Archive: Dick Meyer

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CBS
Veteran CBS News White House Correspondent Bill Plante is the host of CBSNews.com's Smoke-Filled Room. Each week, Bill invites a top political expert into the Smoke-Filled Room to answer your questions. Today's guest is CBSNews.com Washington Editorial Director Dick Meyer in a special post-election edition of S.F.R.

Plante: Our first viewer M. Sullivan writes, "Don't you find it ironic that the Democrats who keep saying that recounts are necessary to ensure that 'every vote should count' take the position that recounts are necessary only in the counties where the Democrats are in the majority?"

Meyer: Not only do I find it ironic, I think it's downright hypocritical.

But in the Democrats' defense, I should add that Vice President Gore did offer to support a statewide recount if Bush wanted one. Bush passed, arguing that a statewide recount would merely compound they said plagued county recounts.

The bigger issue is that it has become difficult to see any clear justifications for recounts in some Florida counties but not others. There are no allegations of fraud, equipment malfunctions, or other election process failures. Initially, the Democrats' call for a recount was mixed up with the controversy about the "butterfly ballot" in Palm Beach County where it appeared that many votes were cast for Buchanan by accident. Now those issues are entirely separate. So why are four counties having hand recounts? Essentially, because the county authorities aren't confident the results were accurate.

Plante: The last session of Congress didn't get a whole lot done what with all the partisan politics on the Hill. Don't you think the same thing will happen with the new session - regardless of who wins the presidency? M. Wilson is curious.

Meyer: I think there is a big risk that this is exactly what will happen. But it is not a certainty and we shouldn't doom the next president with pessimism and cynicism.

Also, there are some reasons for optimism. Any time a president is inaugurated when times are peaceful and the economy is booming, there is the opportunity and the probability, of success. Further, if the eventual winner takes giant steps to reach out to the losing party through Cabinet appointments and substantive compromises on issues, it could create a less partisan atmosphere. Failure is not inevitable; the politicians will have to work at it. But don't bet against them.

Plante: "What do you think of the proposed plan to ban exit poll results from being televised until all polls have closed? Don't you think if this had been the case we would not be in the situation we’re now facing?” asks Jack Thomas.

Meyer: I'm biased, but I think it is a bad idea that solves nothing.

The networks messed up with Florida on election night, but that's not why there's a mess in Florida. The actual, tablated vote counted by the counties was very close - that is why there is a recount. It has nothing to do with exit polls or network projections.

The networks currently don't release exit poll data and projections about winners and losers until after a state's polls have closed. I don't think the government should be in the business of telling reporters and journalism organizations what they can and cannot say and when. It's bad precedent.

Plante: H. Lee Cincy asks, "If individual voters across America, from Maine to California, are subject to a system that is less than 100% perfect (one thing on which both parties seem to agree) how is it fair to 100 million voters to have a few votes, in a few counties, in one state recounted, counted again and perhaps one more time?"

Meyer: Most Americans had not come to grips with the fact that elections are not perfect until this unique campaign went into overtime. Given that elections are not perfect, most jurisdictions have provisions for recounts to lessen those imperfections when elections are very close. That is what happened in Florida. Most counties in Florida - 63 of 67 - were content that the first recount was fair and accurate. Four counties weren't and are proceeding with manual recounts. But on the face of it, you raise a very good point: why have recounts in some areas and not others? It is not ideal and it may not be rational. But I'm not sure that it's unfair to voters in other parts of the state and country.

Plante: Paulina Led would like to know if you could "compare this election to any other close ones? How did the country respond after a highly contested race?"

Meyer: Frankly, this election does not compare to any modern election. There were elections in the 18th century when the winner of the popular vote didn't win the electoral vote. But those elections don't give us much insight into how the country is reacting now, or how it should and will react in the future.

The closest recent election was 1960. It was also plagued by charges of vote theft, corruption, and unfairness. But it did not turn into the tangled mess we are seeing today, obviously. The loser in 1960, Richard Nixon, considered pursuing recounts and litigation but didn't. Historians differ on why he didn't, but most agree he would have failed. But the country was divided, the election was controversial and still John Kennedy was a famously successful president.

The country was and is more able to leave the controversy of a hotly contested election behind than the politicians. In some ways, a close election reminds people of what they have in common, while it reminds politicians of what divides them.

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