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Context of '7:00 a.m. November 7, 2000 and After: Palm Beach County Voters Complain of Confusing Ballots'

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Theresa LePore, displaying signs of stress over the controversy that will ensue concerning her ‘butterfly ballot.’Theresa LePore, displaying signs of stress over the controversy that will ensue concerning her ‘butterfly ballot.’ [Source: BBC]Theresa LePore, the supervisor of elections for Palm Beach County, decides to use an unusual design for the upcoming election ballots. Because of a recent amendment to the Florida Constitution that makes it far easier for third-party and independent candidates to appear on the ballot for president, LePore has 10 presidential and vice-presidential candidates to fit on the ballot. She consulted with elections board employee Tony Enos; the two decided that a one-page ballot would have to use a typeface so small that many voters with vision problems would be unable to read the names. Instead, LePore chooses a two-page, or “facing page,” ballot design. She wants all 10 presidential candidates on the same page, so she goes with a design that has groups of candidates on either page and punchable holes in the center, in a vertical row: the voter will punch out the hole designated for his or her candidate. The design lists Republican candidates George W. Bush and Dick Cheney first on the left-hand page, with the punch hole designated for them also first; Reform Party candidates Pat Buchanan and Ezola Foster are first on the right-hand page, with their designated punch hole second; Democratic candidates Al Gore and Joseph Lieberman are second on the left-hand page, with their designated punch hole third. To many voters, the second punch hole designated for Buchanan and Foster will appear to be the hole designated for Gore and Lieberman (see November 9, 2000). [Tapper, 3/2001]

Entity Tags: Joseph Lieberman, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., George W. Bush, Patrick Buchanan, Theresa LePore, Ezola Foster, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Tony Enos

