Transcript: Many States Bracing for Fight Over Presidency

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: News of election fraud and voter intimidation are making front-page news weeks before any voter actually walks into a polling place. So what's behind the allegations, and is it possible that several states will need the courts to declare a winner?

Fox News correspondent Major Garrett begins our coverage.


MAJOR GARRETT, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Will the candidates or their lawyers decide who wins this year's knock-down, drag-out fight for the presidency?

(UNKNOWN): It's not what America wants to hear, but this may make the Afghan election look like a walk in the park by the time we're through.

GARRETT: Legal analysis have already developed in three states crucial to both sides' victory strategy.

Florida, 27 electoral votes and lawsuits already. The issues: the purging of a high percentage of black felons from voter lists, requests for a paper confirmation of touch-screen voting, and whether voters who show up at the wrong polling place will receive a ballot.

Pennsylvania, 21 electoral votes. A battle over Ralph Nader's status delayed the mailing of tens of thousands of absentee ballots, which may not be counted now until days after the election. A state court last week denied Nader ballot access, ridiculing Nader for submitting petitions with signatures from Fred Flintstone and Mickey Mouse.

Ohio, 20 electoral votes. A federal court last week ordered it to accept provisional ballots at any polling place in a voter's home county. That overturns state law eliminating provisional balloting to the voter's precinct. The state says this could trigger massive fraud.

But one thing could spare America another legal headache.

(UNKNOWN): If it's not close, all the problems go away. It's like having a bad doctor. It doesn't matter if you don't get sick.

GARRETT: But both campaigns have thousands of lawyers ready in case it's close.



WALLACE: Major, thank you.

Joining us now to discuss all this, Kenneth Blackwell, who was Ohio's secretary of state, and Eric Holder, former deputy attorney general under President Clinton and a member of the Democrats' election task force this year.

Gentlemen, welcome. Good to have you both here.


WALLACE: Let's start with Ohio, where some people have suggested, Secretary Blackwell, that you could be the Katherine Harris, who was the Florida secretary of state in 2000, of this year. Do you have a problem with that?

BLACKWELL: Let me just say this, Chris. If my critics were told that I could walk on water, they would say, "But he can't swim." So a lot of this is partisan jibber-jabber, and we have to move on.

We are focused in Ohio on making sure that every ballot that is legally cast is converted to a counted vote. And that's what's so important.

We have a massive voter education program that has been highly successful in our state, and we think that that will be the turning point in this election.

WALLACE: All right. Let's talk about, if we can, Secretary Blackwell, what Major Garrett identified as the big problem in Ohio, and that's this question of provisional ballots.

Back in 2002, Congress passed an act called the Help America Vote Act, that said if people don't show on the registration rolls, they should be given a provisional ballot rather than just turned away.

But when you said that they must show up in the right precinct, a federal judge overruled you, said that the important thing is to allow people to vote, and that even if they show up in the right county, that they should be allowed to cast a provisional ballot.

What's wrong with that?

L. KENNETH BLACKWELL, OHIO SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, first, Ohio is one of 26 other states and the District of Columbia that has that provision. There are no challenges in New York, no challenges in Texas or the District of Columbia, where that provision is in play.

We believe that, in order for a vote to be cast and counted, it should be done in the precinct in which the voter lives.


BLACKWELL: That helps us to control against fraud.

Our responsibilities are twofold. First, we're to make voting as easy as is possible and practical. But on the same — on the other hand, we are to make sure that the integrity of the system is protected against widespread fraud.

And I think 26 other states and the District of Columbia have that provision for control purposes.

WALLACE: Mr. Holder, let me ask you about that. Obviously, getting people to vote is just as important, but also the integrity of the vote is just as important.

Doesn't the idea that someone could show up in a wrong precinct in the same county, doesn't that increase the likelihood that they might vote more than once?

HOLDER: Well, it seems that a federal judge, listening to the evidence that was presented, has decided that in fact that's not the case.

And I think what we have to do is focus on getting the maximum number of people to the polls, get the maximum number of people who are registered.

And what we've tried to do around the country is to assure people we will not allow people to be intimidated in the way that they were four years or so ago.

You know, with all due respect to Mr. Blackwell, I mean, not did Ohio try to do something to block these provisional ballots, they went so far as to say that, you know, you had to have the appropriate paper when you submitted a registration form, something that he tried to do that people in Ohio ultimately said this is not something we're going to do.

The weight of the paper was a decisive factor. These are the kinds of things that we have to do something about.

HOLDER: If you looked at what's happened in Nevada, in Oregon, where Democratic registration forms were destroyed, if you look at Michigan, where a state senator said the only way that we can win in Michigan is if we suppress the vote in Detroit, these are the kinds of things that we are watching, the kinds of things that we're going to prevent from happening as they did four years ago.

WALLACE: Let's talk about what the Democrats are doing to try to prevent things from happening. Because the Democratic National Committee sent out a memo to party workers that said, "Be on the guard for voter intimidation, particularly in states which have a history of it." But the DNC didn't stop there. Let's take a look.

