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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
June 5, 2002
Pages 1-5: Bob Poe became chairman of the Florida Democratic Party in March 2000. Poe
describes the political climate in Florida during the time of the election. The role of culture in
political elections is also discussed. Poe talks about Gore's decision to make Leiberman his
running mate and the public's reaction to this choice. Poe talks about healing that took place
between the African American and Jewish communities as Jesse Jackson stated his support for
Leiberman. Poe also discusses Gore and Leiberman's trips to Florida preceding the election.
Pages 6-10: Poe talks about a last minute "push" to get voters for Gore in South Florida. He says
that it is unfortunate that they did not put more focus on Florida's Panhandle voters. The African
American vote is discussed. He talks about the first call he received from a Palm Beach woman
claiming there was a problem with the ballots in that county. The impact of the media making a
premature call on the election is discussed. He says this was an "emotional roller coaster" when
the election was called for Gore, then for Bush, later was up for grabs, and then ultimately called
for Bush. He talks about some of the office seats the Democrats won.
Pages 11-15: Poe says that they had seventy-two hours to file a protest against the election
results. This had to be done separately for each county, and they did not have the financial
resources to do so. He talks about over-votes and voter intent. Poe discusses the time
constraints and the major players in the political and legal debates surrounded the 2000 election.
Pages 16-20: Controversy over absentee ballots is discussed. Poe discusses the judges involved
in the county cases and their rulings. Poe goes describes the recount process and the Supreme
Courts decision to put a stay on the recount.
Pages 21-25: He continues to discuss some of the major players in the Gore/Bush election and
offers some criticism of the Republicans involved. He talks the difference in treatment for
military and civilian ballots.
Pages 26-30: Poe goes into detail about the Supreme Court decision to stop the recount. He also
talks about scenarios that could have resulted had there been different court decisions. The
Election Reform Act of 2001 is discussed.
Pages 31-36: Poe talks about his suspicions that Republicans mishandled complaints made by
minority groups in Florida and some rumors about blacks being denied votes is dispelled. Poe
discusses some conflicts between the Florida secretary of state's office and the elections
supervisors. He also describes the different attitudes expressed on various news shows and
media outlets. He explains how his involvement has affected his professional life.
Interviewee: Bob Poe
Interviewer: Julian Pleasants
Date: June 5, 2002
JP: This is Julian Pleasants and I'm in Orlando, Florida. It's June 5, 2002, and I'm
speaking with Bob Poe. For the record, give me your official position and when
you became chair of the Democratic Party in Florida.
BP: I'm chairman of the Florida Democratic Party and I became chair back in late
March of 2000.
JP: What was the major goal when you took over your job?
BP: The first thing was to make sure that Florida was what we call "in-play" in the
election, that it was going to be a battleground state, and there was a lot of
discussion and a lot of controversy over whether Florida should be in-play or was
going to be in-play. One of the first tasks that I had was to talk to the Gore folks
and to plead our case for Florida to be in-play in that election. One of the major
goals, certainly, was the election of a Democratic United States Senator and we
got that one accomplished.
JP: At the beginning of this, did you anticipate the election would be as close as it
turned out to be?
BP: No, I don't think anybody could have predicted that it would as close as it was.
We knew that it would be close. Actually, there were people, even up until the
September time-frame, who thought that it wasn't going to be close; that this was
really going to be a day-at-the-beach for the Bush brothers and they had
everything going for them and, in many respects, it should have been a day-at-
the-beach for them, but as it turned out, it was not. That's one of the interesting
things about this election is that nobody has ever really forced the Republican
Party to admit or deal with the miscalculation that they made. They made a
tremendous miscalculation in Florida and they damn near lost the presidency.
They almost lost two congressional seats, and they did lose the United States
Senate seat. All of that, particularly the Senate seat [with] Bill Nelson's victory,
the whole beauty of that got lost in all of this whole thing about the recount in the
JP: Plus, his victory over McCollum was fairly decisive.
BP: Yes. I think that, if the truth be known, the Gore victory over W. would have been
decisive in terms of, relatively, because of the fact that they were odds-on
favorite and they outspent us two-to-one and they had everything going for them
to begin with.
JP: You think they were overconfident?
BP: I think that they were overconfident and I think that they made some severe
miscalculations and they've never really had to answer to those miscalculations,
not only publicly, but I think within their own party.
JP: What were those miscalculations?
BP: I think that they truly underestimated our ability to turn out our base-vote and I
don't think that they ever really thought that we could do that.
JP: You're particularly talking about the African-American vote?
BP: The African-American vote, the independent and swing voters, the women, in
particular, and that group of what we choose to call Clinton Republicans over in
the Tampa Bay area, particularly the Pinellas [County] area. They perform a lot
like Reagan Democrats, and also the influence and importance of the emerging
Puerto Rican vote in Central Florida. So, there were several things that they
miscalculated here in Florida.
JP: In fact, all the Cuban votes weren't Republican. There were some, of course,
because of Elian Gonzalez [Cuban boy rescued off the coast of Florida in 1999,
returned to his father in Cuba in 2000 after being forcibly seized from his
relatives], there were some on both sides, I suspect.
BP: Yeah, but it's the non-Cuban Hispanic vote that they [underestimated].
JP: How important was labor?
BP: Labor was very, very important. Labor, many times, the rank-and-file, while the
leadership tends to be Democratic and supports Democratic candidates, the
membership often splits off and this time they didn't. This time they really, really
went, for the most part, with Gore.
JP: During the campaign, were you in contact with the Gore headquarters
JP: And what was your advice to him about visiting the state and the issues he ought
BP: The main thing, initially, was to visit the then-campaign manager Tony Cuehlo
back early on in, it must have been late April or early May, to really outline to
them how and why we thought we could win Florida and that Florida should be
put in-play. Back then, Bush had a substantial lead over Gore in Florida and it
was a risky strategy, but I went up on my own a couple of times and Bob
Butterworth [Attorney General of Florida, 1986-2002] joined me to go to Nashville
to plead our case. Ultimately, what happened was that they decided to stick their
toe in the water in Florida and to put some media into the state early and the deal
was, that as they put media into the state, if they could see any movement in the
needle in the public-opinion polls, then they'd keep on sending money. When
they stopped seeing movement in the needle, then they stopped sending the
money, and it was almost a week-by-week thing. But clearly, the messages that
the Gore campaign were pounding away at, particularly toward the senior
citizens, was Social Security, prescription drugs, the whole lock-box issue
[referring to Gore's campaign promise to put Social Security "in a lock-box,"
meaning, to keep it from being divested of funding], it was basically the economy
and many of those social issues that they were really pounding away at.
JP: How important was the choice of Joe Lieberman for the ticket in Florida?
BP: It was extremely important. I think it was important nationally as well. If you go
back to the days and even the couple of weeks before the choice of Lieberman,
the campaign was really sort of stuck. It wasn't really going anywhere, it was sort
of moribund. I can remember that morning because I was driving to the airport
and heard the announcement. We knew it was coming, because we had been
really pushing for [Florida Senator and former governor Bob] Graham to be on
the ticket. We knew a week out that Graham was not going to be on the ticket,
and while that was disappointing to us, because we thought that that would really
help carry Florida, and we would've carried Florida had Graham been on the
ticket instead of Lieberman, but had Graham been on the ticket, it's my belief that
it wouldn't have given Gore the lift in the other states. I ultimately think that Gore
made the right decision in choosing Lieberman, but I remember that morning,
because they were down to four candidates and in my mind I had sort of pegged
a scenario with everyone of them except Lieberman. I had sort of written
Lieberman off. I didn't think that Gore would pick a Jewish senator from
JP: Plus an Orthodox Jew.
BP: Plus an Orthodox Jew. So I didn't really have Lieberman in my mind as one of
those leading in those four candidates.
JP: Apparently, he became very close to picking John Edwards [senator from North
BP: That's what I hear, but I will tell you, I can remember I was on a flight, I think to
Tallahassee, that morning, and I heard it just as I was pulling into the airport, the
8:00 CBS Radio News. AP [Associated Press wire service] had broken the story
and my initial reaction was, what was he thinking? And as I stood in the airport
and watched this on the television monitors, you know how they have the news in
the airports, and I saw, responding to it, just regular folks, and they were
responding in such a positive way. It's funny, because I remember calling Bob
Butterworth and Bob was in the Bahamas. I called him in his hotel in the
Bahamas and he thought I was making a joke because I told him he picked
Lieberman. He said, quit juggling me, who is it? And I told him, Lieberman. And
his response was the same as mine, what's that about? But, as the day wore on,
it became obvious that Gore made a brilliant decision. I can remember thinking,
that's why he is where he is, and that's why I am where I am. It was such a bold
stroke and, almost unlike Gore, it was an almost un-Gore decision. Gore had the
rap of being safe, always doing the safe thing and never sort of getting out there
and being bold, which was sort of, I think, why I had discounted Lieberman.
JP: But wasn't that one of the reasons for that decision? Partly to demonstrate he
could be bold.
