Gore goes over the top in Florida count
Jose G. Perez
jgperez at SPAMnetzero.net
Mon Jan 1 00:11:31 MST 2001
It's not official, but it's now a fact.
Vice President Al Gore won the popular vote in the state of Florida.
There's no longer any need to rely on statistical analysis, or common sense,
to guesstimate what the outcome would have been if the Republicans had not
succeeded in torpedoing a fuller count that included more of the Black vote
in the Florida presidential race.
The Orlando Sentinel newspaper did an examination of some 6,000 discarded
ballots in heavily Republican Lake County. It is the first leg of a hand
count being carried out by a consortium of news organizations throughout
Florida who have gained access to the actual ballots under the state's
"government in the sunshine" law. And EVEN in a GOP stronghold like Lake,
there is enough of a net Gore gain that, together with the additional Gore
votes registered in the official recounts before the U.S. Supreme Court
ordered them suspended (and later thrown out), he has a slight lead over his
rival, president-designate George Bush.
Lake County uses paper ballots read by optical scanners, so there is no
question of interpreting "dimpled chads" (the little piece of cardboard the
voting machine is supposed to punch out of the punch-card ballot but it
sometimes doesn't, especially if you're Black).
The more than 600 votes the Republican-dominated county canvassing board
refused to count were among some 3,000 presidential "overvotes" -- votes for
more than one candidate. But in fact, in these 600 plus cases, the voter
error had been merely technical, because the voter had both filled in the
Gore or Bush oval and placed the candidate's name or the name of his running
mate in the space for write-ins.
Florida law is absolute and unambiguous: a legal ballot is one which, in the
judgment of the canvassing board, clearly expresses the intent of the
voter. The Florida courts have repeatedly said that mere technical mistakes,
or failure to properly follow balloting instructions does NOT annul a
ballot, provided the intent of the voter is clear. Despite this categorical
judicial and legislative mandate, the canvassing board of
Republican-dominated Lake County on election night, after the polls closed,
decided on a 2-1 vote that it would consider them "illegal" because neither
Bush nor Gore were "legal" write-in presidential candidates.
A Bush mouthpiece interviewed for the story lambasted the Sentinel for
"inflaming public passions."
"To publish illegal votes as legal votes would be to mislead the readers and
the public," Tucker Eskew told the Sentinel. "These are illegal votes, and
your paper is publishing them as legal votes."
The article notes: "Ballots exactly like those rejected in Lake -- and now
called 'illegal' by Eskew -- were counted by canvassing boards in places
such as Orange and Seminole counties and are now part of the certified
In addition, there were hundreds more legal votes on the ballots examined by
the Sentinel. These included ballots where the voter had erased a mistaken
vote before expressing their true preference, and/or written a notation
saying "mistake," unambiguously indicating their intent. The Sentinel does
not give exact figures for these ballots, saying only that there were
"hundreds" of them and that they heavily favored Gore.
Apparently this and similar mistakes (placing a check mark or an x in the
voting oval instead of filling it in completely; using a pen instead of
pencil, and so on) are common enough so that in quite a few Florida counties
that use the scanner technology, ballots are immediately scanned as soon as
the voter comes out of the booth to make sure it can be machine read, and
voters are allowed to set that ballot aside and try again if it isn't up to
snuff. In others, ballots rejected by machines are automatically counted by
hand. And in those counties, the total number of ballots not registering a
presidential vote was tiny, two or three tenths of a percent, representing,
arguably, the number of people who consciously cast a blank or spoiled
What all this shows is that the people who run the elections in Florida
counties are intimately familiar with the various problems associated with
different kinds of technologies used for voting. The county supervisors of
elections meet frequently on a state-wide basis; attend national and
regional trade shows, meetings, conferences and conventions. They are in
contact with representatives of manufacturers of various kinds of voting
machines as well as independent voting technology consultants. There is NO
WAY a policy of NOT counting perfectly unambiguous and therefore legal votes
using some technical defect as a pretext was "innocently" adopted on the
night of November 7. They knew EXACTLY what they were doing and why they
were doing it.
