Chat Transcript: Former Senator David Pryor (Nov. 15, 2000)

The latest chapter in the battle for Florida's 25 electoral votes saw a Florida judge's rejection on Tuesday of efforts to extend the 5 p.m. ET deadline for counties to turn in their vote tallies.

Florida's secretary of state, Katherine Harris, now has the power to accept or ignore any vote counts turned in late. Harris has indicated that all election results — aside from overseas ballots — would be final as of Tuesday night.

Also: If George W. Bush ends up defeating Al Gore, will people accept the electoral vote over the popular vote to decide the presidency? And how will members of the Electoral College respond to the chaos of the presidential election when they gather? Former Senator David Pryor joined us today in an online chat to discuss the ongoing Florida vote battle and this year's election. The chat transcript is below.

Moderator at 8:13pm ET

Read more about the role Congress may play in picking the president.

Moderator at 3:05pm ET

Welcome David Pryor!

David Pryor at 3:07pm ET

Thank you!

Moderator at 3:07pm ET

Mr. Pryor let's start our discussion with the latest news in the ongoing vote battle for Florida. A deadline has passed for counties to justify recounts. A judge has decided to hold a hearing to determine whether a re-vote should be permitted in Palm Beach County and in Broward County, officials have decided to conduct a full manual recount. In regard to recounts, Judy asks:

Judy at 3:08pm ET

Since the Palm Beach County ballot has already been determined to be "legal", how can that still be an issue brought before a judge?

David Pryor at 3:10pm ET

To tell you the truth, the ground is moving beneath us so rapidly, it's hard to know. I don't know right now if this is a state or federal case. As we all know after this eight day civics lesson, this is historically a state issue; it's rare for the federal courts to become involved in a matter like this. I don't know whether state or federal courts are making any determinations at this point.

If there's one thing that has come from all this, it is that we have all had a good civics lesson in our country, and for the first time we're talking about the electoral college, federal versus state in jurisdiction, the basic foundation of the voting apparatus and procedure. There may be a lot of ugly parts about the aftermath of this election, but that's one part that's going to serve us well.

Andrew Davis at 3:12pm ET

Senator Pryor, why is it that America's voting system is such that all citizens are not automatically registered to vote?

David Pryor at 3:16pm ET

Our system has never automatically registered people. This may be because if we registered everyone, at birth, or at the age of eighteen, we wouldn't know their residence nor their mental capacities, nor their capacities as a citizen, whether or not they were convicted felons. I just don't think we're quite ready to automatically register all citizens to vote. I have heard an interesting concept recently; a sort of a three strikes and you're out scenario. If you don't vote at least once for three elections in a row, you're disqualified from voting for a period or time, say five years, or perhaps even permanently. "Use it or lose it!" Something like that might make people angry enough to say "I'll show 'em, I'll just go out and vote."

Also consider the amendment that lowered the voting age to 18. I've heard the 18-21 year olds don't vote — threatening to take their votes away might get them out to vote. I certainly don't advocate these kinds of Draconian measures. But there are some who feel that even to discuss these things will increase interest in our voting procedures. Those are just two ideas I've heard. Another thing may come out of this; people may see that at long last their vote does indeed count. This may be a positive that comes out of all this.

Brady Owens from at 3:17pm ET

Given that the Palm Beach "butterfly" ballot was designed by a Democrat, approved by both parties, and sent to the homes of area voters, how is there any legal leg to stand on?

David Pryor at 3:20pm ET

Oh, I don't think the butterfly ballot right now is in the area of legality, I think it's in the area of does it work or does it not. It doesn't work, obviously, because too many people were confused by it. I saw a better one that was printed Saturday or Sunday in the Times that two young women in an advertising firm had drawn up; it was clear and concise. It made me wish there was a standardized ballot.

If we can put a man on the moon, and do all we can do with computers, it appears to me that we could have a national computer system that would gather votes. There's no reason that a vote could not be fed into a computer and be announced when the polls close.

We're looking at a major overhaul of the electoral system. I think you're going to see Congressional hearings on not only the type of ballot that was used on this election day, but also the role that the tv networks played on election night in announcing winners and losers in certain states prematurely.

