Transcription – John Ryder Interview

Q:              I’m thinking, though, that once it’s clear who the party’s nominee is going to be — which is usually well in advance of the Convention — doesn’t the — didn’t the Bush campaign essentially take over and program the events of the Convention?  Or is that overstating it?  Did the National Committee continue to play an active role in that?

RYDER:      In terms of the content, the programmatic content of the Convention, yes.  The campaign tends to dictate that content to fit with the message it wants to present to the American people during the week of the Convention.  The — but the underlying logistical [00:07:00] structure is largely still under the control of the National Committee.

Q:              Logistical structure meaning…?

RYDER:      Who gets the suites  and where are the parties. (laughter)

Q:              I was thinking more like where it’ll be and when it’ll be, but…

RYDER:      Well, that’s decided — yeah, that’s decided well before the primary season starts.  The typical cycle is that the site selection committee is formed two years before the presidential election.  So for the 2004 cycle, the site selection would have been created in 2002, would’ve reported its decision by the summer meeting in 2002 — in, say, August of 2002 — or possibly January of 2003.  But the decision about where to hold the convention would have been made probably not later than January of 2003.

Q:              Is it different when you’ve got a [00:08:00]– when you don’t have an incumbent president running for reelection, which was the case in 2000?  And when you do have an incumbent president running for reelection, as you did in 2004.

RYDER:      Well, there are a number of things that are different.  The National Committee tends to be fairly autonomous when the — its party does not control the White House.  That is, the members actually have meaningful debates and decide what their policies and their budget and their chairman is going to be.  When your party is in control of the White House, then the National Committee tends to respond to the needs of the White House and gets its marching orders, by and large, from the White House Office of Political Affairs.  I mean, there’s a very close degree of coordination between the political office in the White House and the National Committee. [00:09:00]

Q:              I’m thinking about 2000.  That was an election that wasn’t really decided for — until five weeks after Election Day because of the controversy over how Florida had actually voted.  Did the RNC play any role in that series of events that took place after Election Day?

RYDER:      Not so much as the RNC.  Of course, you had lawyers for Bush-Cheney, which was an arm of the campaign.  And that group was fairly active in deploying lawyers.  And that goes back to what I was saying earlier about the National Committee’s warehousing and refining resources that can be deployed.  Obviously, in the post-election [00:10:00] litigation frenzy that took place in 2000, one of the principal resources to be deployed was lawyers, and so to the extent that the RNC had and could identify the names of lawyers with knowledge of election law or good litigators who were lawyer — loyal Republicans, they can pass that information on to the recount effort at the Bush campaign.

Q:              Were you involved in that in any way?

RYDER:      Not seriously.  Just as a bystander.

Q:              And in 2000, what was your involvement in the election more generally?

RYDER:      Well, the — and 2000 had a couple of, I think, dramatic consequences.  One was that since 2000, there has been a dramatic spike in the amount of post-election litigation at all levels.  And, [00:11:00] you know, to a large extent, what happened between Gore and Bush opened the floodgates for challenging elections.  Before 2000, there was very much a sense of following the example of Richard Nixon in 1960, of saying well, it’s close but I will not put the country through the difficulties of recounts and post-election litigation.  Al Gore did not choose that path and, as a result, lawyers have now coined the phrase “winning beyond the margin of litigation,” because any election that’s close enough is going to be litigated.  And so you’ve had a many-fold increase in the volume of post-election [00:12:00] litigation.  There’s a whole specialty of law that has risen up to deal with that.  And in fact, the Republican National Lawyers’ Association really came into being out of the Bush-Gore recount effort.  And the veterans of that organized an entity, separate and apart from the RNC, to train lawyers in election law, educate them on the problems of election lawsuits, and then maintain lists and structures so that people can be deployed as needed during an election cycle.  And those people were available in 2004.

Q:              I was going to say, so in the lead up to 2004, you were prepared.

RYDER:      That’s correct.  And we had some litigation.  We had some in Ohio, I recall, involving I think the way – [00:13:00] the manner in which provisional ballots were counted in Ohio.  And this is typical of the type of thing that would happen is this litigation moves extremely quickly because the time limits are so short.  So Friday before the Tuesday election Democrats in Ohio challenged the rulings of the Secretary of State of Ohio on how to count provisional ballots.

Q:              And what are provisional ballots?

RYDER:      Well, a provisional ballot is if you show up in your — in a precinct and present your identification for purposes of voting and they check you against their roles, and discover that you are not — they have no record of your registration there.  And you say oh, yes, I live in this precinct, and I’m entitled to vote here.  Rather [00:14:00] than leaving, you can cast a provisional ballot which means, basically, you mark a paper ballot, it’s put in a sealed envelope, and it’s counted after the election, at a time when the election officials have more time to validate your address, to determine whether or not you really do live in the precinct in which you’re trying to vote.  So the question arises from time to time as to whether those people should be voted on the machine, whether they should be voted provisionally, and under what circumstances do you vote provisionally rather than voting on the machine.  Remember, if you vote on the machine, the vote can’t be erased.  If you vote provisionally, that ballot can be held out, and if you’re not a legitimate voter in that precinct, your ballot can be disallowed.  But if you voted in the machine, your vote can’t be disallowed, even if you were not entitled to vote in that election.  So that’s part of the issue.  The rules for counting [00:15:00] or the — for determining the circumstances under which voters would be required to cast provisional ballots in Ohio was challenged.  I believe the suit was filed on Friday before the Tuesday election.

Q:              By Democrats?

RYDER:      By Democrats.

Q:              Because the Secretary of State in Ohio is a Republican?

RYDER:      At that time, yes.  And the matter was decided in a district court in Ohio and appealed on Saturday to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.

Q:              These are federal courts?

RYDER:      These are all federal courts.  Which agreed to receive briefs on Sunday.  We — people in Tennessee were asked — two lawyers in Tennessee who were members of the Republican National Lawyers’ Association were asked to file an amicus brief in support of the Ohio Secretary of State, which was filed on Sunday or Monday morning.  [00:16:00] And the case was decided by the 6th Circuit on Monday afternoon, on the eve of the election.  But that illustrates the timeframe and also the ability of these national associations then to call in legal resources from all over the country.