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Context of 'November 11-13, 2000: Florida Court Rejects Bush Campaign Request to Stop Manual Recounts'

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A ‘New York Post’ headline from the morning of November 8.A ‘New York Post’ headline from the morning of November 8. [Source: Authentic History]After Democrat Al Gore retracts his concession in the Florida presidential elections (see 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000), the presidential campaign of Republican George W. Bush makes a decision to focus on one single message: their candidate has won the election, won the presidency, and anything else is wrong. In 2001, author Jake Tapper will write that in his brief conversation with Gore, “Bush doesn’t let on that he knows Florida is still in play. From this moment on, Bush and his team will propagage a myth, repeating it over and over to the American people: he won, definitively, at the moment his cousin called the election for him on Fox News Channel (see 2:15 a.m. November 8, 2000).… [E]verything that happens from this point on is crazy, illegitimate Gore-propelled nonsense.” [Tapper, 3/2001]

Entity Tags: Jake Tapper, George W. Bush, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

James Baker and Warren Christopher.James Baker and Warren Christopher. [Source: Slate / Metrolic]The Gore campaign sends a quick-response team led by Al Gore’s former chief of staff, lawyer Ron Klain, to Florida to deal with the uncertainty of the Florida presidential race (see Early Morning, November 8, 2000). Almost immediately, Klain and his group are inundated with rumors of voting irregularities—understaffed polling places in Democratic strongholds, Democratic voters sent on “wild goose chases” to find their proper polling places, African-Americans illegally prevented from voting (see November 7, 2000), police roadblocks set up to keep voters from reaching their polls (see 11:30 a.m. November 7, 2000). Klain and his group are unable to ascertain the truth or fiction behind some of the rumors, though they learn about one that is verifiable—the problems surrounding Palm Beach County’s “butterfly ballot” that seem to have cost Gore some 2,600 votes (see November 9, 2000). Klain and the Gore campaign’s Florida head, Nick Baldick, learn that 10,000 votes for both candidates in Palm Beach have been set aside, uncounted, because of their classification as “undervotes”—votes that record no choice for president. Some 4 percent of Palm Beach voters cast their votes for senator but not for president, according to the machine scoring, a conclusion Klain and Baldick find hard to believe. They soon learn that many more “undervotes” were set aside in Miami-Dade County, like Palm Beach a Democratic stronghold. Broward County, which includes the heavily Democratic Fort Lauderdale region, is the source of a number of rumors concerning missing ballot boxes and unbelievable precinct totals. And Volusia County, another expected mine of Gore voters, initially reported a total of negative 16,000 votes for Gore. The automatic recount triggered by Florida law would not address any of these issues; manual recounts and human examination of ballots would be required to sort through the inconsistencies. Klain asks a number of Florida lawyers for legal advice and finds little help: the lawyers he contacts tell him that they are reluctant to give too much aid to the Gore campaign. “All the establishment firms knew they couldn’t cross Governor [Jeb] Bush [brother of presidential candidate George W. Bush] and do business in Florida,” Klain will later recall. Klain instead pulls together an ad hoc team to be led by former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, now a lawyer in Los Angeles. Gore chooses Christopher because he believes Christopher will lend the team an image of decorous, law-abiding respectability. But, according to a 2004 Vanity Fair report, “Christopher set a different tone, one that would characterize the Democrats’ efforts over the next 35 days: hesitancy and trepidation.” One of Christopher’s first statements on the situation is given to Gore’s running mate Joseph Lieberman, with Christopher saying: “I think we should be aggressive in asserting our position. But we’ve got to temper what we do with the realization that the nation is focused on us and is expecting to act responsibly.” The Bush campaign’s approach is very different from that taken by the sometimes-timorous Christopher. Their quick-response campaign team is headed by Texas lawyer James Baker, a close Bush family friend and another former secretary of state. As Vanity Fair will write, the Bush team “dug in like a pit bull,” issuing frequent press statements that hew to the same line: Bush won the vote on the morning of November 8 (see 2:15 a.m. November 8, 2000 and After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000) and therefore is the legitimate president. Any attempts to alter that “fact” amount to “mischief.” Privately, Baker worries that the narrative is untenable, telling his team: “We’re getting killed on ‘count all the votes.’ Who the hell could be against that?” The Gore campaign will ask for manual recounts in four counties, Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade, and Volusia (see November 9, 2000), and the choice of selective recounts, as opposed to asking for statewide recounts, gives Baker the opening he is looking for. [National Journal, 11/9/2000; Tapper, 3/2001; Vanity Fair, 10/2004]