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

A portion of the so-called ‘butterfly ballot’ used in the Palm Beach County elections.A portion of the so-called ‘butterfly ballot’ used in the Palm Beach County elections. [Source: L. David Roper]In Palm Beach County, Florida, voters begin complaining of problems with the “butterfly ballot” almost as soon as the polls open. Many believe that the ballot’s confusing design is redirecting voters who want to vote for Democrat Al Gore to vote instead for Reform Party candidate Patrick Buchanan (see September 2000).
Alerting the Gore Campaign of Problems - Lawyer Liz Hyman, volunteering to work the election in Palm Beach for the Gore campaign, later recalls that starting at 7:00 a.m., voters approach her complaining about the ballot, some theorizing that someone or some group of people conspired to redirect Gore’s votes to Buchanan. Around 8:00 a.m., Hyman calls her father, Washington, DC, attorney Lester Hyman. “You’re not going to believe what’s going on down here,” she tells him, and advises him to alert someone at the national Gore campaign headquarters. Soon, Joe Sandler, the general counsel of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), contacts Liz Hyman in Palm Beach. During the same time period, a number of elderly, angry voters drive to election supervisor Theresa LePore’s office and demand an explanation for the ballot confusion, but LePore refuses to take their complaints seriously.
Complaints, Attempts to Clarify Voting Procedures - Poll clerk Ethel Brownstein, after seeing voters having difficulty casting their votes for Gore, begins telling voters at her precinct: “Please be careful. The first hole is [Republican George W.] Bush, the second is Buchanan, and the third is Gore.” The complaints keep coming in, with many voters worried that they have voted for Buchanan instead of their intended vote for Gore. Many voters punch the second hole, then reconsidering, punch the third hole also, inadvertently causing an “overvote” that will be discarded. Some voters even write “Gore” or draw arrows to indicate their selection. By 11:24 a.m., LePore receives a faxed letter from Bobby Brochin, the DNC’s counsel in Florida. Brochin, who is still unsure of the exact nature of the problem with the ballots, writes: “Apparently certain presidential ballots being utilized in several precincts in Palm Beach County are quite confusing. They contain two pages listing all of the presidential candidates, which may cause electors to vote twice in the presidential race. You should immediately instruct all deputy supervisors and other officials at these precincts that they should advise all electors (and post a written advisory) that the ballot for the presidential race is two pages long, and that electors should vote for only one presidential candidate.” LePore does not respond to Brochin’s fax. By noon, WPEC-TV is reporting on the “butterfly ballot” confusion, and, in author Jake Tapper’s words, “doing a hell of a lot better than the Democrats are” in explaining the issue. Gore campaign workers begin visiting precincts to explain to Gore voters how to properly cast their votes on the ballot. By the afternoon, early results show some dismaying returns.
'I Think I Voted for a Nazi' - Precinct 162-G, almost entirely composed of the Jewish retirement community Lakes of Delray, is showing a surprisingly large number of votes for Buchanan, a Holocaust denier who is roundly despised among most Jewish voters. Brochin resends his fax to LePore at 2:57 p.m., noting that he failed to get a response the first time. Gore campaign workers in the county re-record their TeleQuest phone-bank message with instructions on how to cast votes for Gore, and instructing voters who believe they may have miscast their votes to return to their polling places and make a complaint. Talk show host Randi Rhodes, an outspoken liberal who lives in the county, tells listeners on her afternoon radio show: “I got scared I voted for Pat Buchanan. I almost said, ‘I think I voted for a Nazi.’ When you vote for something as important as leader of the free world, I think there should be spaces between the names. We have a lot of people with my problem, who are going to vote today and didn’t bring their little magnifiers from the Walgreens. They’re not going to be able to decide that there’s Al Gore on this side and Pat Buchanan on the other side.… I had to check three times to make sure I didn’t vote for a fascist.”
Late Afternoon Advisory - This afternoon, Harold Blue, a World War II veteran who like his wife is legally blind, realizes after he cast his vote that a poll worker improperly instructed he and his wife to vote for Buchanan and not Gore. When Democratic officials like State Representative Lois Frankel, State Senator Ron Klein, and US Representative Robert Wexler visit the Palm Beach elections offices to find out what is going on, LePore begins to believe that there may be a serious problem with the “butterfly ballots.” She reluctantly agrees to write an advisory for the various precincts, but says she lacks the staff to distribute it; if the Democrats want it posted, they will have to deliver the advisory themselves. LePore’s advisory reads, “ATTENTION ALL POLL WORKERS PLEASE REMIND ALL VOTERS COMING IN THAT THEY ARE TO VOTE FOR ONLY ONE (1) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE AND THEY ARE TO PUNCH THE HOLE NEXT TO THE ARROW NEXT TO THE NUMBER NEXT TO THE CANDIDATE THAT THEY WISH TO VOTE FOR.” Judge Charles Burton, a Republican member of the canvassing board, says he cannot understand the confusion, that the ballot clearly indicates by an arrow which hole is designated for Gore. Democratic board member Carol Roberts counters by warning Burton and LePore that some people are beginning to say the ballot may be illegal, and advises LePore to contact her own attorney. Burton says the ballot is clearly legal according to his interpretation of Florida election statutes, and that the law Democrats are citing—101.153(3)(a)—applies only to paper ballots, not punch-card ballots.
'File an Affidavit' - At 5:30 p.m., Democratic vice presidential contender Joseph Lieberman calls Rhodes in a prearranged “get out the vote” interview. The discussion quickly turns to the Palm Beach ballot confusion, and Rhodes urges Lieberman to consider “filing an affidavit,” presumably to contest the Palm Beach results. Florida lawyer Mitchell Berger is preparing to do just that, telling Brochin and other Democratic lawyers to prepare for court battles. [Tapper, 3/2001]

Entity Tags: Mitchell Berger, Randi Rhodes, Ron Klein, Lois Frankel, Robert Wexler, WPEC-TV, Theresa LePore, Lester Hyman, Patrick Buchanan, Liz Hyman, County of Palm Beach (Florida), Carol Roberts, Joseph Lieberman, Democratic National Committee, Ethel Brownstein, George W. Bush, Joseph Sandler, Jake Tapper, Harold Blue, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Bobby Brochin

