The 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore was one of the most controversial and divisive elections in the history of the United States of America. Bush is a former Texan governor and oil businessman. He is the son of the 41 st president, George H. W. Bush and represented the Republican Party. Al Gore was the Vice President under Bill Clinton and the Democratic Party nominee. The two candidates fought in a 36 – day legal and political battle in the aftermath of Election Day. It was the second closest presidential election by popular vote in the United States’ history. In addition, this was only the second time in presidential election history and the first time since 1876 that a candidate had won the popular vote but lost the electoral vote (“The Closest Presidential Races”). The difference in the popular and electoral vote was one of the reasons for conflict, but there was an even bigger source for the legal and political turmoil that ensued. There appeared to be many problems with irregularities in county ballots and a flawed election system. This was most notable in the state of Florida. Without Florida’s electoral votes, neither candidate could win the election; the winner of this state would win the presidency. Since this state would decide the election, the battle for Florida became all the more heated and important. There is no clear proof of election fraud or illegal actions, but because of an obstruction of a proper recount, a misleading type of ballot, and a partisan court ruling, the 2000 election was neither decided fairly nor accurately. In the wake of the 2000 election, many citizens vied for electoral reform in Florida. While it may not have been an accurate count, George W. Bush’s presidency is indeed legitimate because he and his lawyer legally won him the presidency. The people did not elect him as president; rather, he won by thwarting justice and by luck of the ballot.
Even though George W. Bush was eventually awarded the state of Florida, initial exit polls indicated that he was losing. Many argue that this demonstrates that there must have been some form of voting fraud. This argument is neither reliable nor convincing because exit polls tend to be highly inaccurate and, especially in this case, do not represent the whole population. While several news stations reported that polling was closed in Florida, polling was still open for an hour in the western panhandle region. The eastern part of Florida is in the Eastern Time zone, while the western panhandle region is in the Central Time zone. Bush held a large majority in the panhandle region. Because the panhandle region was still voting, the initial exit polls showed Gore in the lead (Konner, Risser, and Wattenberg). Instead of leading by state support, Gore was leading as a result of state geography. Since the exit polling was not an accurate depiction of the true number of votes for each candidate that would be cast, it cannot be used as proper evidence for voting fraud.
Many different counties throughout the country used their own type of ballots. This inconsistency in ballots caused for some major problems that effectuated in Gore’s defeat. This was most clearly seen in Palm Beach County, Florida. Palm Beach County used a form of ballot commonly called the “butterfly ballot.” The “butterfly ballot” had two columns of candidates with a column of circles in between the two columns. The presidential candidates were staggered so that the first circle related to the first candidate in the left column; the first candidate in the right column related to the second circle; the second candidate in the left column related to the third circle and so on and so forth. In the left column, the Republican choice was first, and the Democratic option was right below it, and the Reform Party candidate, Pat Buchanan, was the first choice in the right column. In order to vote for the Republican candidate, the voter had to punch the first circle. Even though the Democratic nominee was the second candidate listed, the voter had to punch the third circle. There were short arrows indicating which circle the voter must punch in order to vote for a certain candidate, but if a voter was careless or in a hurry, he might just punch the circle that appeared to correspond with the candidate that he wanted to choose. If the voter chose the second circle, he would have voted for Pat Buchanan (Jerz). Buchanan was quoted saying, “When I took one look at that ballot on election night, I think one of the networks had it up there, it’s very easy for me to see how someone could have voted for me in the belief they voted for Al Gore.” In Palm Beach County, there was a total of 3,407 votes for Buchanan. This number was over three times the number he received in his next largest showing and accounted for about 20% of his total votes in the state (Van Natta Jr. and Canedy). His second best result was in the county where his Florida campaign headquarters were. This cannot be simple attributed to a greater voting population that would give more chances for Buchanan to receive votes. In both Broward County and Miami-Dade County, there were less than one fifth the votes for Buchanan than in Palm Beach County. These counties have over 500,000 more citizens than Palm Beach County (“Florida Quick Facts.”). Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer gave an explanation, saying, “Palm Beach County is a Pat Buchanan stronghold and that’s why Pat Buchanan received 3,407 votes there.” Buchanan’s Florida campaign coordinator, Jim McConnell, responded to this claim by saying, “That’s nonsense.” When the chairman of the executive committee of the Reform Party in Palm Beach County was asked how many votes Buchanan would have reasonably received, he said that “1,000 votes would be generous.” Even the leaders of Buchanan’s own party and campaign do not think that the amount of votes he received in Palm Beach County accurately represented the amount of votes he should have acquired. Had Buchanan received 1,000 votes in Palm Beach County and the other 2,407 votes been cast for Gore as it is determined they most likely would have been, Gore would have won Florida by almost 2,000 votes.