The memo went further and said, "If no signs of intimidation techniques have emerged yet, launch a preemptive strike," which meant, alert the media that something might happen.

Mr. Holder, the Republicans say what the Democrats are interested in doing here is making things up to inflame minorities, to try to get them out to vote.

HOLDER: That's not at all the case.

I mean, if you look at — this is that memo. It's a four-page memo. You've talked about two or three lines from there.

Ours is not a preemptive strike. What we're trying to do is to be reactive and to go to those places where we have fears, legitimate fears.

WALLACE: Why does it say "launch a preemptive strike"?

HOLDER: What it talks about there is making sure that people in all parts of the country understand that they have the right to vote, that what happened in Florida in 2000 is not going to happen again. And if that is called a preemptive strike, in fact, that's what we plan to do.

We are bound and determined to make sure that every person has an opportunity to vote and that every vote is counted.

WALLACE: Mr. Blackwell, I want you to answer that, and I'd also like you to answer the question, because it was something I was going to ask you, that you were going to rule out voter registration forms because of the quality of the paper?

BLACKWELL: In Ohio, we've had standards, because most of our registrations have been mailed in. The U.S. Postal Service told us to make sure that we have heavy enough paper so that the sorters would not rip those to shreds. So that what we did was establish a standard.

But, Chris — and Eric understands this — we, through our campaign, Your Vote Counts, have a record number of registrations. Yes, we have rules, we have standards, we have procedures. You know, that's what gives order to elections. That's what gives equal protection under the law. And we have a very aggressive campaign that will make sure that every vote that is legally cast is counted.

Look, voters have, along with election officials, a mutual responsibility to vote at the right location. That is practical, that is reasonable, and it is a mutual responsibility of voter and election official.

We did it right in Ohio. We didn't have the confusion that visited Florida in 2000, because we have a strong system. Our 45,000 poll workers and election officials will be ready for this election.

Mr. Holder and his lawyers want to make sure that this election, if it falls within the margin of litigation, is determined by lawyers and judges. We want it determined by voters. We'll get it right in Ohio.

HOLDER: The very people who are responsible for administering these elections and the registration process in Ohio, with all due respect, said, you know, "This notion of heavy paper is something we're just not going to abide." And ultimately they backed off on that.

And this happened, this requirement of having this heavy paper, a month or so, before the registration deadline, causing...


BLACKWELL: ... rule in the state of Ohio. Ten-year old rule authored by the U.S. Postal Service.

HOLDER: And backed off by...


BLACKWELL: Clarified. And we, in fact, had a record number of registrations in partnership with unions, churches and citizen groups all across our state. A record number, 700,000 registrations. And those folks will have a great experience...

WALLACE: Let me...

HOLDER: Is that requirement still in effect?

BLACKWELL: The requirement's still in effect. We, in fact, we moved on.


BLACKWELL: We clarified that what the objective of that standard was was to make sure that we didn't disenfranchise voters by having their registrations ripped up in the mail. We, in fact, said...

HOLDER: But is the requirement for the 80 weight paper still in effect?

BLACKWELL: The standard is there. But we told folks to move on...

HOLDER: Right.

BLACKWELL: ... and make sure that all other registrations were processed. And they were processed. And we're going to have a record number of voters and a great experience.

WALLACE: All right. Let me ask this — we've got about a minute left.

Secretary Blackwell, when you look at all the potential problems here — provisional ballots, touch screens with no paper backups, things like that — what do you think the chance is on election night that we will know who won Ohio?

BLACKWELL: I think that, if this falls within the margin of litigation, then he will have his way and the lawyers and judges will make the determination, because they'll fight and they'll hassle over the last ballot, as they did in Colorado in 2000.

But I can tell you this. On Election Day, the polls in Ohio will be inviting and they will be helpful. And those who are experiencing it for the first time will, in fact, get an assist from election officials in Ohio.

WALLACE: And, Mr. Holder, do you have any concerns about holding up the election, delaying it for days or weeks or months, if that's what's necessary to solve some problems?

HOLDER: We are prepared to do that which we have to do to ensure that everybody who wants to cast a vote gets that opportunity and that everybody who casts a vote has their vote counted.

If that happens, I'm quite confident that we won't be talking about two days and three days. By election night...

WALLACE: But you're going to have teams of lawyers to make sure it does happen. And if it doesn't, you're ready to spring into action?

HOLDER: If that is necessary.

But, as I said, if every vote is allowed to be cast, and if every vote is counted, John Kerry will be president within a day of that election.


WALLACE: Well, I don't know how you can guarantee that.

HOLDER: You heard it right here. If every vote is allowed to be cast and every vote is counted, John Kerry will be president.

WALLACE: Mr. Blackwell, you have about 10 seconds to respond.

BLACKWELL: In the state of Ohio — that's where I have to concern myself — we have a great program going on, Your Vote Counts. We, in fact, will make sure that every vote that is legally cast is counted.

WALLACE: Gentlemen, thank you both so much. Appreciate it.

HOLDER: Thank you.