not others, I thought was a reach for that court.
When I read that opinion, I was just puzzled at where the hell they were coming
P: They argued that you could determine the intent of the voter in that. It's sort of
what Judge Donald Middlebrooks [U.S. District Court] said, well, of course we've
got sixty-seven interpretations, that's the way it is, it's always been like that. And
if you would take the argument of the United States Supreme Court to the logical
conclusion, every voter in America would have the same standards and the same
M: Yeah. And I think in a sense that's what they were saying and that is easily
going to become the grounds for the next challenge of the future. I think that the
inherent threat there is what moved the Florida legislature to take the action it did
to sort of shore up the system and make certain to, if you will, outlaw the punch
card ballots and do those things that had to be done. After many years of the
counties being able to decide those issues themselves, the legislature stepped in
and took that away from them.
P: The United States Supreme Court steps in again and they halt all the recounts
after they get started. Do you think if the United States Supreme Court had not
stepped in, that they would have had time to complete the count?
M: Probably yes. I don't know what it would have yielded. I think some of the
studies since then have suggested it would have come out for Bush.
P: One of the things that also puzzled me, and there weren't many of these, why
didn't they ask for the over-votes as well?
M: I don't know. To me, the only logical thing to do was to try to recount every vote
in the state, but it did not seem to me that anybody wanted that. Certainly the
Democrats didn't, although they stood up and said they did. All they had to do
was file a written request for a recount in every county and they never did that.
P: Do you see, in retrospect, that the United States Supreme Court is
unconstitutionally taking this case? I notice that several of the dissenters argued,
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg [U.S. Supreme Court Justice, 1993-present] for
example, that they should never have heard this case to begin with, that this was
a state case. She said that only three times in history had the U.S. Supreme
Court overturned state courts and those were civil rights cases.
M: Actually, I do think that they probably didn't have the authority to take the state
case, that the final authority on state law should have been the state court. Now
the question you have here is [that] this is a federal election and it is through that
door that they came, but I don't know how constitutional that ground is
P: A little slippery, I think. The final vote is 5-4. Some people argue that it was 7-2
because seven of the justices were upset about the differing standards. How do
you see that case, 5-4 or 7-2?
M: Well, I think it was a 5-4 vote, even though some of those were not of the same
mind. If I were going to repeat it in the future, I would call it a 5-4 vote. I think I
wrote a column after it, suggesting that they and the Florida Supreme Court did
not distinguish themselves with the rulings.
P: Of course, part of it is the time element. This was an awfully difficult decision to
M: Oh yeah, it was done awfully quickly.
P: When you look back at it, would you agree with the critics, that for both courts, it
was in fact a political decision?
M: Yeah, I think both decisions were political. The lawyers will tell you it was a
scholarly legal decision on the prevailing side.
P: I noticed that Justice John Paul Stevens [U.S. Supreme Court justice, 1975-
present] said it would undermine the nation's confidence in the court and was
wholly without merit. That's a pretty strong dissent.
M: Which is essentially what Wells said of the Florida Supreme Court case. But I
think both decisions went to undermine the reputations of both courts and
probably made most citizens see both of those courts as much more political
than you and I expect them to be.
P: Would you argue, as one critic said, that now the William Rehnquist [U.S.
Supreme Court Justice, 1972-present, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court,
1986-present] court is an activist court?
M: Yeah, I guess you'd have to say they are, yeah. And certainly this court [Florida
Supreme Court] is.
P: Also, it's interesting to note that in the earlier decisions, when they first remanded
the case back to the Florida Supreme Court, the 14th Amendment did not come
up. The 11th Federal Court of Appeals twice turned down appeals from Bush to
stop the recount; they didn't deal with the 14th Amendment. And suddenly in the
5-4 vote, we have the 14th Amendment. Particularly for the Rehnquist court,
where that issue had failed in the past.