You saw some of the television stations across America, because the fairness doctrine has been repealed, openly endorsing particular candidates; as happened in Pittsburgh. Our ABC affiliate did it in Little Rock. They not only made a statement, they repeated it over the course of two or three days.

Navin Itwaru at 3:22pm ET

Do all of these recounts really matter? I thought it was the electoral votes that determined who becomes President, not the popular votes.

David Pryor at 3:23pm ET

The popular vote determines, in Florida, where the electors will vote, so that's why they're fighting over 300 votes in Florida, because whoever wins that, that determines who's going to be our next President.

John P at 3:24pm ET

Mr. Pryor, wouldn't the country be better off if both candidates agreed to recount the entire state of Florida and then add the electoral votes? I am a Gore supporter, but it would be illegitimate and unfair for him to win Florida by having only Democratic counties manually recounted.

David Pryor at 3:26pm ET

I don't know who would get the best count. There are a lot of people that ought to be saying they don't know right now; no one really does know. I think we ought to look into abolishing the Electoral College. When I was in the Senate, I introduced just such a proposal 1989, but I didn't get very far.

B.J. from at 3:26pm ET

Do you feel that voters have any responsibility to know and understand what they are doing prior to going to vote?

David Pryor at 3:28pm ET

Well, you know, I think it's incumbent upon all of us to know as much as we can. There were thousands of times in the past when African - Americans and other minorities were denied the opportunity to vote because they were given tests about the Constitution or about what particular laws said, or meant, at the polling place. These were questions that the voters couldn't necessarily answer, and asking questions like that discouraged them from trying to cast their votes.

I think if we start having a test about candidates or the system before a person could vote, I think there would be a national uproar. I don't think you'll ever see that happen. We have to remember what Churchill said, "Democracy is the worst of all systems of government, except for all the rest." And I think in our government you take the bad with the good, put 'em all together, and you come out with a good system. But sometimes, it's true, we just don't know as much as we should when we go into the voting booth.

Cheryl Conklin from at 3:29pm ET

Since the Constitution upholds the electoral vote process, and we have always known that a candidate could lose even though they had the most popular votes. Why should this be an issue just because the election is a close one? If we don't like the Electoral College, we should change it for the future, not cry about the process.

David Pryor at 3:31pm ET

Well, I think that's at issue right now. I think we have to change it for the future. We could have this same situation again four years from now. Some of these Congressional races were decided by razor thin margins, as the Presidency will be soon. The person who wins the Presidency may not have the popular vote, but have the electoral.

I think because of what's happened in the aftermath of this election, it will jar people, force people to rethink this, I think it will bring a change of our system. I believe over 60% of the people would say we need to do away with the Electoral College.

Ginny Perrine from at 3:32pm ET

What is the likelihood of the Electoral College members voting against the Electoral College results and casting their ballots with the popular vote?

David Pryor at 3:34pm ET

It could happen. You know, you also need to consider a scenario like this; if this election would go into the House, you'd have to use the new Congress that will be sworn in in January. Now, let's take the Fourth Congressional district of Arkansas, my home state, for example.

A Republican, Jay Dickey, who'd been there eight years, was defeated by a Democrat named Mike Ross. Does Mike Ross, if this election is thrown into the house, vote for Albert Gore? Does he vote for George Bush because George Bush carried Arkansas? Or does he vote for Al Gore because Al Gore carried the Fourth Congressional district?

Do you vote your district, your state, the national totals, your political party? These are questions in the House that will have to be answered.

Frederick M. Mitchell from at 3:36pm ET

Don't you think the losing candidate should concede by this Sunday when all the absentee votes are in and any further efforts for the Gore campaign and Democrats to continue to extend the vote counting be stopped? America is sick and tired of these tactics.

David Pryor at 3:37pm ET

Well, I think Frederick should put himself in the place of one of the voters in Florida whose vote was not counted. And if the number was seven thousand, or ten thousand, or two thousand, I think if I were a voter and had voted a certain way, and my vote had been thrown out, I think I would be very, very perturbed that a court had pre-empted my rights as a citizen to participate.

I think people want a fair count after that, then, hopefully, one side will congratulate the other and concede.

Moderator at 3:38pm ET

Thank you David Pryor. And thanks to all our chat participants!