The monumental problems with the “butterfly ballot” did not just affect those few thousand people. There were many more instances of “overvoting,” or voting twice on one ballot, than usually. There were two main reasons for “overvoting” with the butterfly ballot. Some people thought that two circles lined up with the Democratic Candidate’s box. They assumed that they had to vote for both the Vice President and President, causing them to cast two votes (Jerz). This probably did not affect as many people as the second reason. Others noticed their mistake in voting for Pat Buchanan and tried to correct it by voting for Gore too. There were about 19,000 “overvotes” in Palm Beach County. Buchanan even said,
“If the two candidates they pushed were Buchanan and Gore, almost certainly those are Al Gore’s votes and not mine. cannot believe someone would vote for Gore and say, `I made a mistake, I should have voted for Buchanan.’ Maybe a small minority of them would have done that. But I’ve got to think that the vast majority of those would naturally belong to Al Gore and not to me, because we didn’t run any ads, as I recall, television or radio spots, in Palm Beach County.”
Although Buchanan represented the Reform Party, he was more closely aligned with the Republican Party than the Democratic Party. In the 1996 election, he had run as a Republican candidate but had not received the nomination. It is highly probable that 19,000 people did not tergiversate between rival party candidates. These 19,000 “overvotes” account for about 4.2% of the total votes in Palm Beach County (Agresti and Presnell). This is much higher than usual. If Gore had won the same percentage of these “overvotes” as he had with the rest of the votes in Palm Beach County (62.27%), he would have received about 11,831 more votes. Since the Bush was only voted for on 3,751 of the “overvote” ballots, there could not have been more than this number of votes intended for them (Agresti and Presnell). Not including mistaken votes for Buchanan, these extra “overvotes” would have made Gore win Florida by over 7,000 votes. This total is the bare minimum Gore would have earned. These 19,000 would not have likely all gone to Gore, but there is enough evidence to assume the vast majority of them would. 83% of the Gore-Buchanan ballots contained votes for fellow Democrat Bill Nelson. This is compared to 62% throughout the rest of the county. 80% of all “overvoters” put Gore as one of their choices. This is compared with a minuscule 19.5% that voted for Bush as one of their votes. Bush’s percentage was less than the Socialist Party’s candidate, the Reform Party’s candidate, and the Libertarian Party’s candidate (Agresti and Presnell). These crazy percentages would not have happened randomly, and they imply that at least 70% of these “overvotes” would have gone to Gore.
The “butterfly ballot” was not the only way the voting system inhibited the voters’ ability to cast their votes accurately. The voting machines did not always punch the cards completely, or, on a written ballot, the voter might have circled the name of the candidate instead of filling in the oval. In the first example, this would cause there to be a hanging chad, or a piece of card still in the hole. In other cases, there might be a bulging chad. When the ballot would go through the vote counters, the chad would cover the hole and the vote would not be cast. In the written ballot, the vote counters would not read the vote because there was no mark in the oval. This is called “undervoting,” and there was over 175,000 cases of this state – wide and about 10,000 cases in Palm Beach County alone (Agresti and Presnell). This has happened in many other elections in the past but not in these percentages. In almost all circumstances, the votes were counted if the voter’s intent was able to be determined during a recount (Cnn.com). During a study done by The Washington Post, the newspaper determined that it was likely that the outcome of the election would not have changed if the “undervotes” in the counties Volusia, Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach were included manual recount as Gore had requested. (Keating and Balz). The New York Times did a study in which they concluded that the margin would be narrower had the recount been done in those specific counties, but, if a statewide recount has been mandated, Gore could have passed Bush in votes (Fessenden and Broder). Because the “undervotes” were not actually counted, we cannot be sure of the actual result had they been included in a recount.