M: I don't know that I thought one way or the other about it. We were in such a
scramble to get everything reported, particularly the nights of both court
decisions. The Florida Supreme Court decision came down after 9:00 at night
with us just killing ourselves. The Internet crashed when they put it up on their
website [because] there were so many people trying to access it. The Internet
crashed, I had to run a reporter from here to the Supreme Court building to get a
paper copy of the decision and get it faxed to St. Pete because Nickens and I
were trying to write it together. It was a mess to deal with. I could not, for the life
of me, understand why either court thought this decision needed to come out at
the moment they put it out in the middle of the night. I think both decisions might
have been better received had they put them out at a decent time to give people
time to analyze them. It has been my experience however, with government, that
when something controversial is coming out, they wait until the very last minute
to throw it out, in the hopes that nobody will understand it. I cannot tell you how
many times the biggest controversy has something come out on it after 7:00 at
night, after everybody's gone home and they're hard to find, but this may have
been the worst example I can think of.
P: I believe the Supreme Court decision came at around 10:00 at night, December
12. The argument they made is that in their decision, they said that there was no
time because December 12 was safe harbor day and they had two hours, in
effect, to do any counting, so they were out of time. Do you see December 12 as
a legal deadline?
M: Well, there were a lot of people who did. I thought they had more room than that
in reading the Constitution and whatever else we considered at the time on it.
But there was a substantial body of the people involved in this that saw that as a
drop-dead date. So, I don't know. I'll leave that to legal opinions that are better
P: Under the 1887 Electoral Reform Act, it's very clear that it's optional. It's not
required and I'm quite certain that the Republican state legislature would have
opted for that, had they had the opportunity. But it's also, I think, constitutionally
clear that technically you can count these votes at any time.
M: Well, yeah, I thought you could count them up to and including January .
P: Yeah. Well, until you have to inaugurate January 20. Another argument came
up that David Boies [attorney for Al Gore in 2000 election] made that was very
critical of the U.S. Supreme Court decision. He argued that the Florida Supreme
Court was in a catch-22. If they had set a standard, they would have been
making law. By not setting a standard they violate the Fourteenth Amendment.
So either way they went, they were going to lose.
M: I think once they tried to create law, that they were in trouble and that began in
the first opinion.
P: That was probably the key element, even more so than the Fourteenth
Amendment was. The real difficulty was that the Florida Supreme Court was
making law as opposed to interpreting law. And Justice O'Connor said they
hadn't really explained that November 26th date. How much long-term impact will
that 5-4 decision have? They said, of course, it applies just to the 2000
M: I think it's hard to tell. I think it will change the way everyone looks at elections
for a long time. For instance, before this, the news media, including us, did a
miserable job of looking at the mechanics of the election. Almost nobody was
looking at the method by which we voted, how well we educated voters, how
many ballots were thrown out. There were elections that had occurred before
this in Palm Beach where even more ballots had been thrown out than were
thrown out this time because of obvious voter confusion. I think it has made all of
us look much more closely at things like that. Even if you disregard the legal
precedence that it may or may not have set for the future, I just think that people
will look at elections differently. I suspect that it was a great civics lesson for the
voter. I think in the end game here, even the average citizen understands the
electoral process better than they did, and understands that individual votes do
count much better than anybody ever [thought they] did. So, I think that on
balance, although there's bitterness that lingers, particularly among the
Democrats, I think that September 11th [2001 terrorist attacks] has changed a lot
of that. I think it's going to be harder for the Democrats to wage a bitter
campaign, certainly by 2004. They're trying to do it now in the Florida
[gubernatorial] election. I don't know how successful that will be or how much
there will be behind it. I thought, before September 11th, that the anger might
remain enough to help the Democrats a good bit, but nobody's contributing
money to them. At this moment in time, the Democrats in Florida have about
$750,000 in the bank, the Republicans have about $11 million. There's no
question in my mind that the party in charge, both at the state level and the
national level, gets more money than the other guy, so that's part of it. But it may
also be a signal that there's not as much anger out there as we thought, and
some of that anger may be because of September 11th and events that have
interceded. I think if we had not had September 11th and George Bush had
proceeded sort of on a pedestrian course, that you might see more anger than
there is now. If I'm reading what I hear from citizens, I think there are a lot of
citizens who have become even more patriotic than they might have been before
and less likely to criticize government than they were, and much more willing to
support anything a president does in a time of war.
P: Also, people found out what election supervisors did.
M: Absolutely. It'll be interesting to see the elections this year. I heard that Theresa
LePore was not going to run again.
