Archive: John Roberts

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Veteran CBS News White House Correspondent Bill Plante is the host of'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 CBS News White House Correspondent John Roberts in a special post-election edition of S.F.R. Roberts has spent the last year also covering the campaign of Vice President Gore.

Plante: "How come no one is taking the election for what it is - mandate from the people stating that they don't support either candidate. It's a tie, a draw, null & void," notes our first viewer, David Sprink. He writes, "My question is why isn't "None of the Above" on the ballot so that the American people can have a true choice?"

Roberts: David, it might seem as though there was a great sense of voter apathy this year, but in truth, this election brought out a large number of voters. Al Gore, for instance attracted more Democratic votes than any candidate since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. It is true that there was a measurable lack of enthusiasm among partisan voters for both candidates. However, under our current system, voters have to live with the choices made by the two major parties - and they gave us George W. Bush and Al Gore. There have been plenty of examples in our history when the presidency has been won by a narrow margin such as we saw this year. "None of the above" is certainly a choice you can make in the voting booth by not indicating a presidential preference, but as a matter of practicality, it cannot exist.

Plante: "Do you think that the lack of a clear mandate will make it difficult for either candidate to effectively govern?" asks Frank.

Roberts: Frank, it might depend to a large degree on just how messy the fight for Florida becomes. If, at the end of this process, there is a clear winner - if even by the narrowest of margins - the winner will have the mandate of the majority. But if it is dragged out in a never-ending partisan fight with a murky conclusion, whoever is left to occupy the Oval Office may find a cloud hanging over his presidency, making it extremely difficult to get anything done. I would imagine though, if Bush were to win - with a Republican majority in Congress - he may have a bit easier time governing in the latter case.

Plante: Maria Broderick writes, "I would like to know why it is being said that the Networks got it wrong when they called Florida for Gore. I understand that this is based on exit polls. If so many ballots were invalidated in Palm Beach and these voters were questioned as they left the polling stations, thinking they had voted correctly for Gore, surely the Networks got it right?"

Roberts: Marie, that is exactly the question that I have been pondering for days. Our projections were based on exit polls. Voters would have indicated to the Voter New Service (our polling consortium) which candidate they cast their ballot for. If so many ballots were spoiled by 'over voting' or mistaken punches in Palm Beach County alone, it would skew the actual results from the projections. So, it may be, in the end, that the projections were correct.

Plante: Since we are now embroiled in a long-term recount and the waiting for absentee results in Florida, how come you all haven't insisted upon the count of all absentee ballots in ALL the states? It seems to me with all the rhetoric about the fairness of the election process that somebody in the media would finally realize that all absentee ballots in all states are important - not just Florida. Maybe we would have a more clear-cut decision than relying on just one state in the Union. Connie Broderick is concerned.

Roberts: Connie, it is not for us to demand anything of the presidential election process. It is up to the candidates, or the local election boards to ask for a recount, hand count, re-canvass of absentee ballots, etc. That said, the absentee ballots in all states are, in fact being counted. And they are slowly changing the results of close races. In California, for example, the count of absentee ballots will not affect the outcome in that state, but they could affect the overall popular vote winner. In New Mexico, on the other hand, absentee ballots and local recounts shifted the state toward Bush, before an error that was discovered shifted it back.

We usually don't hear much about absentee ballots, because in typical years, the margins are great enough that they don't affect the outcome. We are hearing so much about Florida, because the estimated 4000 overseas absentee ballots could decide the presidency.

E-mail questions to The Smoke-Filled Room.

About Bill Plante
Bill Plante is a three-time Emmy Award winner who joined the CBS News Washington Bureau in 1976. He has been covering national elections since 1968. In 1984, he was part of a CBS News teamthat captured an Emmy for coverage of Ronald Reagan's 1984 re-election campaign. Plante is one of the most knowledgeable and respected political correspondents in Washington. (He'll do just about anything, including bungee jumping, to get a good story.)