Election 2008

2000 Presidential Election, chads, pregnant chads
Associated Press
A volunteer worker checks a
ballot at the
Miami-Dade County building in Miami
during the 2000 presidential election.

The 2000 Election Fiasco: What Have We Learned?

November 04, 2008 12:00 PM
by Anne Szustek
After the 2000 election, America counted and recounted chads, replaced voting machines, and revamped voter registration. Eight years later, have we solved the problems?

‘Don’t Abort Pregnant Chads’

On the evening of Election Day, Nov. 7, 2000, news networks projected that Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore had taken Florida and its 25 electoral votes.

Later on, the media said that GOP contender George W. Bush had taken Florida in light of results pouring in from the state’s Panhandle, which, being in the Central Time Zone, had a later poll-closing time.

But by 2:30 a.m., when ballots from heavily Democrat-leaning Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties had been tallied, the projected victor was again Gore. By that time, it had become clear that whichever candidate won Florida would have the needed 270 electoral votes to win the election. Some two hours later, the state reverted to “undecided.” Gore, who had conceded to Bush earlier in the evening, retracted his concession. America woke up the next day still unsure of who had won Florida and, with it, the presidency.

Bush was eventually declared the winner of the state by a margin of just a few thousand votes. With voting so close, a recount was necessary. After the first ballot recount on Nov. 8, 2000, Bush’s projected margin of victory had dwindled down to roughly 500 votes, a lead narrow enough to warrant a compulsory statewide recount—and marking the beginning of a six-week dispute involving ballots, chads, Supreme Court battles and a long-distance sprint to fix voting systems.

Also coming into question was the alleged purging from electoral rolls of 96,000 voters—many of them black—who were deemed by a computer system supplied by an out-of-state private contractor to have been felons. Such a designation would have rendered them ineligible to vote, but in fact those voters were guilty only of misdemeanors and thus should have been allowed to cast their ballots. The number of miscategorized voters was equivalent to nearly 3 percent of Florida’s black electorate and almost 1 percent of the state’s voting body as a whole.
The database contractor, ChoicePoint, located in Atlanta, put the blame on false data it had obtained from Texas. Some of the voters wrongly cut from the Florida central voting rolls were given a chance to appeal, yet many were unaware of their status until they arrived to vote on Election Day 2000.

Besides the legally mandated statewide recount, Gore’s camp demanded a recount of ballots in four Florida counties, among them Palm Beach County, which used the now-infamous butterfly ballot. This type of ballot folds open like a book, leaving a “spine” in the center where voters punch a hole next to their desired candidate.

Voters reported confusion as to which candidate they were voting for. The punch hole for Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan, sandwiched between those for Bush and Gore, received a surprising number of votes. Palm Beach County is home to large communities of retirees, many originally from the New York City area, who traditionally vote Democrat.

A key player then emerged from the ballot befuddlement: the chad, the small bit of paper that voters punched out—or left dimpled or hanging, as it were—when voting.

In Duval County, which was not one of the four counties subject to a hand recount, the presidential candidates were listed on two pages. But because the ballot said “vote every page,” thousands over-voted.

Under Florida state law, the recount had to be completed by 5:00 p.m. on Nov. 14, 2000. Predicting they would not be done counting by the deadline, Palm Beach and Volusia Counties filed lawsuits to have their deadlines extended. The Bush camp filed its own lawsuits to block a deadline extension. The Florida Supreme Court ordered a recount on Dec. 8, which was underway when the U.S. Supreme Court granted the Bush campaign’s plea to curb the vote recount. On Dec. 12, the U.S. Supreme Court effectively granted Bush the presidency by voiding the Florida recount. The Court’s argument was that Florida’s recount was unconstitutional as each county had different vote-counting standards and thus violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution.

Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who was the co-chair of Bush’s Florida campaign, certified the vote showing a Bush win, granting the Republican candidate Florida’s 25 electoral votes and thus victory in the national election.

Bush’s bid for the presidency was successful. But the eight-year quest to streamline enfranchisement and ballot calculation methods has been spotty in comparison. Many states and counties vowed to avoid any replay of the problems experienced in 2000, and switched to electronic voting machines among other changes. But in 2004 there were still stories of voter confusion and faulty machines, and late in 2008 some locales were still struggling to get things right for Election Day.