P: She is still devastated by those events.
M: Oh, yeah.
P: She's had thousands of death threats. I'm sure you know all that, but it was
really a little bit frightening for her.
M: It was, for everybody involved. Katherine Harris got thousands of [threats]. Did
she already talk to you? Did you try?
P: No, I've tried and I haven't quite gotten her to do that yet.
M: She's the only member of the cabinet that it is just very difficult to get a moment
to talk to. The only way I ever get an answer out of her is to sabotage her in the
hall over there and ambush her there and get an answer to something.
P: I was hoping maybe you could advise me. I was hoping once I've talked to you,
she might be willing to talk to me.
M: I would call Mac.
P: I was supposed to talk to Mac yesterday afternoon, he had to cancel. So I'll
reschedule that, and I've talked to Joe Klock.
M: Joe might be able to get her to do it. I think particularly you could get her to do it
if you offered to let somebody like Donna Blanton that was involved sit in with
you to do it.
P: That's a good idea.
M: Donna is a lawyer here in town who did work for Steel Hector, she now works for
Katz Kutter [law firm] here, but I wouldn't be surprised if she wouldn't agree
under those kinds of terms. Katherine has, or says she has, a love of history and
when you pitch it to her as a history project, I think you're more likely to get a
good response out of her.
P: That's good advice. Do you think the national media was unfair to Florida? We
talk about Flori-Duh and all of the foul-ups, but if you look, for example, at South
Carolina, they had more over-votes and under-votes than we did.
M: So did Illinois. Yeah, I think that Florida was made something of a spectacle.
We did a lot to earn it, but I think that you could have taken the same issues and
questions to virtually any state in the union and found the same problems. I think
we were just unlucky enough to be in the middle of the storm where the election
was so close. [I] had a former reporter who now is editor of a paper in Kansas
send me an e-mail in the middle of it, saying, you don't know how much I wish I
was there. I wrote him a note back. I said, you don't know how much I wish this
mess was in Kansas. I think it was just our good fortune, if you will, to have this
show appear in town.
P: How did the experience impact you and were you glad to have had the
opportunity to go through it?
M: Well, I think all of us were glad. We felt like we were living in the middle of
history and, in a sense, we were. At the time it happened, I had a broken ankle
and was recovering from it, so I had just begun to try to walk without crutches
and was using a cane. I finally just threw the cane away because I couldn't hold
a notebook, a tape recorder, and a pen and a cane. But it was a really difficult
time on all of us, physically and emotionally. Of course, we had editors who
every day who were picking up every paper in the world or seeing something on
television, saying, wait a minute, we need to have that. It was just a nightmare to
get everybody out where you needed them and get back in. I wish we had saved
all that wound up on the cutting room floor because there were a lot of things that
we filed that never made it into print, in part because we just had so much each
day. We had reporters in Palm Beach and in Dade [Counties], here and over in
Seminole County, all filing in to St. Pete.
[End of side A2]
P: What was your reaction to the Florida Election Reform Act of 2001? In particular,
were you pleased that they allowed for provisional ballots?
M: Yeah. I don't know how that's going to work. I think that may be a problem in the
future. I think that it's going to be very difficult for election supervisors if they
have thousands of people show up and request a provisional ballot and that may
be something that's going to have to get addressed again down the road as we
deal with it.
P: In many cases, these people requesting those ballots might be in the wrong
M: They might be in the wrong precinct, they might be in the wrong county. It's going
to take a lot of clerical time to determine that after each election. If we have
another very close election, we could have a problem with exactly those. I
thought on whole, the law that they passed was good. I was particularly glad to
see them offer money to the counties to help them. Until that moment in time,
everyone had viewed election equipment as the responsibility of each county. I
think at the time that they're taking [authority] away from them, which they clearly
did in this, they needed to pay for some of what was being done because, after
all, the counties are handling a statewide and a national election. So I think the
federal and state government had some responsibility.
P: Why do you think they didn't mandate a single machine to be used in all the
counties? Is it too expensive?
M: I think part of it was expense and I think part of it was the fact that forty-one
counties had machines that worked well, I think that's the right figure, the optical
scan. The optical scan machine that spits the ballot back at out if you're wrong,
[is] precinct based, those had virtually no errors in them and I think that to require
those counties to replace equipment that was working and had no error rate
would have been pretty foolish of them.
