November 22, 2000
Gore's Florida 'Victory'
A new analysis of Florida's presidential vote seems to confirm that Vice President Al Gore was the choice of the state's voters, although various irregularities cost him thousands of votes and could tip the state's 25 electoral votes – and the presidency – to Texas Gov. George W. Bush.
The analysis suggests that Gore may have lost about 13,000 votes in Palm Beach County because of voter confusion over an illegally designed ballot. With Bush's current lead at 930 votes – pending recounts in three counties – those lost votes alone could have provided Gore a clear margin of victory.
The analysis also supports claims by many elderly voters in Palm Beach County that they were confused by the so-called "butterfly ballot," which listed presidential choices in two side-by-side lists rather than in one vertical column as required by Florida law.
These voters said they feared they accidentally cast their votes for Reform Party nominee Patrick Buchanan or negated their ballots by trying to correct their mistake and voting for both Gore and Buchanan.
After the election, Buchanan acknowledged that his surprising blip of 3,704 votes in the staunchly Democratic county, with a large Jewish population, almost certainly resulted from confusion. Buchanan said he believed those votes were intended for Gore.
Buchanan's total in Palm Beach County exceeded his tally in any other county by about 2,700.
It now appears that Gore lost even more votes – possibly in excess of 10,000 ballots – when voters tried to correct their error. After mistakenly punching a hole for Buchanan, these Palm Beach voters punched a second hole for Gore.
Since Buchanan's name was positioned diagonally above and to the right of Gore's, the Reform Party candidate would have been the beneficiary of the first punch from voters thinking they were picking Gore, whose name was the second on the left-hand list directly below Bush's.
The confused voters, apparently realizing their mistake, then poked a second hole directly next to Gore's name.
In Palm Beach County, there were 19,120 ballots disqualified because of double-voting. The Palm Beach County canvassing board analyzed a sample of these disqualified ballots. From that sample of 144 ballots, 80 ballots – or 56 percent – showed punches for both Buchanan and Gore. [NYT, Nov. 21, 2000]
If that sample percentage were applied to the entire batch, Gore potentially lost 10,622 votes. If one counts 2,700 of the Buchanan votes as likely confused voters for Gore, that would put Gore's lost vote in Palm Beach County alone at more than 13,000.
In a statewide race with Bush leading by fewer than 1,000 votes, the confusion in Palm Beach County could account for far more than the deciding margin.
On Monday, a local judge sympathized with the confused voters but rejected a lawsuit seeking a re-vote in Palm Beach County. The judge said such a remedy was beyond his authority.
In other counties, allegations of outright misconduct have been raised. The NAACP has complained that Florida authorities intimidated African-Americans who were trying to vote.
In Seminole County, a lawsuit is proceeding alleging that election officials gave Republicans special access to absentee-ballot applications so corrections could be made and the votes counted for Bush.
Democrats and individual voters with similar deficiencies in their applications were not given an opportunity to make corrections, The New York Times reported on Nov. 21. Bush outpolled Gore among Seminole County's absentee ballots by nearly 5,000 votes, again far more than Bush's current lead.
Meanwhile, the Republicans have lodged a complaint of their own. They claim that early network projections of a Gore victory in Florida based on exit polls cost them votes in the Florida panhandle where the polls stayed open an hour later than the rest of the state.
But GOP leaders have misstated the chronology of events. They assert that the networks awarded Florida to Gore at 7 p.m., just as the polls in most of Florida closed. The network projections actually occurred at about 7:50 p.m. – only 10 minutes before the panhandle polls closed.
Though the networks certainly could have and obviously should have waited, it is unclear that any Bush voter decided not to go to the polls because of a projection that occurred only minutes before the polls closed. It's unlikely that more than a few late-arriving voters were even aware of Gore's projected victory.
It also now appears that those exit polls correctly assessed voter preferences in Florida, though not by adequate margins to justify an Election Night call of the race.
Based on the still-evolving record in Florida, the evidence indicates that a combination of errors and irregularities ultimately could reverse the voters' preference for Gore.
In turn, that reversal of the public's will – by giving Florida's 25 electoral votes to Bush – also would reverse the will of the American people, who favored Gore by a clear though narrow margin.
With more than 50 million votes in his column – the second-highest total ever and the largest vote tally by any non-incumbent president – Gore now leads Bush in the national popular vote by about 300,000 ballots.
A Bush victory in the Electoral College – with Florida putting him over the top – would make the Texas governor the first popular-vote loser in modern times to claim the White House. The last such case was in 1888.
Even with the Florida Supreme Court allowing hand recounts to proceed, Bush seems poised to do just that, winning the presidency although the people of the United States and apparently the voters of Florida wanted someone else.