Since we are drawing close to election time, albeit local elections, I thought it might be a good time to review the election of George W. Bush. Few elections have seen as much controversy, or as much erroneous blather, as the presidential election of 2000.
“If the will of the people is to prevail, Al Gore should be awarded a victory in Florida and be our next president of the United States,” pouted William Daley, former Clinton Secretary of Commerce and Gore’s 2000 election chairman. The problem is that the president is not elected by popular vote. Each state is a winner-take-all for the candidates, and the electoral college then elects the president with a total of 270 or more votes. Daley should know that, but he wanted his man to win.
Voters keenly anticipated the 2000 presidential election, as the polls projected election results with ever-narrowing margins as the day approached. But this time things would be different because of just how close the vote turned out to be. All the nation ended up focusing on Florida, with its 25 electoral votes. Just as the Florida precincts closed, Peter Jennings of ABC News declared that Gore had taken Florida–with 0% of the precincts reporting. It is not unusual for a major news figure to call a state right away for a candidate, since on election day the news outlets run numerous exit polls. But here is the stinger: when Jennings called Florida for Gore, he did so before all of Florida had finished voting. The Florida panhandle is in a different time zone, and voters there still had an hour before the polls closed. When Jennings called the state for Gore, he directly influenced unknown numbers of Republicans in the panhandle to stay home. After all, if the state had already gone to Gore, why vote? Shamefacedly, the media had to retract news of a Gore victory in Florida.
There was very little evidence to call a state prematurely, yet Florida, with its razor-thin voting margin, was called instantly for Gore. Why? Could it be because Jennings and other major media pundits are Democrats? When Bush won Tennessee, Gore’s home state, the media delayed calling it for Bush for several hours, even though the margin there was much wider than in Florida. Here, then, is the media trend–call victories for Gore early, while delaying any victories for Bush. Journalistic ethics demand that members of the media cannot show public partisanship, even though 75% or more of them voted for Gore.
Al Gore was preparing to make his concession speech, after having called Bush and congratulating him on his victory. But as the vote tallies kept coming in from Florida and the victory margin grew slimmer and slimmer, Gore stopped his motorcade and called Bush back. He was not yet ready to admit defeat. All eyes, both nationally and internationally, turned to Florida. Whoever won there would win the presidency. Florida law requires a mandatory vote recount if the difference between the top two candidates is less than 1/2 of one percent.
This was the beginning of the recounting of the votes. After the legally required vote recount, Bush was still the victor, albeit with a slimmer margin. At this point, did Gore decide to do the honorable thing and concede that Bush had won? Are you kidding? Instead, Democrat lawyers began to descend on Florida and muddy up the waters.
Since the Democrats could not accept losing the Presidency, they demanded recount after recount. Rest assured that if a recount had ever gone Gore’s way, they would have stopped counting and proclaimed that the will of the people had finally been revealed. Senator Joseph Lieberman, Gore’s running mate, said during this time that they wanted “a full and fair count of every legally cast ballot.” This meant the Democrats requested that all of Florida’s votes be counted a third time, right? Wrong! They only wanted a recount in three of Florida’s 67 counties. I have a hard time understanding how this is a “full and fair count of every legally cast ballot,” but these are the same people who had problems defining the words “is” and “alone.”
The Democrats only wanted a recount of those three counties because they were counties with strong Democrat populations. It only makes sense that recounting in those specific counties would pull in more Democrat votes since they were statistically more likely to find ballots cast for Democrats. Was this an honest search for the truth? No! This was vote-grubbing on the Democrats’ part.
Now imagine for a moment that you are watching the final play of the Super Bowl on TV, and one team has the ball on the 10-yard line ready for a field goal. If the kicker misses the upright goal by one yard, is it still a field goal? Is it a field goal if the ball passes one inch below the goal? In both cases, the answer is no. How would the other team react if the referee decided to change the rules in mind-game, counting the ball passing one yard line outside the goalposts as a field goal? The team and the fans would be enraged, particularly if this change would swing the victory in the game. It may sound silly, but this is exactly what happened during the recount. The standard method of tabulating votes during a manual recount is to count a punched chad if it hangs by one or two corners of the ballot. But during the recount, the three counties decided to count chads connected by three corners, or even if they were merely dimpled. This was changing the rules in mid-game to favor the losing team. Near the end of the recount, ballot counters even started trying to read voters’ minds. “The only [votes] we reconstructed were the ones we could tell the intent of the voter,” said Sterling Watson, a member of the canvassing board of heavily-Democrat Gadsden County. Is it any wonder that the recount garnered 170 new votes for Gore, and only 17 for Bush?
In the end, the Supreme Court stopped the endless recounting, and Gore had to admit defeat. A year later, the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago announced that if the entire state had been recounted, Bush still would have won. This research included the ballots with no votes for president, known as “undervotes,” and those with votes for more than one candidate, known as “overvotes.” Bush truly was elected.
This does not stop the left from crying “Disenfranchisement!” any time the subject comes up. But was anyone truly disenfranchised in Florida? Actually, yes. The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research looked carefully at the voting results, and determined that African-American Republicans who voted in Florida were 54 to 66 times more likely than the average African-Americans to have their ballots declared invalid. How could this be? And why were there so many overvotes in Florida? I cannot be sure what happened, but I do know it is trivially simple to change or deface votes on a punch-card ballot. In a matter of seconds, a dishonest person could grab an inch-thick stack of ballots and ram a thin wire down the ballot hole for a particular candidate. Any votes for that candidate would still be his, but a vote for anyone else would be transformed into an overvote and discarded. And because these ballots would have been punched by an improvised tool, many of the chads would still stick to the ballots. Depending on how thick the stack of ballots was, this theoretical fraudster might create numerous ballots with only a dimple in the chad. Ever heard of a pregnant chad? Well, now you know of a very easy way to make one.
Was Bush elected? Absolutely. He won each and every recount performed in Florida, even the ones skewed against him. But will this change the minds of those who hate him with a rare passion? No; he will always be the stupid, bumbling cowboy in their eyes. Long after the 2000 election passes into history, they will continue to mouth the meaningless phrase, “Selected, not elected.”