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

The US electoral map as of the morning of November 8. Florida, New Mexico, and Oregon are still rated as ‘too close to call.’The US electoral map as of the morning of November 8. Florida, New Mexico, and Oregon are still rated as ‘too close to call.’ [Source: BBC]America wakes to a presidential election too close to call, though many morning newspapers, basing their headlines on the latest information received before going to press in the early morning hours, have headlines declaring George W. Bush (R-TX) the president-elect (see 2:15 a.m. November 8, 2000). The margin in Florida stands officially at Bush with 2,909,135 votes (48.8 percent) to Democratic contender Al Gore’s 2,907,351 votes (48.8 percent)—a margin of 1,784 votes in Bush’s favor. 136,616 votes, or 2.4 percent, are registered to other candidates. Stories of voting irregularities are surfacing, particularly in Palm Beach County, where thousands of voters complain that their punch card ballots led them to vote for candidates they did not intend to select (see 7:00 a.m. November 7, 2000 and After). Later in the day, the Florida state government orders a full machine recount in compliance with Florida Election Code 102.141 that requires a recount of ballots if the margin of victory is 0.5 percent or less. Florida Governor Jeb Bush, the brother of George W. Bush, recuses himself from the process. [Circuit Court of the 15th Judicial Circuit In and For Palm Beach County, Florida, 11/8/2000 pdf file; Jurist, 2003; Leip, 2008] The press reports that if the recounts do not clearly determine a winner, the US might have to wait “up to eight days longer as absentee ballots mailed from overseas are counted” (see 12:00 a.m., November 17, 2000). Governor Bush joins with Florida Attorney General Robert Butterworth, the Florida chairman for the Gore campaign, in a promise “to deal swiftly with any election irregularities.” Governor Bush says, “Voter fraud in our state is a felony, and guilty parties will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.” [National Journal, 11/9/2000] Bush is credited with having won 29 states with 246 electoral votes. Gore has 18 states and the District of Columbia, with a total of 255 electoral votes. Oregon and New Mexico are also rated as “too close to call,” but because of the electoral vote totals, their total of 12 electoral votes are irrelevant. Florida’s 25 votes, however, are necessary for either candidate to win the election. To be declared president, one or the other needs to reach 270 votes. Wisconsin and Iowa are also briefly considered close, though Gore wins both of those states, and eventually Oregon and New Mexico (see November 13 - December 1, 2000), all with razor-thin margins. [Leip, 2000; CNN, 11/13/2000]

Entity Tags: Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., John Ellis (“Jeb”) Bush, Robert Butterworth, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