WHY they were doing it was because the race was extremely close. The exit
polls showed a 2% or so Gore lead, but a) that is way less than the +/-3%
margin or error of the poll; b) exit polls are known to have a slight
Democrat bias (Republicans fail to cooperate a little bit more often than
Democrats, is the common theory although I think the Florida situation shows
the real cause is that election authorities systematically undercount the
votes of Blacks and poor people generally, who are most often voting for
Democrats) and c) the poll said 11% of the voters were Hispanic, but only 2%
identified themselves as Cuban. I believe means that Cuban voters were
under-represented in the sample, because about 2/3rds of the
Hispanic voters in Florida are Cubans, and of course the Florida politicians
on Bush's campaign would have detected the same defect.
It is true that early on the networks called the race for Gore, but the Bush
people immediately screamed bloody murder, and on that level they were
proved right. The campaigns had better experts who knew Florida much more
intimately than people on network "decision desks," as well as better
numbers, supplied directly by their precinct workers.
As the polls were closing both camps must have known it was a toss-up, so
all this stuff about an accidental decision that just happened to cost Gore
a few hundred votes without anyone realizing has got to be bullshit.
That decision in Lake County (and elsewhere?) could not have been
These Lake County results, which caught most "observers" (read: journalists)
by surprise, explain a couple of things about the Florida recount
maneuvering. One thing I did not understand is why Baker and the other
Republicans were so dead set against any recounting at all anywhere, even in
the counties where Bush won big, and I had (naively) thought a recount could
only give him a net gain of votes. Lake County (where Bush won overall by a
15% margin) shows that more complete counts ANYWHERE and EVERYWHERE would
have favored Gore, and why that would be the case is obvious once you stop
to think about it. The Democratic Party voter base is much more working
class than the Republican, and disproportionately Black. The less literate,
less familiar with technology, less educated, less experienced in voting,
less fluent in English you are, the more likely you are to make some mistake
on the ballot, from a machine's point of view.
The other thing it shows is just how OUTRAGEOUSLY POLITICAL the Supreme
Court decision was. There is (normally) a rule in American Law that you
don't rule on something before you absolutely have to. In this case, the big
issue the Republicans used as a smokescreen for refusing to count votes they
knew came disproportionately from poorer working people, and especially
Blacks, was a "lack of standards" for determining just which "chads" should
count as votes and which not.
First, just consider the hypocrisy involved when you have already an unequal
count where in some places, 99.8% of the votes actually count, but in
others, only 67% get counted. To claim that trying to even out those
percentages CREATES "inequality" is asinine. And remember that in some
counties those that "voted twice" for the same person got counted, AS A
MATTER OF COURSE, but not in others. And that some places had machines and
procedures that produced 100% countable ballots from every single voter in a
precinct, while Duval (Jacksonville) Blacks saw THEIR ballots annulled more
than 20% of the time.
But beyond that, if the recount ordered by the Florida Supreme Court had
proceeded, the chad issue would have been moot. Gore would have edged out
Bush simply by looking at the invalidated paper ballots in a relatively
small number of counties. Including only those about which there could be no
dispute, where the voter had simply expressed a preference for the same
candidate twice, or clearly erased a mistake, would have given Gore the
edge. And Gore almost certainly would have had more preferences in each and
every type of "chad" -- dimpled, pregnant, one corner, two corner and
hanging --, for the same reason he had more machine unreadable ballots of
all kinds. But whether you counted some, none or all of these chad ballots
in the end would not have changed the outcome, Gore still would have won, so
the issue would have been moot.
Moreover, the Supreme Court acted without any kind of evidentiary record
showing that there was in fact an unequal treatment problem produced by the
Florida State Supreme Court recount, simply because the recount had barely
begun. Under federal law, if you're going to claim some equal protection of
the laws violation, you have to show that IN FACT it's happened. And as the
Lake County result now reveals, there was simply no need to reach the issue
of whether or not the chad part of the recount used equitable standards
statewide or not.
Of course, once a recount, no matter how conducted, had established a
several thousand or tens of thousands of votes lead for Gore, the Supreme
Court throwing out all those votes, once everyone knew what they were, was a
fairly tall order. Which is why the Justices put a screeching halt to the
count, and Scalia said quite openly he did this as a favor to Bush, because
it would be harder for him to govern if people knew for a fact he'd lost the
vote. That was the "irreparable harm" the Supreme Court injunction against
counting votes was EXPLICITLY meant to prevent: that the public should know
that the real winner of the elections was not the one the court had selected
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