Entity Tags: County of Palm Beach (Florida), Warren Christopher, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Al Gore presidential campaign 2000, County of Miami-Dade (Florida), Ron Klain, Vanity Fair, Joseph Lieberman, George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, George W. Bush, County of Volusia (Florida), Nick Baldick, John Ellis (“Jeb”) Bush, James A. Baker, County of Broward (Florida)

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

An example of a ballot with so-called ‘hanging chads,’ ‘chads’ punched partially through the ballot but still ‘hanging’ on to the back of the ballot. Punch-card voting machines often do not read these as votes.An example of a ballot with so-called ‘hanging chads,’ ‘chads’ punched partially through the ballot but still ‘hanging’ on to the back of the ballot. Punch-card voting machines often do not read these as votes. [Source: Authentic History]The presidential campaign team of Vice President Al Gore asks for a hand count of presidential ballots in four Florida counties, as allowed under Florida Election Code 102.166. Gore’s recount request covers four Florida Democratic strongholds: Palm Beach, Miami-Dade, Broward, and Volusia. Between them, the four counties recorded about 1.8 million votes cast. All four counties seem to have serious issues surrounding their vote totals (see November 7, 2000 and Mid-Morning, November 8, 2000).
Florida Has No Legal Provision for Statewide Recounts This Early - The Gore decision to ask for the specific recounts in four counties is necessary, as Florida state law has no provision for a statewide recount request at this stage: a candidate has 72 hours after an election to request manual recounts on a county-by-county basis, and such requests must be based on perceived errors. Otherwise the candidate must wait until the election is formally certified and then make a request for a statewide recount—a request the Gore team felt certain would be refused by Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who is also the co-chair for the Florida Bush campaign (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000 and After).
Accusations of 'Cherry-Picking' - However, the Bush team uses the Gore request of “selective recounts” to launch a press narrative that Gore wants to “cherry-pick” counties for recounts that he thinks will give him an advantage, regardless of Gore’s claims that he wants “all votes counted.” As Vanity Fair will observe in 2004: “Proper as this was by Florida election law, the Democrats’ strategy gave [Bush lawyer James] Baker the sound bite he’d been seeking: Gore was just cherry-picking Democratic strongholds. It was a charge the Bush team wielded to devastating effect in the media, stunning the Gore team, which thought its strategy would be viewed as modest and fair.” The Gore campaign, shocked by what it perceives as the patent unfairness of the Bush response and by the media’s apparent acceptance of it, responds poorly, giving the Bush campaign the opportunity to set the narrative. [Vanity Fair, 10/2004; Leip, 2008]
Bush Threatens More Recounts - The Bush campaign threatens to demand recounts in Wisconsin, Iowa, and New Mexico if Gore does not withdraw his challenges in Florida. [Authentic History, 7/31/2011]
Swapping Accusations - Former Republican Party chairman Haley Barbour accuses the Democrats of “trying to to take the election of the president out of the election process, which is controlled by voters, and put it in the court process, which is controlled by lawyers.” Former Representative Bill Paxon (R-FL) accuses the Gore campaign of using “legal action to undermine this vote. They know that their chances to win are slim to none.” Bush campaign chairman Donald Evans says, “Vice President Gore’s campaign didn’t like the outcome of Election Day, and it seems they’re worried that they won’t like the official recount result either.” Gore’s campaign chairman William Daley says of the Bush campaign, “I believe that their actions to try to presumptively crown themselves the victors, to try to put in place a transition (see November 9, 2000), run the risk of dividing the American people and creating a sense of confusion.” Gore spokesman Chris Kehane tells a CNN audience: “This is a nation of laws, we ought to respect our laws. But we think that our victory is going to be sweet. We think we have won the popular vote. That’s pretty clear. And we believe we are going to win the popular vote within the state of Florida and thereby win the electoral vote as well.” Gore himself “pledge[s]” to honor the results of the election should the recounts show that Bush is the legitimate winner, saying that the recount “must be resolved in a way that satisfied the public and honors the office of the presidency.” [National Journal, 11/9/2000; New York Times, 11/9/2000]

Entity Tags: County of Miami-Dade (Florida), County of Broward (Florida), Bill Paxon, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Al Gore presidential campaign 2000, William Michael (“Bill”) Daley, Vanity Fair, Katherine Harris, James A. Baker, George W. Bush, Donald L. Evans, George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, Haley Barbour, County of Volusia (Florida), Chris Kehane, County of Palm Beach (Florida)