Representatives Robert Wexler (D-FL) and Mark Foley (R-FL), both representing districts in the Palm Beach County area of Florida, argue about the confusing “butterfly ballot” that plagued many Palm Beach voters (see 7:00 a.m. November 7, 2000 and After and November 9, 2000) with interviewer Larry King on CNN. Much of the debate centers on the ballot design and its approval by Palm Beach elections supervisor Theresa LePore, a Democrat. (In his 2001 book Down and Dirty, author Jake Tapper will note that LePore was originally registered as a Republican, then an independent, before registering as a Democrat, and is not particularly partisan with any party.) Foley, a Bush campaign supporter, defends LePore and the ballot, saying that the entire ballot situation is caused by recalcitrant Democrats unwilling to accept defeat, while Wexler, arguing on behalf of the Gore campaign, says the ballot is illegal and cost Al Gore the votes he needed to win Florida and the presidency. Wexler accurately describes many Palm Beach voters as “hysterical” because they feared they had accidentally voted for third-party candidate Pat Buchanan and not for Gore, and says the ballot design does not comply with Florida law. “Illegal is illegal, confusion is confusion, and the presidency shouldn’t hinge on it,” Wexler says. Foley is inaccurate in saying that Buchanan has a large base of support in Palm Beach, though he jokes that some of those putative pro-Buchanan voters “may be deranged.” Foley denies Wexler’s description of “mass confusion” at the Palm Beach polling places, and notes, accurately enough, that “a Democratic supervisor of elections [LePore] approved the layout and approved the ballot.” King says that as a Democrat, Wexler “signed off” on the ballot design, drawing a retort from Wexler: “That’s not exactly so, Larry. Many people did complain to the supervisor of elections when they saw the sample ballot.” LePore, watching the discussion on television, is angered by Wexler’s charge; she later says she mailed out 655,000 sample ballots to voters, gave copies to all 150-odd candidates on the ballot, mailed copies to local Democratic and Republican representatives, and provided copies for publication in the Palm Beach Post and the Orlando Sun-Sentinel, and received no complaints whatsoever. Wexler goes on to note that LePore sent out an unprecedented voter advisory reminding voters how to cast their votes for their desired presidential candidate, “which I’ve never seen done.” LePore is further angered by Wexler’s failure to acknowledge that he was one of the people who requested the advisory. “What a liar!” LePore thinks as she watches Wexler’s comments. Wexler argues that “the presidency of the United States hangs in the balance.… The entire election system of America is on trial right now. We need to make certain it is done in a fair way.” [St. Petersburg Times, 11/10/2000; Tapper, 3/2001]

Entity Tags: Larry King, CNN, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., County of Palm Beach (Florida), Jake Tapper, Mark Foley, Patrick Buchanan, Theresa LePore, Robert Wexler, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

A surprisingly high number of voters in Palm Beach County, Florida, cast their presidential votes for third-party presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan, and the Gore campaign believes many of these voters intended to vote for Al Gore (see 7:00 a.m. November 7, 2000 and After). The problem lay in Palm Beach’s “butterfly ballot,” designed by Democratic county elections supervisor Theresa LePore, which many voters found confusing (see September 2000). The ballot gave a list of names for offices with corresponding holes to punch, but in the presidential race, Gore’s name lined up more closely with the hole designated for Buchanan, who won 3,407 votes in Palm Beach, over 2,600 more than he won in any other county in Florida. Palm Beach is heavily populated with elderly Jewish voters who were, media reports will say, thrilled to cast their votes for Gore’s Jewish running mate Joe Lieberman; it is doubtful they would have become enthused about Buchanan and his history of anti-Semitism and Holocaust trivialization. Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer attempts to characterize Palm Beach as a “Buchanan stronghold.” But Buchanan readily admits that the Gore campaign is probably correct in saying that many Palm Beach voters intended to vote for Gore and not for him. [Vanity Fair, 10/2004; Leip, 2008] “It does seem to me that those are probably not my votes in those precincts in Palm Beach County,” Buchanan says. “My guess is that I probably got some votes down there that really did not belong to me. I feel—I do not feel well about that. I do not want to take any votes that don’t belong to me.… If the two candidates they pushed were Buchanan and Gore, almost certainly those are Al Gore’s votes, not mine.” Representative Mark Foley (R-FL) says that the Palm Beach voters “may be deranged” in voting for Buchanan, “but they have every right to vote for him” and their votes should not be questioned. Three Palm Beach voters file a lawsuit “seeking a new election claiming the punchcard ballot was so confusing that they accidentally voted” for Buchanan. It is not clear if the Gore campaign or local Democratic Party officials will ask for an actual recount, though some Democratic lawyers call the ballot design “illegal.” [National Journal, 11/9/2000]
Analyses: Ballot Confusion Cost Gore between 6,600 and 13,000 Votes - A subsequent analysis reported by the liberal news site Consortium News later alleges that Gore may have lost as many as 13,000 votes due to the “butterfly ballot.” Some voters say they attempted to vote for Gore, punched the hole for Buchanan by mistake, and attempted to correct the error by punching a second hole for Gore. The voting machines recorded those votes as “overvotes” and discarded them without counting them for either Gore or Buchanan. There may be over 10,000 of these particular overvotes remaining to be counted. 19,120 ballots in Palm Beach were disqualified because of double-voting, or “overvoting.” A sample of 144 ballots will be analyzed by Palm Beach election officials, and the results will show that 80 of those 144 ballots—56 percent—show punches for both Buchanan and Gore. If this sample accurately reflects the state of the remaining overvote ballots, then mathematically, Gore lost some 10,622 votes because of the confusion. Adding the approximately 2,700 votes that were given to Buchanan means that Gore lost some 13,000 votes in Palm Beach. [Consortium News, 11/22/2000] A 2001 investigation by The Nation will find that the “lost” Gore votes in Palm Beach number somewhat less than the Consortium News estimate: some 6,600 votes that likely would have gone to Gore were either not counted or inadvertently given to Buchanan. [Nation, 4/24/2001]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Ari Fleischer, County of Palm Beach (Florida), Theresa LePore, Consortium News, The Nation, Mark Foley, Joseph Lieberman, Patrick Buchanan