Later Developments: New voting machines, new problems

Electronic voting machines were introduced in many states as a result of the Help America Vote Act of 2002, or HAVA, which aimed “to replace punch-card voting systems,” create the Election Assistance Commission, and more.

But reports concerning recent voting technologies and upkeep of state voter rolls suggest that eight years later, America’s voting booths are still struggling to achieve simultaneous transparency and privacy.

A study released in mid-October by the Brennan Center for Justice, Common Cause and Verified Voting showed “Most states have not adopted laws and procedures that would allow them to effectively address all of the most common election system meltdowns.”

The report gave 10 states the worst general overall ratings: Colorado, Delaware, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Virginia. In at least three of the four categories, these states received ratings of “inadequate” or “needs improvement.”

New machines could be problematic in states like Florida, but delays may also be an issue. “To me it's the possibility of the long lines that's the issue,” said Susan McManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

Yet in some instances the possibility of malfunctioning machines could be moot if some eligible voters are left off of the rolls entirely.
Michigan and Colorado have seen thousands of names dropped from the rolls in recent weeks, even though federal law forbids their purging within 90 days of a national election, except in cases of death, notification of relocation out of state or if they are deemed officially unfit to vote.

A closer look at the two states showed that those names removed from voter lists since Aug. 1 far exceeded the number of residents who had died or relocated out of the states.

Meanwhile, Indiana, North Carolina, Nevada and Ohio have improperly used social security numbers to verify registrations, a method that, under federal law, is intended to be a last resort.

In July 2007, The New York Times discussed the government’s aims for 2008 and beyond. They reported that major changes in voting equipment have been delayed until 2010, as ordered by Sen. Feinstein of California in her role as chair of the Senate Rules Committee. In spite of the hope that the upcoming elections would use more sophisticated technology than the touch-screen devices currently in place, Feinstein and others have said that it is “too late to make such significant changes without creating chaos” in 2008.

Key Players: 2000 election recount: where are they now?

Katherine Harris (1957– )
Former Fla. Secretary of State Katherine Harris’ political stock rose in Republican circles following her role in certifying a Bush victory. She was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2002, and got re-elected in 2004. She then ran for U.S. Senate against Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson. Her campaign was marred by funding problems, staffer resignations and rising allegations that she was connected to a bribery scandal involving defense contractor MZM, which led to the resignation and conviction of Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, R-Calif.

Compounding her campaign’s struggles was the political fallout following Harris’ statements to the Florida Baptist Witness, the weekly journal of the state’s Baptist Convention. In the journal, Harris argued that the separation of church and state is “a lie we have been told” to keep observant Christians from being elected to office, as well as, “If you’re not electing Christians, then in essence you are going to legislate sin.”

Harris lost the 2006 Senate race, with 39 percent of the vote.
Charles Talley Wells (1939– )
Charles Talley Wells was the chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court during the 2000 Florida ballot recount. Through 2006 he was on the Federal Judicial Conference Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedures. Since the 2000 election, he has traveled around the country giving lectures on how Florida’s high court handled the recount.
David Boies (1941– )
Attorney David Boies, lead counsel for Al Gore during the lawsuits that emerged during the Florida vote recount process, has since provided legal representation in a number of headline-grabbing cases, including serving on the legal team of former AIG chair Maurice “Hank” Greenberg during former N.Y. State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s probe into the insurer’s accounting practices. Boies also defended CBS against a libel suit filed by Gen. William Westmoreland, and represented American Express in a $4 billion antitrust lawsuit against Visa and MasterCard.

Boies has also taught law at New York University and at the Cardozo School of Law, part of New York’s Yeshiva University. In 2007 he donated $1.5 million to the law school at Tulane University in New Orleans to endow an instructional position now named for him.
Florida’s Voting Machines, Chads
When Palm Beach County replaced its manual voting machines after the 2000 election, it sold the machines, famous for creating hanging, pregnant, and dimpled chads for $10 each. St. Petersburg, Fla., resident Jim Dobyns, a Republican consultant, bought some 1,200 machines, and now sells them to collectors for $75 a piece.

Dobyns says that about 90 percent of his customers are Democrats. “I guess they like having the ‘villain’ in their living room or office so that they can point at it and say: ‘That’s the culprit’,” he told British paper the Times of London. “But Republicans feel kind of friendly towards these things. One buyer described it as ‘the machine that saved America.’”

Dobyns is also selling the chads that have been spilling out of the machines. He hopes to sell bags of 10 chads for $20 each on eBay.

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