BP: I think that it was. Even by noon, as I kept on listening to the comments and to
the public reaction, it became very, very clear that this was a bold and a brilliant
stroke on Gore's part and frankly, the campaign on that morning had a new life.
It was sort of stuck until then. I can tell you the telephone calls that we were
getting from all over the state, not only the state party headquarters, also the
chairman in Seminole County, which is a predominantly Republican county, by
noon we had more than twenty-five voice-mail messages of people saying they
wanted to volunteer. Many of those were Jews, but many of them were not. It
was interesting, the other dynamic that I saw was a resurgence of young people
coming in to work at the campaign headquarters, in my opinion, as a direct result
of the Lieberman. We haven't seen young people in politics in any great number
since the 1972 McGovern election, that kind of activism just hasn't been there. I
would ask people, what's drawing you here? And they said that they wanted to
be a part of making history. So, they had a sense themselves, that this was
special and that this was different.
JP: All of that is a positive response, not a negative response.
BP: Absolutely. I think people thought differently about Gore with that pick. I think
that it was a brilliant move on his part. Then when you look at what that meant in
terms of energizing South Florida, and you know, the African-American
community truly responded to that. There's always been this feeling that there's
a sort of subterranean rift between the African-American community and the
Jewish community, and Lieberman would often quote Jesse Jackson and his call,
Jackson's call to Lieberman on that morning, saying that when the barrier is
broken for one, it's broken for all, and that that was significant in the African-
JP: Plus, this is Jesse Jackson of Hymietown [reference to an anti-Semitic comment
made by Jesse Jackson in 1980s] who now comes out formally and publicly in
support of Lieberman. So, obviously that resonated well in the African-American
BP: It resonated well in the African-American community and, frankly, I saw some
healing take place more at the time of the recount with Jackson and the Jewish
community in South Florida. There were some things that I saw. I saw some
rebuilding of some bridges between Jackson and the Jewish community, but that
JP: How often did Lieberman and Gore come to Florida? Lieberman came several
times and I know Gore was here the day before the election and spent some
NP: Gore was here on the night of the Florida primary, and that night put him over the
top in terms of getting the nomination, and they chose to be in Tallahassee that
night to celebrate the victory not only in Florida, but that whole night put him over
the top. From the convention on, we had principals, either Gore, Lieberman,
Tipper [Tipper Gore, wife of Al Gore], Hadassah [Joe Liberman's spouse],
somebody was in here once a week, every single week. Then there were
additional surrogates that were coming in all the time. You had cabinet
secretaries from the Clinton administration come through here, members of
Congress, the United States Senate. Jesse Jackson did a bus trip which we
started in Miami and ended up at FAMU [Florida Agricultural and Mechanical
University, historically-black college in Tallahassee], it was about a three- or four-
day bus trip to register voters. He was in quite a bit throughout the state.
JP: Ed Jennings [ Florida state representative, 2000-] was talking about that and he
and Kendrick [Will Kendrick, Florida state representative, 2000-] and others were
involved in this, and I forget exactly the title of that get-out-the-vote program, but
they said that that was really the most successful program that they had set up in
terms of the ultimate response. Would you agree with that?
BP: Yes. That bus trip was an extraordinary bus trip. I was on most of it with Jessie.
He and I have become very close personal friends as a result of the time that he
spent in Florida. That was an extraordinary trip and it was very, very effective. It
all worked. Jessie kept on talking about building a mosaic and that there was a
majority in the mosaic and the mosaic being African Americans and women and
Jews and seniors and the swing-voters, the women's vote, that all of that created
a mosaic and in that mosaic, there was a majority. That was one of the big
themes that he talked about quite often.
JP: Gore was here the night before the election, I believe.
JP: Was that deliberately planned as a last shot to try to get everybody out to vote?
BP: Yeah. That was a wild night of celebration in South Beach. We started, I think,
at about 8:00 in the evening. There had to be 50,000 people there. I remember
that lasted well past midnight, [so] he was here on Election Day, because it
lasted up until Tuesday morning, and I got back to my hotel room I think about
3:30 Tuesday morning to catch a 6:00 a.m. flight to Tallahassee. That was an
JP: Do you think that helped?
BP: It all helped. It showed the energy and the push. It was all about a last-minute
push, we knew we were close. By then, we knew it could be done and we were
getting the feeling that it was about to happen, if we could just push it across the
finish-line. We had fought and scraped and had just crawled our way up from a
fifteen-point deficit. The polls were showing up that we were still anywhere from
two to four points down. The guy that runs our coordinating campaign ran the
coordinating campaign in Florida for Clinton in '92, which Clinton admits, and I've
talked to him about it, he says that if he stayed in Florida in 1992 that he would
have won it. He really felt that he made a mistake in 1992 by pulling out.
JP: As he did in 1996, he spent more time.
BP: He stayed in, and he won. In '96, the guy who ran our coordinating campaign
was a guy by the name of Nick Baldick [political consultant and National Deputy
Finance Director, 2000 Al Gore presidential campaign]. Nick said to me that
Clinton was four points down on Election Day and we still won, and his goal was
keep us within four points. The way that we run our elections, and the way that
we run our campaigns, it's a base-turnout campaign, and this is something that
neither the Republicans seem to understand, nor do the pundits and the press
seem to understand, is that the African-American community seems to be very
under-sampled in polling. So we know that, if we can be somewhere within that
margin of two to four points down, that we can still win. Nick kept on saying to
me, just keep us within that range and we'll win it. I think we had a good
understanding of what we were doing in South Florida, I think we had a very
good understanding of what we were doing in Central Florida, I think our
miscalculation was in the Panhandle and that we could have done more and we
could have done better in the Panhandle, but we didn't.
JP: Of course, Nelson did fairly well in the Panhandle.
BP: Yes. In fact, we didn't run any television until the end, until about mid-October in
North Florida. We didn't do any in Jacksonville. We did Tallahassee, which Leon
County is going to be strong Democratic anyway. We didn't do anything over in
the Panama City/Pensacola area. When we ran our media in Tallahassee in
October, we were running this profile-piece on Gore that we had run in South and
Central Florida back in May and June. It was that profile-piece of Al Gore which
talked about his family and his character and his service in Vietnam, and people
would tell us, gosh, I wish I had seen that before I made up my mind. We did too
little, too late. Gore never went to Jacksonville, Lieberman only got as far north
as Daytona, Tipper did come into Jacksonville, but we could've done a better job
not only in Jacksonville, but we could've done a better job in the Panhandle.
JP: Of course there was a huge African-American turnout in Duval [County].
BP: Huge African-American turnout in Duval, Gadsden [County], there are huge
pockets of African-American votes in those rural counties, which we got those,
but I think we could've done much better with some of the moderate votes in the
JP: Describe Election Day.
BP: It started at the rally in Miami Beach with Stevie Wonder [musician], Robert
DeNiro [motion-picture actor] and Bon Jovi [musician] and the whole crowd there.
That's where, [at] the stroke of midnight, I was on the beach on Miami Beach. I
got back to my hotel room I guess about 3:30, then took a 6:00 a.m. flight to
Tallahassee and met with the staff very early in the morning, and I told the staff,
regardless of what happens, that they should be proud, that they have done
absolutely everything. I said, this election could go either way. We knew that it
was that much on the buck, anything could happen, that it was so close. For our
intents and purposes, it was too close to call. We thought we could win it, but we
weren't confident that we had it in the bag. That if our turnout went well, then we
knew that we were going to have it. In fact, I remember doing some interviews
that morning [on a] Boston radio [station] and a couple of other places, because
our intelligence was that the turnout was there, and that people were waiting long
lines and the African-American communities was turning out in unprecedented
numbers, and that the lines in Palm Beach County were long, so that was the
first inkling that we had that it had all worked, and that it looked like it was coming
together. Then, about 9:30 in the morning, I got a call from Lois Frankel, the
Democratic leader of the [Florida] House [of Representatives], she was very
distressed. She thought that she might have mistakenly voted for Pat Buchanan
and she called me very upset, [telling me] that I had to do something; that the
ballot was screwed up in Palm Beach County, that she couldn't get through to
Theresa LePore's office, the lines were busy and we absolutely had to do
something. That was the first inclination, like I said, that was about 9:30 in the
morning, that we got tipped off that perhaps something was wrong. We called
the headquarters down in Palm Beach County and actually sent somebody over
to the Supervisor of Elections office to see what was happening, and then
immediately got about 10,000 flyers printed up, to be distributed at polling-places
across Palm Beach County, warning people that there was a problem with the
ballot and to be careful about how they voted.
JP: Eventually, Theresa LePore did put out some sort of announcement about those
circumstances, but that was later?
BP: Later, much later. We actually responded first. I know we were authorizing
people just to go to any copier machine that they could and just start copying
flyers and start handing them out at the polls. So we knew that there was a
problem in Palm Beach, but we were unaware of any other problem...oh that's
not true. Later in the day, we had gotten a call about an alleged incident of a
state trooper in...
JP: That was in Leon County?