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

Gore campaign aide Donnie Fowler writes a memo to his boss, Gore political advisor Michael Whouley, while at a Palm Beach County, Florida, diner. Fowler notes the following:
bullet Palm Beach County rejected 19,000 ballots due to “double-voting,” or “overvotes,” where confused voters cast their votes for Democrat Al Gore and third-party candidate Patrick Buchanan. Fowler calls the ballot “confusing and illegal” (see 7:00 a.m. November 7, 2000 and After and November 9, 2000). The rejected ballots comprise 4 percent of the presidential votes cast, whereas only 0.8 percent of the ballots were rejected for overvotes in the Senate race on the same ballot.
bullet The voting trends indicate a possible Voting Rights Act violation: whereas 4 percent of ballots were rejected for overvotes county-wide, some 15-16 percent of the ballots were rejected in precincts with large African-American populations.
bullet Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore has picked up some 650 votes in the machine recount; Fowler expects Florida to certify its machine recounts (see Early Morning, November 8, 2000) by 5:00 p.m. today (see 5:00 p.m. November 9, 2000).
bullet Palm Beach elections board member Judge Charles Burton, the only Republican on the board, admitted in a press conference that punch-card ballot systems are faulty because, Fowler writes, “little dots punched out can interfere with actual counting by machine.” Others also criticize the “antiquated” voting machines.
bullet Reports exist of voters being turned away after the 7:00 p.m. poll closing time, in violation of laws that state voters already in line at closing time can vote.
bullet Evidence exists that a Republican county commissioner coerced a Democratic county commissioner into holding a recount test less than 24 hours after the polls closed.
bullet 500 absentee ballots were left at a post office on Election Day, and presumably were not counted.
bullet Poll headquarters registered some 3,000 complaints, an extraordinary number. There may have been more, but many voters were unable to get through on the phone on Election Day. [Tapper, 3/2001]

Entity Tags: Charles Burton, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Michael Whouley, Al Gore presidential campaign 2000, County of Palm Beach (Florida), Patrick Buchanan, Donnie Fowler

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

The Florida Supreme Court dismisses a petition from the Gore campaign to order an immediate recount of over 12,000 “undervotes” from Miami-Dade and Palm Beach Counties. “Undervotes” are ballots that did not register a choice for president when run through the machine counter. An hour later, the same court rules that Palm Beach’s controversial “butterfly ballot” is legal (see 7:00 a.m. November 7, 2000 and After and November 27, 2000). [US News and World Report, 12/13/2000]

Entity Tags: Al Gore presidential campaign 2000, Florida Supreme Court, County of Palm Beach (Florida), County of Miami-Dade (Florida)

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

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