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'Overvotes' for Gore

May 12, 2001

The latest unofficial Florida recount shows Al Gore with a net gain of 682 votes from the Miami Herald/USA Today examination of "overvotes" those that counting machines had kicked out for registering more than one vote for president.

It turned out that 1,871 of these disqualified ballots were clearly marked for Gore and 1,189 were clearly marked for George W. Bush, giving Gore that net gain of 682 votes.

For those who remember Bush's official victory margin of 537 votes, the math would seem simple. Subtract 537 from 682, giving Gore a narrow win by 145 votes.

The Miami Herald/USA Today accounts were more complicated, however. The newspapers subtracted some votes from the totals and added them and others back in later leading to a less definitive answer.

In these re-tabulations, Gore prevails under two standards for counting "undervotes" those ballots that had been kicked out by counting machines as registering no vote and Bush leads under two other standards.

The legal standard in Florida was that a ballot should be counted if the will of the voter could be clearly ascertained. Under the so-called Palm Beach standard counting ballots with partially removed chads and indentations in more than one race, indicating a malfunctioning voting machine Gore would have won Florida by 242 votes, the newspapers said.

Gore's margin would have been 332 if ballots with indentations only on the presidential race also were counted. If all ballots with indentations were thrown out, however, Bush would have prevailed by either 152 or 407 votes, depending on how the remaining chad-ballots were counted, the newspapers said.

Beyond the specific ballots, the newspapers agreed that Gore lost thousands of more votes because of errors in filling out confusing ballots in some precincts. USA Today estimated that Gore lost 15,000 to 25,000 votes, "enough to have decisively won Florida and the White House." [USA Today, May 11, 2001]

The Miami Herald noted that a recent statistical study by six academics from leading universities concluded that the infamous "butterfly ballot" in Palm Beach County probably cost Gore at least 3,400 votes from accidental double punches and up to another 2,400 votes that were mistakenly cast and counted for Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan. [Miami Herald, May 11, 2001]

While these unofficial newspaper tallies obviously won't change the fact that George W. Bush was awarded Florida's 25 electoral votes and thus the presidency, they do underscore the fact that the American people chose Gore to be their leader.

Beyond the evidence that a plurality of Florida voters went to the polls to pick Gore a fact buttressed by the new newspaper analysis voters nationwide favored Gore over Bush by more than a half million votes.

Bush's Edge

Bush's real advantage, it now appears, was not with the voters, but with the national news media and a well-organized conservative political apparatus that effectively blocked a full and fair recount of the Florida votes.

From Election Night, Gore was under intense media and political pressure to concede. Bush's victory was taken for granted and Gore was quickly dubbed a sore loser.

Even now, Gore is coming under criticism for opting for limited recounts after Bush rebuffed Gore's suggestion on Nov. 15 for a statewide recount of the Florida vote. Gore's decision to fight for recounts in three counties where voting tallies were most in dispute is being called a "blunder."

But the political reality last November left Gore few options. The national news media, which had shown itself to be hostile toward Gore throughout the campaign, was demanding "closure," meaning Gore's acceptance of defeat.

Also, while Gore sought to channel the election dispute through appeals to canvassing boards and the courts, Bush dispatched operatives from Washington to organize unruly and even violent protests against the recounts. To this day, the Bush campaign has refused to release financial information about how it spent roughly $8 million during the recount battle.

When Gore finally won before the Florida Supreme Court on Dec. 8, Bush sent his lawyers to the U.S. Supreme Court and had five conservative justices stop the counting of ballots on Dec. 9. Three days later, the same five justices prevented a resumption of the vote counting and effectively handed Bush the presidency, the first popular-vote loser in more than a century to hold that office.

The new discoveries about the "overvotes" favoring Gore by a net margin of 682 and the recognition that thousands of other ballots were likely intended as Gore votes will not change who is sitting in the White House.

But this new evidence and the passage of time make the events of last November and December look increasingly like a coup against the democratic process.

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