BP: No, the initial report was that it was in a county adjacent to Leon and we were
getting a lot of conflicting reports. But the story was all the same, about the
trooper that was near or at an African-American precinct, which I think later
turned out never to be substantiated, but there was that rumor that was floating
around. The day wore on, and it was an exciting and a thrilling day because
every indicator that we had was that what we had planned we were actually
pulling off, and that we really felt that we could win.
JP: What impact do you think the early call of the election for Gore had on the voting
in West Florida?
BP: I don't know that it had any. I just don't know. There's been the talk about the
telephone calls that went back and forth and everything else. I can remember it
was stunning, we had our event over at the stadium over at FSU [Florida State
University], and we saw it sort of coming and then, when it was announced that
Florida went for Gore. At that point, we knew that we had won the election. It
was interesting because we knew what the electoral puzzle was looking like, and
the math and everything else, and that there was no way that they could recover
from us winning three of the four largest states. We knew California was going
our way, and New York, and we knew Texas was cutting in their direction, and
that Florida was really the linchpin. Provided everything else sort of worked out
in the Midwest, which it did the way that we pretty much thought it was going to
go and when that was announced, we knew we'd won.
JP: It must have been a pretty emotional win, because a few hours later, it's taken
away and they announce for Bush and then, later on, it's still up for grabs. So it
must have been a pretty difficult night to deal with all these changing emotions.
BP: It was an emotional roller-coaster. Having a lot of this that we were doing was
also on live TV and reporters getting the different reactions and sort of being so
excited, so elated, and then to have the numbers pulled back down and put in
question, it was very confusing. I remember my daughter, who was twelve at the
time, just not understanding what was happening. She was very confused. I
couldn't even explain it to her because I didn't know what was going on.
JP: At the end of all of this changing of the results, what part did you have in the
thirty-six day recount?
BP: I was one of the point-people, because the elections protests had to be filed
through the Democratic Party, so we were the instrument.
JP: You're not talking about the automatic recount, you're talking about the four
counties where you filed a protest.
JP: And in that case, the Democratic Party actually has to write a letter to each
BP: Right. And this is something that there's been a lot of misperception and
misinformation about. I guess by about 2:00 a.m., now we're in Wednesday
morning, and again I felt sorry for Bill Nelson [Democratic senator elected in
2000] because his whole victory was overshadowed. The whole euphoria of Bill
Nelson being elected to the United States Senate got kind of lost in all of this,
with the confusion and everything else.
JP: Which ultimately is a key in keeping it in the hands of the Democratic Party.
BP: Right, absolutely. I keep on going back to this miscalculation that the
Republicans made by picking [Bill] McCollum over [Tom] Gallagher [Florida State
Chief Financial Officer, 2000-] and everything else, that the Jim Jeffords
[Republican senator from Vermont that switched parties in 2001, giving
Democrats control of the U.S. Senate] decision, (A) wouldn't have happened,
and (B), if it happened, wouldn't have made any difference had they actually not
miscalculated Florida. [The Republicans] had a tremendous miscalculation in
Florida that they've never been called to account for. About 2 [or] 2:30 in the
morning, the staff noticed that I was getting a little punchy and needed to get
some rest, because by then I had been up almost twenty-four hours. So, they
sent me off to bed and at about 5:30 in the morning, Bill Daley [campaign
manager for Al Gore in 2000 election; Secretary of Commerce, 1997-2000] called
me, and even before then we had been talking to Nashville and they were
saying, what is going on, and we just didn't know. We did not know what was
happening. We knew that there was a problem and, certainly, the odd number of
Buchanan votes clearly told us that something was very, very wrong. So Daley
called me at about 5:30 in the morning to tell me that the recount team was on
the way, that they were coming, that they got in Lieberman's plane and that
they'd be landing in Tallahassee at about 9:30 in the morning and that I was to
get with them and we were to huddle.
JP: Who was in charge of that team? Was Ron Klain [chief of staff to Vice President
Al Gore; head of legal operations for Al Gore here yet?
BP: Ron Klain was there.
JP: Some of the Boston lawyers?
BP: The Boston lawyers and Joe, the DNC [Democratic National Committee] general
counsel, and I talked to him all the time, Joe Sandier. Mark Herron was there,
who's our attorney. I remember the first thing that they did was to get a group of
chairs and sit around in a circle and start reading the Florida election law, just
opening up the statute books and looking at it. Almost immediately, it was
determined that we really didn't have a shot at the over-vote issue. We had a
brief hope, because in the statute it talks about the place to mark the ballot has to
be to the right of the person's name, and in the case of the Palm Beach ballot, it
was to the left. Then we found a later statute that allowed that. So there was
this brief moment to think that we really had a challenge that this was not a legal
JP: But in fact, it was challenged legally?
BP: Yes, but it was a legal ballot.
JP: It was a legal ballot, but that challenge was not by the Democratic Party, that was
by private attorneys.
BP: Yes. We had determined from the Democratic Party's side that, in our opinion, it
was a legal ballot and that we didn't have a shot there.
JP: If the ballot is flawed, what's the remedy? Is there a legal remedy? You can't
BP: We didn't know that. That was one of the things that everybody was looking at,
to see whether we could actually go back and cause a re-vote. There was talk of
that early on. One of the questions that came up early on was whether we
challenge all sixty-seven counties, and two things that came up in that discussion
was that we didn't have proof that there was a problem in all sixty-seven
counties, so you could really only file challenges where you had a problem. This
whole idea that we cherry-picked the counties is totally erroneous, because if we
were cherry-picking counties, one of the places we would have gone was Duval
[County] and probably wouldn't have gone to Volusia [County].
JP: Why those four counties particularly? Because it's interesting that Duval had
more over-votes than Palm Beach County did.
BP: Because we didn't know that there was a problem. You have seventy-two hours
to file the protest. To make another point, was when we talked at [protesting] all
counties, one of the comments that was made was that we didn't have the
resources. We didn't have the human resources, we didn't have the legal
JP: Because again, let me clarify, it has to be filed separately in each county.
BP: Separately in each county, there was no way. We didn't have the financial
resources to do this. What we didn't know on that Wednesday morning, or even
by Thursday, it wasn't until Saturday really, and by then it was too late, it wasn't
until Saturday that people were just coming to Florida from all over the country
asking, what can I do? Where can I go? I remember on Saturday morning going
down to Palm Beach, going to one of the union halls, I forget whether it was the
electricians or the plumbers, I can't remember which one it was, but the union
hall, and there, like 300 lawyers from all over the country, people just showing up
and they still had their bags in their hands, and they were unsolicited, they were
just coming. I think had we known that, maybe we would have done things
differently, but I think that the governing thought was that you had to have a
cause. Had we known that there was a cause of action in Duval, we would have
taken the action in Duval. We knew that there was a problem in Volusia,
because of some things that happened through the night there that tipped us off
and said there's a problem there, we have to go after whatever it was.
JP: But of course it turns out just to be a computer miscalculation which they
BP: Right, which they corrected. But that told us that there was a problem, so we had
to go in and file a protest there. So that's why we did Volusia. We certainly knew
the punch-card problems, and they were separate punch-card issues in...
JP: Both Broward and Palm Beach.
BP: And in Miami-Dade. So those three counties we knew, when looking at the
numbers of under-votes there, was very, very suspicious to us.
JP: In fact, I remember the Boston lawyer, whose name I can't remember, who is an
expert on that. The thing that he says always triggers is the large number of
under-votes, that's what you focus on. You see that, then you need to challenge.
BP: Right. Because it was determined that we weren't going to be able to do
anything with the over-votes.
JP: Although, in retrospect, it turns out, according to the New York Times study, that
there were a lot of Gore votes in the over-votes that you could determine if you
examined them by hand. So if somebody wrote Gore and circled Gore, but didn't
BP: Yes. We didn't focus on that aspect of the over-vote. What we were talking
about was the people who voted Gore/Buchanan...
JP: Which is an illegal vote.
[End of side Al]
BP: In terms of the over-votes, as long as they were true over-votes where somebody
had punched a Gore and a Buchanan, that that was not something that we could
challenge. What we were unaware of, at the time, was the incidents that took
place across the state, there were a whole bunch of them over in Lake County
where people punch-voted or, even in the case of Opti-scan, appropriately voted
for Gore and then wrote in Gore and that those votes were discarded as over-
votes, in our opinion, quite improperly, because voter intent was clear.
JP: Which is the essence of Florida law.
BP: The essence of Florida law is voter intent and that's where the whole issue of the
chads comes in. In terms of trying to determine what the intent of the voter was,
and to try to interpret what the intent of the voter was. As you looked at these
punch-card machines and you saw where, because in those precincts [that] were
so predominately Democratic, that you had the chad build-ups and so people
weren't able to punch through the card and everything else, and where you
would get hanging chads, and pregnant chads, and dimpled chads. But when
you really looked at, when reasonable people would look at those things, you
could understand why people were fighting to say that there was clear intent on
the part of the voter.
