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Sunday, 12 November, 2000, 15:02 GMT
Raymond Seitz

DAVID FROST: The great drama of the week, there's no doubt about that, has been the American elections, voters there still do not know who will be their 43rd President. In Florida the Republicans in one county are insisting there should not be a manual recount of the votes there despite the first recount results which showed that the many voters were confused by the ballot paper and did not register the vote. Here's one representative of Palm Beach County speaking at one of the recounts just a few minutes ago.

DAVID FROST: And now to pick over this extraordinary story we're joined by Raymond Seitz, former US Ambassador to Britain, Vice-Chairman of the President of the Bank of Lehman Brothers, all around good guy and renaissance man, among other things and an expert on the situation. The question I asked earlier during the paper reviews, let's start there and then review the thing, I mean what do you think will be the outcome?

RAYMOND SEITZ: I think it's much too soon to say that David but what, my short answer in all these questions takes about two hours┐so, but I'll try to cut it back, I think what's really important for people here to understand is that this is a federal system in the United States which means that when a presidential election occurs it's actually 50 state elections that are taking place simultaneously. It is a very complex affair, parties are organised by the states, the laws that govern the election are in the different states, when you look at a ballot in the United States it's not just for a president, you don't have to say Tory or Liberal Democrat, you're talking about a governor and senator, state officials and school boards and proposition and it's a very, very complex affair. And into all of this complexity has now been inserted what is probably the closest election we've ever had in the United States, and it is of, it's a statistical wonder really and therefore you get 100 million votes cast and you get down to counting this one here in this county and this one in that county, I mean in some respects it's actually a remarkable exercise and there are procedures in place for dealing with all of this but it takes time, absentee ballots is another aspect of this. So in a way it's actually going well, it's complex, it's laborious, it's time consuming, but it's going okay, the problem is if this then tips into bitterness and court action and suit and counter-suit I think that could begin then to have a very deleterious effect on it so to answer your question one side or the other pretty soon has to draw a line under this or the damage to the, the whole, the confidence in the system I think is going to be considerable.

DAVID FROST: Is in fact, it sounds as though human, human kind you know, better than computers and so on, but actually this, this manual recount, is a manual recount more or less efficient than a machine one?

RAYMOND SEITZ: Well manual voting of course is less efficient, that's why you have the machines, so the machines, and the machines make judgements but machines, just like people, make, can make poor judgements on whether a ballot counts or doesn't count and can throw that out, so this is a re-examination of whether the machine behaved properly and in this sample that was done in, in Palm Beach County it, it showed a narrow fault on both sides but on the whole it was in keeping with what the, with what the vote was. The question will be do you then go through that process in only the democratic counties, if you do that then you, should you do it in all of the other counties in Florida and if you do do Florida, bear in mind Iowa was close, Oregon is close, Wisconsin's close, New Mexico's close, do you do it there, in other words do you open up this whole dreadful can of worms, that's the question that's in front of us.

DAVID FROST: At this point it looks, as you say someone's got to draw a line under it, it looks on figures so far but it might be the other way round, that that person may be Al Gore but it might be George Bush and I would have thought there would be tremendous pressure when all the figures are in, presumably by next Friday, or later if there are still recounts going on in Oregon or whatever, that whichever candidate does not succeed should not go to law, is that the flesh of it┐should not go to law, whichever candidate does not succeed should not take the legal route?

RAYMOND SEITZ: I think those who are concerned about these broader issues would agree with that proposition, I mean you have, of course you have to wonder what the specific is, what specifically is the issue, but I think broadly people would agree with it and they would agree with it for the longer term, I think right now everybody's watching the television and there's this little manoeuvre, micro-manoeuvres here and there, but what is really important is the nature of the presidency that emerges from this and not just for whichever candidate succeeds, you know that may be a poisoned chalice, what either winner now receives that may be a poison chalice. But also in terms of the authority of the White House, we had the impeachment a couple of years ago, this all undermines the, if it's protracted and turns really nasty it then undermines what is the essential power of the White House which is its authority and that's even more critical now because this election was close everywhere so you may end up with a senate where there are 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats, and a House of Representatives where there are just two or three majority for the Republicans. You need a President that can deal with the complexity of our own government and if the process undermines that President's authority then I think we've really damaged it.

DAVID FROST: Ray thank you very much indeed for being with us. Raymond Seitz there.


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