The “undervotes” would be examined in order to try to determine voter intent in the event of a manual recount. Florida state law requires an automatic recount if the result of an election is less than .5%. The difference between the votes that Bush received and the votes that Gore won was less than .01% so an automatic recount was mandatory. This recount simply involved running the ballots through the vote counter again. It did not involve a manual recount. After this automatic recount was finished, the recount reduced Bush’s lead by 1,457 votes so that he was only ahead of Gore’s total by 327 votes. After the automatic recount was done, on November 9, Gore requested a manual recount in the counties of Palm Beach, Broward, Miami – Dade, and Volusia. The state of Florida allows a candidate to request a manual recount on a county – by – county basis. Bush and his lawyers went to federal court in an effort to block a manual recount. As anyone would, Bush feared that a manual recount would show that, in fact, he had not won the state. On November 13, the Supreme Court of Florida decided to allow the recount. Volusia County and Palm Beach County began their recount on the 13 th . Republican Secretary of State of Florida, Katherine Harris, said that she would not extend the deadline of a manual recount even though this did not give the counties sufficient time to conduct a manual recount. The deadline for the manual recount was November 14. Miami – Dade County decided to state a selective manual recount; they would later decide to do a full recount. Broward County did not even begin their recounts until November 15. Despite Harris’s declaration that she would deny any late recounts and Bush’s lawyers attempts to stop the manual recount, on November 21, the Florida Supreme Court decided to allow the manual recount to continue. The Court also sets a new deadline of November 26 in place. In Miami – Dade County, there were Republican protests of the recount and, on November 23, the County officials claim they will not have time to finish the manual count and decide to stop. Republicans claim that the two events are unrelated, and the protests did not affect the officials decision to stop their recount. On November 26, Harris certified the results of the Florida election, and Bush was announced the winner by a lead of 537 votes. This final tally did not include the recount from Palm Beach County or the thousands of “undervotes” that the officials did not have time to determine voter intent from the ballots. Palm Beach County finished their recount about 2 hours after the deadline. The Supreme Court of the United States scheduled a hearing for December 2 to decide whether to allow the Palm Beach votes or not. The Supreme Court of the United States eventually decided that Gore did not have enough evidence to deduce that a recount would alter the result. After this ruling, the Supreme Court of Florida mandated a manual recount in all counties that showed a large number of “undervotes.” Bush’s lawyers appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States to stop the manual recount. In a partisan 5 – 4 decision, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled to issue a stay to stop the manual recount. The electoral votes deadline is December 12, and, on the day of the deadline, the Supreme Court of the United States decided that there was no possible way that a manual recount could be conducted at this point. Floridian electors cast their votes for Bush, giving him the victory (Leip) (Cnn.com).
Although there were no lucid evidence of illegal actions in the “election” of George W. Bush as the 43rd president of the United States of America, the presidency was not rightfully his because of many miscounted and uncounted votes. While the election was stolen from Gore, but Bush did not actively steal it. As a result of pure luck, Bush’s name happened to come first in the Palm Beach County ballot, and he escaped widespread voter confusion of which candidate referred to which circle. This confusion, coupled with over 8,000 thousand more “overvotes” than Bush, cost Gore over 10,000 extra votes and inhibited him from winning Florida’s 25 electoral votes. These added electoral votes would have made the outcome of the election become as follows: Gore: 291 Bush: 246. Some historians and important figures think that the system cheated Gore even worse. In his book, The Unfinished Election of 2000 , Jack N. Rakove, a History and American Studies professor at Stanford University, writes, “Gore probably lost somewhere between 10,000 and 30,000” (65). While the number of votes Gore lost change among those who know the issue, the fact that Gore should have won Florida, does not. After
the initial result of the Florida elections came in, Bush tried everything in his and his lawyers’ power to stop a manual recount. He eventually was able to stop a statewide recount and recount numbers in some counties. His lawyers’ obstructed a full – on manual recount and possibly saved him the election. Had Gore been in the same position, he would have done the exact same thing in an effort to save his chances of winning the presidency. The 36-day legal war after Election Day caused Florida to undergo a process of electoral reform due to the massive criticism they received. The 2000 stolen presidential election was one of the most important and conflict – ridden events in the new millennium.
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