JP: One of the things that's interesting to me, and I'd like to comment on two things,
a lot of observers would just say outright that the butterfly ballot, which was not
intentionally done this way, was trying to help senior citizens by [using] bigger
print, cost Gore the election. On the other hand, if you look at the statistics, 96
percent of the people in Palm Beach County voted correctly. Did it cost Gore the
election? In other words, the ballot itself may have been confusing, but only to 4
BP: Yeah, but that 4 percent would've been more than 537 votes. It's interesting,
there were so many things that went wrong in the election.
JP: Excuse me, but isn't that voter error?
BP: Yes, that is voter error. But there were so many things that went wrong in this
election. It was like the perfect storm, Al Gore has to be probably the unluckiest
person on the planet. Had any one of the things that had gone wrong not gone
wrong. He could've survived Palm Beach, had Duval not happened. He could've
survived Duval, had Miami-Dade not happened. It was all of these things that
were taken together.
JP: Plus the Nader vote.
BP: Plus the Nader vote. And even that, he could've survived that. There was one
point when we were down to 114 votes differentiating between the two
[candidates]. When you looked at the votes that were counted, but never put in
the official tallies, over in Nassau County, and Broward.
JP: Fifty-one votes in Nassau County.
BP: Fifty-one in Nassau. I mean there were 100 and some-odd net votes over in
Lake County where people in the Opti-scan system voted for Gore, and it's very
confusing to some people. I can understand the confusion, it says, write-in
candidate. That tells you, okay, I'm supposed to write in the candidate. In the
case in Duval where it says, vote every page, if you're following those
instructions in a literal sense. We had determined that there were four counties
where we knew that there were problems and could protest, and we had the
seventy-two hours. We only found out about Duval at about 5:00 in the afternoon
in the sixty-ninth hour, and we only had seventy-two hours to file and we just
couldn't pull it together in time enough to file the protest in Duval.
JP: One of the things I've discovered in doing these interviews, particularly with
election supervisors is, you know, that a close vote, one-half of one percent,
triggers an automatic recount. In the automatic recount, eighteen counties tallied
the results, they did not actually recount the votes. That's a million and a half
votes. Why was there so much confusion about that? Some actually went back,
they saw recount, we recount the votes. Others saw recounts as re-tallying the
BP: I think that this is where Katherine Harris [Florida Secretary of State, 1998-
present; Florida state senator, 1994-1998] comes into play. There was no real
clarity on the part of the Division of Elections to really make certain that the law
was adhered to and yet, in the case of Gore versus Bush, their whole premise
was that, in presidential elections, that they rise to a higher standard and that
there must be a strict and absolute adherence to the law, and yet they did not do
that. They did not force that to happen in many of these counties.
JP: Let me read a quotation from Clay Roberts [director, Florida Division of
Elections]. This is June 22, 2000. "Checking the totals is not enough. In order
to do a recount, you should run every ballot through the machines again." But
that was not conveyed during the automatic recount, correct?
BP: Right. It was not conveyed to the supervisors and there was a lot of confusion.
JP: Let's just say they had done that, and if the circumstances had changed, if Gore
then had taken the lead, then would we have had the exactly opposite legal
strategy? In other words, now Bush would be asking for a recount.
BP: Probably. I think that they were much more aggressive than we were and I think
that all you had to do is look at who Gore sent down versus who Bush sent down.
A contest between James Baker and Warren Christopher. Warren Christopher
is competent, a great guy, and a tremendous statesman, but he is not the go-for-
your-throat kind of guy that Baker was.
JP: Baker's a streetfighter.
BP: Baker's a streetfighter, and they were shrewd. Shrewd. I think that they outdid
us in public relations. In the perception] wars, I think, that they played it much
better than we did.
JP: For example, his statement, the votes have been counted and recounted and
recounted, which of course was not accurate...
BP: Right. That was their mantra.
JP: And they repeated it enough that they got away with it.
BP: Right. I can remember in some of the television interviews, I used to go around
and hold up a dollar bill and ask people on television interviews, have you ever
taken a dollar bill and put it into a vending machine and had it come back to you
and the vending machine not take it? Does that mean the dollar isn't worth a
dollar? Your dollar is still valid, the machine just didn't recognize it. So I would
use that as an illustration to say that that's why you just can't run these things
through the machine, that you've actually got to look at these things. Even in the
case of the Opti-scans, instead of filling in the bubble or connecting the two lines,
whatever the case may be, a lot of people would circle it or put an X through it, or
they would actually circle the name over on the left side that clearly speaks to
JP: Although, technically, they do not adhere to the requirements of the ballot,
because the ballot says, you mark that.
BP: But again, Florida law says, that if you can determine voter intent, without
ambiguity, that clearly determines voter intent.
JP: Jeff Toobin, Bill Clinton, [and] a lot of people who have talked about this
campaign said Gore was too concerned with overall public opinion, was too
concerned with how the public viewed him, did not want to be too aggressive.
Whereas, the Republicans decided we need to win this at all costs, and, in fact,
they would argue that the Republicans won the recount. Would you agree with
BP: They won the battle of the recount. The perception of Al Gore is that he would
do anything to win and that he would say anything to win, and yet I know of a
couple of specific decisions that he made that cost him the election, that he
consciously decided not to do something in order to win.
JP: Something we'll want to talk about later, and specifically military ballots.
BP: In the absentee-ballot cases in Seminole and Martin counties, those were
instances that Gore was told that. If he took a different approach, he would win
the election, and he chose not to do that because he was standing on a particular
JP: Also, what Mitch Berger [attorney for Al Gore in 2000 election] told me, and I
thought it was very interesting, [Gore] really thought that if he had to use that kind
of tactic to win, he wouldn't be able to govern. That he had to think about his
presidency and if people saw, in their minds, that he had somehow stolen the
election, then it would have been very, very difficult for him to win. Does that
BP: That was the theory. I mean, look, Bush got elected without having any kind of
mandate, having lost the popular vote, and having skated through this whole
Florida thing, and people said that he wasn't going to be able to govern because
he didn't have this mandate.
JP: You get 75 percent [approval rating].
BP: Yeah, I mean we can throw that theory out the window.
JP: One question that comes up over and over again, I ask all the lawyers and,
particularly, Dexter Douglass [attorney for Al Gore in 2000 election; chairman,
Florida constitutional revision commission] was of the mind that they should
[have] move directly to the contest rather than dealing with the protest because
the contest would allow the judges to make these assessments. Do you think in
retrospect that was a strategic error?
BP: At the time, I think that this was where they thought that they had to go. I thought
that this was the procedure that they had to follow, that you had to do the protest
first and then the contest and not go straight to the contest.
JP: But if you look at Judge Lewis [justice, Florida Supreme Court, 1998-present],
Lewis-1, his first decision, it's very clear from that decision he said, I don't know
what the fuss is about, they can contest this. But apparently, and I don't know
who made the final decision, obviously Gore was making the decisions on the
Democratic side, is that your impression?
BP: Yeah, my impression was that [Gore] signed-off on it all, ultimately.
JP: But not Bush, he was turning that over to Baker and others?
BP: Right. That was our impression.
JP: When you look back at all of these issues, one of the ones that comes up is one
you just mentioned. Sandra Goard [supervisor of elections, Seminole County] in
Seminole County and in Martin County, there were examples of election
supervisors in one case, allowing Republican Party officials to come in and put in
the voter ID numbers on the request for absentee ballots and in Martin County,
they actually took them out of the office. In retrospect, do you think that those
actions violated Florida election law?
BP: They did. It was clear that they didn't meet the test when they came in and that
Sandra Goard had, even in her own words said, that those absentee ballot
applications were null and void, and that they were only resurrected by the
Republican Party coming in and fixing them, and that they were very selective in
fixing them. None of the other Democratic ballots that had errors that made them
null-and-void that were fixed, and in fact, there was a candidate, Dean Ray, who
ran for the county commission I believe, in that same election, who had some
problems with his petitions, and he had asked to go in and fix those problems
with the petitions and she denied him, saying that once they come into her office,
that nobody can them touch them. So, she had a different standard for
Democratic candidates than she did for the Republicans.
JP: Although when we interviewed her, she said that was not the case, and when
she testified in the court trial, she said the same thing.
BP: That's what she says, and I don't think that she's accurate or truthful in that.
JP: Although it should be pointed out, these are not ballots, these are merely
requests for ballots.
BP: That's correct, but there is a legal process that you have to go through, and this
is where this whole thing hinges. What happened in the case of Bush v. Gore
and the Republicans for it were arguing the case that there had to be absolute
adherence to the law, a strict adherence to the law, but yet in the Martin and
Seminole county cases they were saying that there only had to be substantial
compliance with the law. So the lawyers were saying to Gore, you need to
consolidate these cases and if you consolidate these cases, the Republicans will
have to drop one of the two arguments, and if they drop one of the two
arguments, then they will lose one of the two cases, in which case you will be the
President of the United States, and he wouldn't do it.