P: What I thought is they ought to change everything to optical scan.
M: I did too. I thought at first that was where they were going to wind up. I was
surprised to see them adopt language that allowed the touch screens, which are
pretty much unproven in Florida elections.
P: And much more expensive.
M: Oh yeah. But we had two or three election supervisors, Pam lorio [Supervisor of
Elections, Hillsborough County] in Tampa and Kurt Browning in Pasco and I think
some of those from South Florida, who very emphatically wanted the ability to go
to touch screens because they felt they were jumping into the next technology.
P: Although I talked with Pam just the other day and she said they had already had
some trouble with our machines and that it's going to take a while.
M: I think any change is going to take a while for elderly voters particularly to
P: The statewide database I think is a good idea, but perhaps the most dramatic
element was the doing away with the second primary for just one election.
M: Although my inclination is to think that it will probably stay gone because the
people who lose in September won't be here, come [the] next legislative session,
to object. What you will have, will be the people who won in a system with one
primary making the law.
P: Do you think it was blatant political partisanship?
M: No, I don't really, and here's the reason I don't. I have, for ten [or] twelve years
or more, seen the state Division of Elections and a succession of Secretaries of
State and every election supervisor in the state beg the legislature to do away
with that second primary, in part because of the timing of the ballots. That was
the whole thing that led to the 1989 challenge over the absentee ballots. It may
be that those who proposed it at the moment were being blatantly political, but I
think there was a logic to it that goes way beyond politics and that we have had
officials from both parties for fifteen years, to my own certain knowledge, try to
get rid of that second primary.
P: Well, the Democrats say we wouldn't have Reubin Askew [Florida governor
1971-1979] and Bob Graham [U.S. Senator from Florida, 1987-present; Florida
M: Or LeRoy Collins. I understand the Democrats' [argument]. In fact, in recent
years, the Democrats have been very reluctant to get rid of that system and I'm
not sure they ever would have.
P: Have you got any special stories or comments about anything we haven't
covered? Any particular events or individuals that stand out in your memory?
M: No, I think it was just a very particular time. As you know, it was in the time right
before the Christmas holidays. A time when many of us take off, most of us had
worked terribly hard through the election and were looking forward to a few
weeks of rest, and instead we got thirty-six days of sheer hell. None of us got
our Christmas shopping done on time, I mean I was FedExing packages to
grandchildren by the time we got through with this. It was rewarding in a sense
that you felt like people were really reading and paying attention to what you
were writing and doing, and yet [it was] totally exhausting. I hope never to have
to suffer through another one. I have joined the ranks of Kurt Browning who told
me that for many years he went to bed on the night before each election praying
for a landslide in every race. I know join Kurt in that prayer, I hope the next
election's a landslide for somebody, I don't care who.
P: I thought one element here that was very significant is that in many cases,
people were watching CNN all the time, all day long, everybody. But when the
final analysis came out, everybody had to read the newspaper to make sense of
what they saw. It seems to be that this was a great boon and a boost to
newspapers in terms of dealing with the public and supplying them information
other than just sound-bites, particularly in the legal aspects of the case.
M: I think it also has some lingering interest for Tallahassee. For many people in the
world, it was the only view they've ever had of Tallahassee, Florida. I think it was
Barry Richard who said that he thought this crisis did for Tallahassee much what
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil did for Savannah, Georgia. It sort of got
it on the map and got it recognized as a place and there's some merit to that.
There are people now who know where Tallahassee is that never knew before
and I don't know that we've become the tourist Mecca of the world, nor do we
want to be, but it was an interesting time for the whole city. I think a lot of the
business people made out like bandits from it. I think a lot of people also found
that it was a very hospitable Southern city. There were little old ladies who took
cookies down to the news crews and things and food of other kinds down, at all
intervals. The city, I think, gave sort of a brown-bag lunch one of the days, down
on the Capitol grounds, but it was a time when a lot of people here went out of
their way to help all the strangers who were stranded here. It was interesting to
P: On that note, we'll conclude the interview. Thank you very much.
[End of the interview.]