JP: In fact, David Boies said, I can't lose both cases. He said, if I were trying those, I
can't lose them both. But in fact, they did lose them both, because Judge Nikki
Clark [judge, Leon County Circuit Court] and Judge Lewis both thought that,
while there were errors of judgment, that you could not throw out all the ballots,
because they really didn't know which of the ballots were tainted.
BP: That's correct, but there was precedent. Nobody ever suggested in those
lawsuits that all of the ballots be thrown out in any event, and there were creative
formulas that were coming and in fact there was precedent actually to throw out
all the ballots, because they did that in the case of the Miami mayor's race when
they threw out all of the absentee ballots because of the corruption.
JP: But that was fraud.
BP: That was fraud. But what they were coming up with was a formula by which you
could say, this many Gore votes don't count and this many Bush votes don't
count. The thing was is that if they had consolidated the cases and actually
taken them away from Lewis and Clark, then we might have had a different
outcome if they had consolidated the cases into the Gore/Bush case.
JP: Also, I noticed that, when Harry Jacobs filed the Seminole lawsuiti, that he had
talked to Mitch Berger about it and they really didn't, as I understand it, go
through the Democratic Party. This was a lawsuit filed by Jacobs. Mitch Berger
encouraged him to file it, but they were not part of the suit. Is that correct?
BP: No, the Democratic Party was not party of the suit.
JP: Should they have been?
BP: In my opinion should've been. That was the whole point, but Gore would not
allow that and Gore would not allow that to happen. Harry wanted that to
happen. I remember Harry's whole involvement in the thing and the telephone
calls that I got from Harry on that whole thing, because Harry was at Seminole
County on my behalf, and we had actually been aware of it. I had talked to
Sandy Goard back in October about this problem, because we had become
aware of this thing and I had actually done news reports back in October,
October 30, October 31, on this very issue.
JP: I noticed when I talked to David Cardwell, who obviously knows about election
law, he said he thought it was a violation of public-records law, but not election
law, because the records, once they had been filed in the office, were therefore
state records and could not be removed, for example. So, therefore, the element
of error was more limited in that it didn't violate election law, which is a crucial
point, I would think, once judges look at these issues.
BP: There is a rumor that Judge Clark was going to rule in favor of the Seminole suit
and that Judge Lewis was going to rule against the Martin County suit because
they were supposed to come out...
JP: They came out at almost exactly the same time.
BP: They did, but what happened was, they were delayed. They were coming out at
a particular time, then he called a meeting between the two judges and the ruling
was delayed by over an hour and the rumor is, nobody can substantiate it, but
the rumor is that he convinced her to go with him and that they had the joint
ruling in the two cases.
JP: I've never heard that before.
BP: Yeah. That was the rumor.
JP: It's very clear in this election, you talk about circumstances, in Seminole County
Bush had 4,800 more absentee ballots than did Gore. That's enough right there.
In Martin County, I talked with Peggy Robbins, she must have provided him, by
allowing these absentee ballots to come in, probably 1,500 votes. Hard to know
exactly, because you don't know exactly how all these absentee ballots are going
to come in, but in that county, the likelihood is the great majority would have
been Republican votes.
BP: If you applied a proportional formula to that, which would have actually been
almost in their favor, that was one of the proposals.
JP: Can you talk a little bit about the court decisions? The first appeal is not by the
Democrats, but by the Republicans who initially said, we want to keep this out of
the courts. Then they file an injunction to stop the recounts, which was
eventually decided in Judge Don Middlebrooks' [Judge, U.S. District Court] office.
What was your reaction to that decision?
BP: One of the whole things was that they kept on saying that it shouldn't be in the
courts, yet they were the ones who were filing suits. This is the place where it
was absolutely incredible of the public-relations advantage that they had. They
were so shrewd in this and the media never called them on it. This was an area
where we really saw this whole mythology about the eastern-liberal
establishment media when, in fact, you look at, particularly the cable outlets
which really dominated this whole thing, Fox, MSNBC, CNN and so on, because
they were the twenty-four hour news-outlets were much more important, and the
radio talk shows, the Rush Limbaughs [conservative radio talk show host] and
the Drudges [Matt Drudge, administrator of Internet news site] and all that stuff,
and even the Internet, the Freepers. They had much more of an influence on
this process, I think than anybody has given them credit for.
JP: But how important is that really because is it a public relations contest or is it a
BP: It is both. Judges have to publicly deny it, but I don't think that they inwardly can
deny it, that these kinds of public pressures weigh upon them very, very heavily.
The court of public opinion is very important in this.
JP: Did the Republicans have better organization, more money, more people on the
ground? Did they outwork you, out-organize you?
BP: I think they did, yeah. I think they clearly did. They had such vast resources. In
the case of Palm Beach County, they were hiring homeless people to go to
protests and things like that. It was just absolutely incredible. And the mean-
spiritedness of it all...
JP: "Sore loser man," [reference to popular sign punning on Gore/Lieberman], that
sort of thing?
BP: Yeah. It was pretty bitter.
JP: How important were the demonstrations at Miami-Dade? If you recall, while the
canvassing board was trying to count the votes that, literally, a large group of
BP: Mayhem. And Republican congressional staffers that were there. I think that
that was very important, that they were very intimidated. I've talked to people
there, they were afraid, and legitimately so. I can remember in Palm Beach
County with Jesse Jackson and us having to leave the street rally that we had
and go back to the amphitheater because we were very concerned about
violence there. There was a tremendous potential for violence, many times.
JP: I talked to [David] Leahy [supervisor of elections in Dade County] and he, of
course, claims that they were not intimidated. His argument is they didn't have
time to complete the count, but I noticed that once the contest was called, Judge
Lewis counted all of those votes, it was something like 10,500. They counted
them in one day, and Miami-Dade had five days. Understandably, the judges
were not having challenges on every vote. Did you see the Republican strategy
of going in there at Palm Beach and Broward and delaying the process by
challenging the votes and talking about chaos and people eating chads and all
this sort of thing?
BP: Yeah. Their public-relations machine was just incredible. The way that they
would challenge every single vote and every single ballot and slow down
intentionally, they wanted to slow down the process. It was amazing to me, I
remember on that Saturday when we were going into the recount in Seminole
County, just as an example, and we were in Sandy Goard's office and just getting
ready to go in and supervise the hand-recount of the votes and a cell- phone
went off. All of a sudden, there was a cheer led by the chairman of the Seminole
County Republican Party, who is also vice-chair of the Florida Republican Party
announcing that the Supreme Court had placed a stay on the recount, and to me
that was absolutely surreal that anybody involved in politics and in democracy
would not want votes counted, not want to know the truth. What's wrong with
knowing the truth? If their theory was correct that Bush had won, then let's have
it, let's have the truth.
JP: In fact, on one occasion, Gore proposed that if they would stop all the lawsuits
they would count all the votes and Bush declined.
BP: Absolutely, because they knew. They knew what we knew. They knew certainly
that more people intended for vote for Al Gore in Florida, they went into the
election booth with the intent of voting for Al Gore than voting for George Bush,
they knew that.
JP: Discuss the performance and evaluate the performance of Katherine Harris as
Secretary of State. This concept you mentioned of hyper-technical aspects that
the votes were be certified seven days after and then the overseas ballots ten
days and that she had to adhere to that, but even Judge Lewis, in Lewis-2, said
that she should exercise her discretion. Do you think she was fair in carrying out
BP: No. She never took off her George Bush hat. She was the co-chair of the Bush
campaign and she never took off that hat and clearly she did everything, and I
think that came out as we looked at the hard drives of her computers and the
operation that they were running out of the Secretary of State's office, it was very
clear that she was doing absolutely everything that she could for the Bush team.
JP: Do you think Jeb Bush was telling her what to do?
BP: I don't think he had to. I think that she was driven enough that I don't know
whether he did or not, but...
JP: Lucy Morgan of the St. Petersburg Times said they tried to find out and he said
he did not, but clearly Mac Stipanovich [Republican strategist; chief of staff for
Governor Bob Martinez, 1987; campaign director, Bob Martinez, 1986; executive
director for Reagan-Bush campaign in Florida, 1984] was...
BP: Stipanovich carried water back and forth and gave Bush any kind of plausible
deniability that he needed.
JP: Do you think that was the option here, that he was going to give her political
advice, Mac Stipanovich, as opposed to legal advice?
BP: Absolutely. Mac is one of the top Republican political strategists in this state.
He's not called Mac the Knife for nothing.
JP: But she would argue over and over again that, in almost every case, if you
looked at it strictly, that she could deny the appeals for Palm Beach an extra two
hours, they didn't get them in on time, too bad. She could legally open her office
on Sunday instead of Monday to certify because that was according to law, she
didn't break the law. And that technically in every decision she made, although
they all favored Bush, that she was legally correct.
BP: In a case that determines the outcome of a presidential election, which ultimately
could have cast a cloud of doubt on the underpinnings of our democracy, I think
that reasonable people would say, let's take the extra step, let's go the extra mile
to find out the truth. If you were so convinced that you really, really won, then
why not say, let's give it every latitude? But they knew what the truth was, so
that's why they cut everything so close, because they couldn't give Gore an inch.
If Gore had gotten an inch, he could have won the whole thing. That's why they
had to be so strict about it, and they couldn't give any latitude.
JP: Evaluate the performance of Bob Butterworth, who also was on the Gore team.
What's your opinion of state officers who have to make legal decisions being on
any political campaign for either candidate?
BP: I think, in looking back on it, that no one who is in that kind of a position really
should be in the campaign for perception and real reasons, but I would say that
Butterworth performed fairly. There were a lot of Gore people who were very
unhappy with Butterworth, because he didn't carry the water as much as they
wanted him to, but he was very strict about making clear distinctions about what
his role was as attorney general and what his role was as a Gore campaign
chair, which clearly we didn't see from Katherine Harris. I think that the
performance of the two, the contrast is striking.
JP: In the very beginning, he was in on some of the consultations, because all of the
lawyers I've talked to, they did consult with him, but then after that almost all of
them complained about his reaction to the military ballots.
BP: Right. He was not going to be told what to do. He and Bill Daley [Gore
campaign manager] had a huge falling-out. What was interesting too, on the
military ballots, was people talk about the Mark Herron memo, [Florida attorney,
sent memo to Democratic election canvassers instructing them on how to
disqualify overseas ballots] but Katherine Harris had a very similar memo that
said almost the exact same thing.
JP: Actually, I've talked to Mark about this, he had a five-page memo, the
Republicans had a fifty-two-page memo which spelled out and even had forms
that you could hand out. According to Mark, his memo was merely to explain
what the law was.
BP: That's all it was.
JP: But again, the press took it and said, here...
JP: And again you mentioned earlier, here's public perception: Gore is saying, count
all the votes, except for the military votes.
BP: But that wasn't the case at all. We were saying count every legitimate ballot.
There were military ballots that were counted where people weren't even
registered to vote. Military ballots were looked at differently than civilian ballots
and the Republicans were deathly afraid because there was this rumor going
around that there were 2,000 ballots coming into Broward County from Israel.
They were having to take one view of how to treat the military ballots, but they
were going to treat the civilian ballots entirely differently.
JP: In fact, Jim Smith [Co-chair, Governor's Select Task Force on Elections, Florida,
2001; Florida Secretary of State, 1987-1995; Florida Attorney General, 1979-
1987], on November 12, said that the state had to have strict enforcement of the
postmark standard, without a postmark it couldn't be a vote. But when they
started challenging, and they challenged, I believe, fourteen counties, Martin,
Okaloosa, Escambia and those counties, when they challenged those counties,
they took a totally different point of view. Now they were no longer strictly
obeying the law, we are allowing our veterans to vote and we need to give them
BP: Right. They talked out of both sides of their mouth and never got called on it,
absolutely never got called on it. Then, of course, when Lieberman made his
comments, that just...
JP: One of the things that intrigued me, you know the New York Times did a really
intensive study of this, I don't know if you read that or not, but they determined
that there were ballots accepted in some counties that were postmarked on the
8th [November]. Many of them had no postmarks. Some were mailed from the
United States, of course that's not an overseas ballot. Some of them didn't have
signatures, some of them didn't have witnesses, and someone has estimated,
the New York Times, that there's somewhere between 600 and 800 ballots that
were accepted in these counties, fourteen counties I believe, that would not have
been accepted in other counties. Are you aware of this?
BP: Oh yeah.
JP: Did you have people in each county?
BP: We had people in each and every county and there were different standards in
each and every county.
JP: Is that not a violation of the 14th Amendment?
BP: That is a violation of the 14th Amendment. This is another example of the
Republicans again arguing strict adherence to the law, in one case, and only
substantial compliance [in another case]. Whatever suited them, they had a
good spin for it.
JP: How did you let them get away with that? For example, 344 ballots were counted
without postmarks. The law is pretty clear.
BP: They wrapped, because one of the things that they did was that they shoved our
own words right up our ear, in terms of count every vote...
JP: And they made you seem disloyal.
BP: Right, and disingenuous.
JP: Yeah, and so they brought out high-powered military people.
BP: Right. They're very good at what they do, so you have to give them credit for
JP: Once the [Democratic] Party, and I guess you all were part of this, decides to go
to the contest, did you think at that juncture there was enough time to get the
BP: Yes. The other thing about it was that there were artificial deadlines. The whole
thing about when the electoral vote has to take place, most of that is by tradition
and could have waited. I think, historically, there was a case where we ended up
not even choosing our president until April or something. So, these were artificial
traditional deadlines and the December 12th date.
JP: The safe-harbor provision is [United States Code] 3 U.S. 5, but that's optional.
It's not forced, a state can opt for that, and I'm quite certain that the Republican
legislature would have.
BP: Absolutely, which is what Feeney [Tom Feeny, Florida state representative,
1990-1994, 1996-present; speaker of Florida House of Representatives, 2001-
present; Republican nominee for lieutenant governor of Florida, 1994] did in
trying to preempt a Gore victory.
JP: Talk about that a little bit. The vote, I believe was something like 68-41, it was
pretty much on party-lines. Is that, number one, constitutional, and number two,
doesn't that set a very bad precedent?
BP: I think it sets a horrible precedent, because what clearly I mean, the vote that
Katherine Harris certified had Bush winning. That vote and those electors were
already going to the archives.
JP: And I noticed Governor Bush signed off on that very quickly and sent it right in
because he was afraid it might be challenged.
BP: Because that had already gone to Washington, there was no reason for the
legislature to take the action that it had already taken. The only reason that you
could ever say is that, if the court challenge had gone to Gore's favor, that this
was a peremptory move to try to block the court from making a decision contrary
to what the official tally was.
JP: John MacKay [Florida state senator, 1990-2002] and the Senate held off,
because they thought it was too partisan. Do you think Bush requested Feeney
to do that? Do you have any sense?
BP: I don't know. Feeney's another one kind of like Katherine Harris, I don't think you
have to wind him up to do anything along those regards. I think that this is sort of
reflexive for Feeney.
JP: What was your reaction to the court decision by Judge Sauls [Judge, Leon
County Circuit Court]? I think it's pretty clear that before they presented the case
they assumed they were probably going to lose that decision.
BP: Yeah. We were very disappointed and had felt that we could recover in the
[Florida] Supreme Court.
JP: So in the two Florida Supreme Court decisions, one 7-0, to extend the date to
recount the votes to November 26, do you understand the reasoning behind the
date of November 26?
JP: That's part of the problem because the U.S. Supreme Court is going to say, by
changing the date they change the law, and that's going to be a critical part of the
U.S. Supreme Court decision. Did you see it that way or did you see it as
BP: No, we saw it as an interpretation of existing law and not creating a new law at
all. There was conflict in statutes, so they had to have an interpretation because
there was conflict in the statutes.
JP: One of the problems may have been is they didn't explain that, because the U.S.
Supreme Court remands the case back, they don't want to explain that date until
much later. It turns out the reason for it was that Katherine Harris had held up
the process for five days, they just added five days and that was the reason for it,
but not explaining created some problems, particularly with [U.S. Supreme Court]
Justice [Sandra Day] O'Connor. What about the 4-3 decision by the Florida
Supreme Court, were you surprised by that decision or were you surprised by the
closeness of the vote?
BP: I think we were surprised more by the closeness of the vote than the decision.
JP: You thought all along that they would allow these votes to be counted in Palm
Beach and Miami and Broward?
JP: But, amazingly, they did not allow the fifty-one votes in Nassau.
BP: Which astounded me and I still don't understand the Nassau County situation at
all. I still don't understand that.
JP: Also, after the 4-3 vote, there was a really strong dissent from Justice Wells. He
talked about the issue being a constitutional crisis and that sort of thing. Some
people have argued that this was a political response, that he was afraid that
Feeney and the Republicans were going to undermine the Florida Supreme
Court unless he got up and made some sort of strong statement. Do you have
any sense of that being a part of the equation?
BP: I don't know. I've known Charlie Wells for decades and I don't think that he
would yield at all to that kind of pressure. I could be wrong, but I don't think that
that would have figured into his thinking. [End TAPE A: SIDE 2]
JP: Did you anticipate that the United States Supreme Court would ever intervene in
BP: No. In fact, given the history of the Court, you would think that they wouldn't
have, and having intervened, you wouldn't have thought that they would make
the ruling that they made. From our perspective, it was clear that they made a
political decision because they were completely inconsistent with their other
JP: It's also interesting to note that when Middlebrooks made his decision, he said
that it was a state issue that had been traditionally decided, even though it was a
presidential election, it was the State of Florida voting. He also said in there that
it was always going to be a problem to get different standards. There are sixty-
seven counties, they use different machines, that's always the way it's been,
that's always the way it's going to be, that you can't overturn an election because
those are the standards set previously. Yet, the [U.S.] Supreme Court looked at
that and said, that's a violation of the 14th Amendment, which they had almost, on
every occasion in the past, opposed.
BP: Right. This was so inconsistent with any previous ruling of that court that it was
clear to us that it was a political decision.
JP: They also argued that the rules of the election had been changed during the
campaign, as it were the county, and that that violation violates Section 2 of the
Constitution, where the legislature determines the winner of a campaign. Did you
see that as having some validity?
JP: One of the issues of that comes up throughout all of this is this idea of
determining voter intent, we've talked about it a little bit earlier. How should the
court have ruled on that issue, once the Supreme Court took the case? I should
point out the 11th Federal Court of Appeals turned down Bush appeals twice, on
this same issue. So, how should the Supreme Court have dealt with that issue?
BP: This goes back down to local control in a community. If you can determine voter
intent, and it is a legitimate ballot, it is a legally-cast ballot, because that's what
you get into with the whole military issue and everything else, if it is a legal ballot
and you can determine the voter intent, then that vote should be counted.
JP: One of the things that David Boies argued is that you should apply the
reasonable-man standard as you do if you have a jury dealing with facts on a
case, or if you have a death-penalty case. One state, Alabama, might sentence
a person to death on the same evidence that would not lead to a death conviction
in Massachusetts, so you apply that reasonable-man standard all across the
country, but the court simply refused to accept it, or at least five of them refused
to accept it. However, some argue that it was a 7-2 vote because seven of the
justices thought that the problem in Florida election law had been violated by
these different standards. Did you see that as a 7-2 vote or a 5-4 vote?
JP: One of the proposals, and I forget exactly which justice it was, I believe it was
Breyer, Breyer proposed in his dissent that there's still time to count. Let's
remand it to the Florida Supreme Court, let them make a standard, and count all
the votes. Was the doable?
BP: Sure it was. Absolutely it was doable. There was nothing to prevent that from
being done. We still would've been able to, even under that scenario, we'd have
been able to inaugurate a president on the 21st of January, even if that date was
set in stone. It was clear that that's not what the Republicans wanted.
JP: If you look back at the recount, where should Gore have changed his strategy?
What decisions might he have made? We talked a little about Martin and
Seminole counties, where else could he have made decisions that might have
given him the presidency?
BP: I think that we didn't realize that there were some systemic issues and that the
lack of any kind of a consistent standard around Florida was so pervasive that it
was such a hodgepodge and a patchwork quilt of standards. Much of that didn't
come out until later. I just don't think that we had the resources to get it done.
JP: It seems, in retrospect, that had he challenged the military ballots, that might
have been his best option, because, according to the Miami Herald, U.S. Today,
if we did a complete recount of all the votes, they seemed to indicate that three of
the four scenarios would see George Bush elected. Would you agree with that?
BP: I think that if we had had a complete recount, because we were down to a
difference of 113, 114, somewhere in there. Even the over-vote in Lake County
would have netted more than that in just this one little county here to the west of
JP: So that was another mistake, if they had counted over-votes?
BP: Yes. If they counted the so-called over-votes which were, in our opinion, not
over-votes, where somebody punched Gore or Bush and voted on the write-in for
Gore or Bush. As long as it was consistent between those votes.
JP: Had they been examined by a human eye, the canvassing boards who had that
responsibility could have determined that those were...
BP: But even the canvassing board in Lake County had done that, but they
considered them over-votes and they disqualified them. Again, there were
JP: But you could have challenged that in court.
BP: Could have challenged that in court, yes.
JP: The other issue is, it seems to me, and you can argue this forever in terms of his
strategy, would he have been better off, let's say, using Clinton more, not
necessarily in Florida, but certainly in Arkansas, maybe in Tennessee? There's
so many things in the campaign that may have affected the outcome, do you
think that Gore could've run a better campaign that might have prevented the
close vote in Florida?
BP: No. You have to start with the premise that he won. Nationally, 500,000 more
votes than Bush, and in Florida more people going into the voting booths
intending to vote for him, so their strategy played out perfectly. One of the things
that's very interesting, that nobody really talks about, is the fact that the
Republicans were getting ready to go into Congress to abolish the Electoral
College, because their feeling was that Bush was going to win the popular vote
and that Gore could have won the electoral vote, and the Republicans were
ready, as soon as Congress convened in January, they were going to go in to
abolish the Electoral College.
JP: But that would have taken a Constitutional amendment.
BP: And they were going to push for that, but they were gathering all the steam and
everything else prior to the election, because they knew that that was a distinct
possibility. I haven't heard anything about that, haven't heard a single thing
about that since this election.
JP: You might remember as well when the 4-3 Florida Supreme Court came out,
[Baker] denounced elections determined by courts. When you had the 5-4 U.S.
Supreme Court once again, I mean there was hypocrisy on both sides.
BP: No question.
JP: What about the Election Reform Act of 2001? What was your reaction to that?
Which did away of course with the punch-cards and new machines. Do you think
the provisional ballot is a good idea?
BP: I think provisional ballots are a good idea. One of the things that concerns me
about this whole thing, as you pointed out, 96 percent of the people got the ballot
right in Palm Beach County and those 96 percent are going to be first-time voters
in a brand-new system coming up. I'm very concerned about how that plays out.
JP: They've already had problems in Palm Beach County.
BP: They've already had problems. The interesting thing about this is that we get
back to under-vote. Part of what people are complaining about is that there was
under-vote in some other municipal elections that have been held in Palm Beach
County. My feeling is that people have the right not to vote for somebody in an
election and, in fact, I think you could make the case that, if somebody is either
undecided or not knowledgeable to cast a ballot, that you'd rather not have them
cast a vote, which is why I think one of the things that we need to be thinking
about is, should we have a place on the ballot for no vote, so that somebody can
say, I'm choosing not to vote in this election, so that a machine could then say
that that's not an under-vote.
JP: I think some people are afraid that that might win.
BP: It could, but you would only count the votes that were cast. In cases like judicial
JP: You can vote up or down.
BP: Yeah. I'd rather have somebody, if they don't know or are not informed, I'd rather
have them not cast a ballot, but if they mark that they're making a conscious
decision not to vote in that race, I think that's something that we ought to
JP: I understand the cost problem, but it would seem if there is a problem with
differing standards, the state legislature would have required all counties to have
the same machines. In fact, one man named Abner Green, who is a scholar of
the Constitution said, if you took that to the logical conclusion, if there is in fact
different standards, then every citizen in America would vote on the same
machine with the same standard.
JP: So how do you overcome that kind of problem? It doesn't matter unless there's a
close election, but then it matters a lot.
BP: Yeah, and I think from a practical standpoint that's never going to happen, it's
just not going to happen.
JP: What about the decision in this Election Reform Act of 2001 to do away with the
BP: That was clearly a political move that they thought was going to hurt us and in
fact, at the time, they thought that was going to nominate Lois Frankel as our
gubernatorial candidate. It just shows you that people in politics, their ability to
predict the future, they've got such a bad track record you'd think they'd stop.
You'd think they'd quit, but they don't, and everybody always acts like the
election's next Tuesday.
JP: Have you read the Civil Rights Commission Report on the activities that had at
least anecdotal evidence of discrimination, and, in fact, I know that there is an
official suit against Orange County at least for not providing enough help for
Hispanics? Is that correct?
BP: You've got the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and then you've got the Justice
Department, they're two separate things. The thing that I find very suspicious
about the Justice Department is that they've gone after two issues. One is in the
Haitian community and the other is in the Puerto Rican-Hispanic community...
JP: This is in Dade [County]?
BP: Dade is where they did the Haitian.
JP: Osceola [County]?
BP: Osceola and Orange [County] where they did the Hispanic, which is primarily
Puerto Rican, and that just coincidentally parallels where the Republican Party is
trying to make inroads politically, is in the Haitian community and in the non-
Cuban Hispanic communities. So I find that very suspicious. I find the fact that
there were over 11,000 complaints lodged that they never came to us and asked
for our affidavits. We have thousands and thousands and thousands.
JP: This is the Justice Department?
BP: The Justice Department. Now the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights did. The
U.S. Commission on Civil Rights came in and they subpoenaed our information,
but the Justice Department did not. They never interviewed us, they've never
come down, and they never even interviewed many of the groups that filed suit.
So it appears as though the Justice Department has simply tried to whitewash
this whole thing.
JP: That's why I asked that question the way I did, because it's clear they did not
take any of the conclusions of the United States Civil Rights Commission and act
BP: Right, absolutely not. And Jeb Bush has denounced the U.S. Commission on
Civil Rights on several occasions.
JP: Having read that report, quite frankly, a lot of that is anecdotal, and I found out
about this circumstance in Dade County where there was a State Patrol stop and
Lucy Morgan [of the] St. Petersburg Times examined that and they found out that
it was there for an hour and a half, it wasn't close to a polling place, they stopped
twenty-six motorists, sixteen were white, ten were black. As Lucy Morgan said,
the Highway Patrol are not intelligent enough to try to disrupt voting, they
probably didn't know there was an election that day. So a lot of that really seems
kind of anecdotal and some of the people who were denied the right to vote were
at the wrong polling place.
BP: The one thing that was very disturbing, one of the most disturbing things, were
the people who were purged from the voter list and branded as felons, and
Katherine Harris knew that there was a problem with that whole thing and she
never corrected it and she laid off the blame on the supervisors.
JP: Which made them furious.
JP: Because she's the one that chose to come and they did the study, and, in fact,
most of the elections supervisors I've talked to just threw the list out because in
BP: A supervisor was on the list, yeah.
JP: She said she knew pretty well that wasn't right. So those were issues that
showed some conflict between the Secretary of States' office and the elections
BP: Absolutely. But that's something that the Justice Department didn't look into and
they didn't look into that contract and the company and was that a part of a larger
conspiracy, was that intentional.
JP: Let me bring up another thing that I discovered not too long ago. In Duval
County, as you know, I think there were like 9 percent over-votes and there were
a lot of problems with the voting on the same kind of ballot; that when they went
back to reconsider the overseas military ballots they said, well, the soldiers
messed up the ballots, they voted and they didn't get a witness signature; what
the heck, we'll count it. But they did not apply that same standard to African
Americans and, in one specific case, the guy said, well, if you're too dumb to vote
[then it shouldn't count]. Well, if the military was too dumb to vote, it shouldn't
count and there ought to be a standard equal there.
BP: Right, and that was very troubling.
JP: Very troubling, but that's an isolated case, I think. I don't see anywhere in this,
and you may know different, that there's any real fraud. Are you aware of any
BP: I'm not aware of any fraud. I think that it goes back to that phrase "benign
neglect" and I think that it's just that kind of attitude and a double standard that's
applied. They look at military ballots in one way, look at the votes in an African-
American precinct in another, and feel very justified in doing that.
JP: How would you assess the press' treatment of the election, both print-media and
BP: I think the Republicans really had a tremendous public-relations machine and I
think this is where we're really seeing this new emergence of this right-wing radio
and television that has come about. We've never seen that before and they
played into that very, very well. I think the newspapers were trying to play it
straight and I think that the broadcast media tried to play it straight, but the radio
talk shows, the cable television news programs... I always knew whatever I was
doing, whether it was Fox or MSNBC or whatever it was, I was going into hostile
territory; whereas when I was doing one of the broadcast networks, I was going
to get a fair shot. It wasn't going to be easy, but at least I was going to get a fair
shot. But not in the case you do the Hannity and Colmes [political talk show on
Fox News Channel] Show and you know that you're going to get torn apart going
JP: One of the things that came up, Lucy Morgan was talking about this, she was
saying that in Palm Beach County, people were going in and observing the
count, which was orderly. They were coming out and they were saying, it's
chaotic in there, there are chads all over the floor, which was not true and
everybody had seen that. You could see and yet that was not challenged by
anybody, CBS, ABC, nobody challenged that, which I thought was not a very
perceptive way to deal with the actual events.
BP: It was sensationalized.
JP: That's the whole point.
BP: The media sensationalized this, because I would, at places, and you'd see it on
the news media, and say, boy, that's different than where I was, but no, there
was a tremendous amount of sensationalism going on. There were even times
where they were talking about, we're in a constitutional crisis and we're about
ready to come apart at the seams, none of that happened. The banks were still
open and people were still doing commerce and there weren't tanks in the
streets. People were yelling and screaming at each other sometimes, but for the
average person, it was pretty calm.
JP: Plus there's a constitutional process to get through all this anyway.
JP: Was the press unfair to Florida, this "Flori-duh"? All of these comments about,
when you look at, for example, South Carolina had many more over-votes and
under-votes. They don't mention Chicago or New Orleans.
BP: Yeah, well, this is a process that works better in the spotlight than it does under
the microscope. If you go to any jurisdiction, and I don't care where the
jurisdiction is in this country, and you put it under the microscope and you give it
the kind of scrutiny that we got, it's easily criticized.
JP: Again, they didn't find any fraud. I thought that was quite interesting. How has
this election impacted you and your position as chair of the Democratic Party?
BP: It was a life-changing event. You don't go through that kind of trauma and drama
and come out of it unscathed. It has changed me in good and bad ways. I'm
much more cynical now, I think, about the process than I was when I got elected.
On the other hand, it's elevated me in some ways nationally, not because of me,
but because of the position that I hold in national politics. That was not my
desire, but it certainly thrust me into the national spotlight and to this day I've got
a much higher profile in the party nationally than I would have otherwise.
Probably, even maybe more so than had we won, in some respects. I think life
would be different had we won under normal circumstances, and I think Florida's
position in politics has changed for the foreseeable future. We're going to see
that in our upcoming governor's race, it is going to be the marquee race in 2002
and it's going to be a combination of a rerun of 2000 and a preview of 2004. So
it's going to be interesting as we move forward, it's going to have international
JP: What has been the overall impact of this election on the State of Florida?
BP: Politically, I think that it shows how important Florida is. Florida is a swing state.
Some people perceive it as being more Republican than it is, but it's certainly
clear when you look at this election that Florida's split 50-50. We've normally
had two United States Senators, one from the Republican Party, one from the
Democratic Party for quite some time. Now we have two Democrats, but that is
just an indication that this is...
JP: Because the congressional representation is primarily Republican.
BP: That's because of how the lines were drawn and the same thing is true about the
legislature. If you drew the lines really according to voter performance in the
state, you'd have much more of a balanced legislature and congressional
JP: Is there anything that we haven't discussed or haven't talked about that you'd like
to bring up or are there any significant stories, amusing stories, poignant events
that you might recall?
BP: It was exciting, it was thrilling, every emotion that you could imagine it was, but
all sort of in the red zone, it was all extreme, there was not moderation of
JP: It must have been exhausting physically.
BP: It was. I kept on telling my family, regardless of what happens, come
Wednesday, November 8, life returns to normal, and that didn't happen. The
recount was probably more difficult than the campaign. At least during the
campaign you thought there was an end, but during the recount you didn't know
when, if, how. They were shuttling me all over the state of Florida. I was one of
those spokespersons and they give you a call and say, okay, you have to go to a
television studio here and you're going to be on, The Today Show on NBC or the
Today Show on BBC, you were on call twenty-four hours a day, seven days a
week, to do those things.
JP: Who was determining your schedule?
BP: Everybody. There were so many masters. I never knew who was really calling a
lot of the shots.
JP: Because Bill Daley left after awhile.
BP: Daley left, and we never really saw Christopher. There was an operation that
was down in Palm Beach, and then there was another operation in Washington,
and I never really got a sense of who was actually in control.
JP: Did you see Ron Klain as sort of an intermediary between Gore and the Florida
Party apparatus and the lawyers?
BP: Yes. But there were times I didn't know whether he really had the authority,
whether he was the last person to go to, and that kind of thing. Daley surfaced at
the end again. They were trying to get Harry Jacobs to drop his lawsuit and
Daley knew that I was close to Jacobs and asked me to intervene there and I
wasn't going to do that.
JP: In fact, he called everybody, he called Bruce Rogow, he called Mitch Berger and
yelled at all of them and said, you have to call them off. But isn't that part of the
problem? Maybe, if the Democrats had a Jim Baker it might have made a
BP: I think so. I think that we needed a Jim Baker. I think Al Gore was too nice. I
think Al Gore was too principled, and this really goes contrary to what so many
people believe about Al Gore is that he would do anything to be president of the
United States. The fact is that he didn't, and as a result, he isn't. I think that the
Bush people did what they needed to do and they didn't give a damn. They
wanted the prize, and I think they wanted it more than we did. I think that Gore
wanted it on Gore's terms. Gore wanted it on a very principled term and without
that he didn't want it, and as a result, it doesn't happen.
JP: Do you anticipate that he will run again?
BP: Every indication that I have today is that that's where he's headed. Whether he
ultimately makes that decision or not I don't know, but certainly today, as we sit
here in June of 2002, he's giving every indication. You look at our convention
and you say, how has Florida changed? Here we hold our little convention here
in Orlando and we attract every major potential presidential candidate and all the
national/international news media every place we go.
JP: Gore really gave a campaign speech, didn't he?
BP: Gore gave a campaign speech and when you look at the Friday morning USA
TODAY piece right before that convention, Friday morning the USA TODAY
piece said, Dems don't want Gore to bash Bush. There was a poll that said they
didn't want Gore saying anything negative about Bush and my first reaction to
that was oh well, I guess they're in rewrite, I guess they're rewriting the speech.
As it turned out, and I was glad that they didn't, he came down and he gave a
speech, had a lot of great red meat in it and it was right for the times, it was right
for the audience, and it was the best thing for him.
JP: Certainly got a positive response, didn't he?
BP: He got a tremendous response, and I tell you there were a lot of folks and a lot of
big money people who were sort of sitting on the fence not really knowing what to
do, and he breathed the life back into his aspirations.
JP: Is there anything else that we can discuss?
BP: I think that's it.
JP: I want to thank you very much for your time.
BP: Thank you.
[End of the interview.]