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

The “quick response” legal team of the Bush presidential campaign, led by former Secretary of State James Baker (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000 and Mid-Morning, November 8, 2000), asks for a federal injunction to stop hand recounts of ballots in several Florida counties because of what it alleges are equal protection and other constitutional violations (see November 9, 2000). Two days later, US District Judge Donald Middlebrooks rejects the request. Throughout the upcoming weeks, Baker and his team will continue to demand that recounts be blocked, while accusing the Gore campaign of asking for “recount after recount” and saying that the voting machine totals are more accurate than manual (hand) vote tallies. [US District Court, Southern District of Florida, 11/13/2000 pdf file; US News and World Report, 12/13/2000; CNN, 12/13/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12/17/2000; Leip, 2008] The Bush campaign decided after the manual recounts that it must stop all subsequent recounts, but at the same time must pin the blame for “taking the election to court” on the Gore campaign. So even though Baker and his team are the first to file motions in court, and though it is Baker’s team that will contest all recounts from this point onward, Baker and his team will persist in accusing the Gore campaign of trying to have the election decided in court and not by the votes. A 2004 article in Vanity Fair will characterize this attempt as very successful in the mainstream media. [Vanity Fair, 10/2004]

Entity Tags: Donald Middlebrooks, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., James A. Baker, Al Gore presidential campaign 2000, George W. Bush, Vanity Fair, George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

The Bush presidential campaign demands, and receives, a manual recount in New Mexico. Democrat Al Gore had an early, if narrow, lead in the state during the November 7 returns, but a programming error was found that gave Bush a slim lead. New Mexico’s five electoral votes were withdrawn from the Gore column and the state was classified as “too close to call” (see November 10, 2000). Bush picks up 125 votes on the recount of Roosevelt County. Although the Bush campaign and its Republican allies staunchly oppose manual recounts in Florida (see Mid-Morning, November 8, 2000, November 8, 2000, November 9, 2000, November 9, 2000, 11:35 p.m. November 9, 2000, November 11, 2000, November 11-13, 2000, and November 12, 2000), GOP lawyer and national committeeman Mickey Barnett says in a New Mexico court filing that there is, “of course, no other way to determine the accuracy of this apparent discrepancy, or machine malfunction, other than the board reviewing the votes by hand.” Barnett secures a recount of Roosevelt County’s “undervotes” (ballots that supposedly recorded no preference for president), noting that the county recorded 10 percent of its voters as registering no preference. Barnett and the Bush campaign do not ask for manual recounts of much larger undervotes in three largely Democratic counties. In 2010, columnist Eric Alterman will write: “The only conceivable reason why the GOP cared enough about New Mexico’s five electoral votes as late as December 1 was the fear that if it carried Florida by legislative fiat—in defiance of the courts (see 11:45 a.m. November 30, 2000)—it might lose individual electors in other states. New Mexico would have been a cushion against such defections.” Towards the end of the recounts, another error is found that gives Gore a 500-vote advantage. Gore receives New Mexico’s electoral votes. The final tally: 286,783 votes for Gore and 286,417 for Bush, with a difference in favor of Gore of 366 votes. [Leip, 2000; CNN, 11/13/2000; US Constitution (.net), 2010; Center for American Progress, 12/9/2010]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Al Gore presidential campaign 2000, County of Roosevelt (New Mexico), George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, Eric Alterman, Mickey Barnett

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

The online news Web site Salon reports that while the Bush campaign opposes the Gore campaign’s requests for manual recounts in four heavily Democratic counties (see Mid-Morning, November 8, 2000, November 8, 2000, November 9, 2000, 11:35 p.m. November 9, 2000, November 10, 2000, November 11-13, 2000, 9:00 a.m. November 13, 2000, 12:00 p.m., November 15, 2000, 10:15 p.m., November 15, 2000, Early Morning, November 16, 2000, 5:00 p.m. November 17, 2000, and 12:36 p.m. November 19, 2000), it quietly accepted voluntary manual recounts from four Florida counties that contributed 185 votes to the Bush tally. According to Salon, in those four counties—Seminole, Polk, Taylor, and Hamilton—elections officials took it upon themselves to manually count ballots that could not be read by machine, so-called “undervotes.” Those recounts are entirely legal. The Seminole recount garnered 98 votes for George W. Bush. Al Gore lost 90 votes in Polk County because the votes had apparently been counted twice. The Taylor recount garnered four votes for Bush. The Hamilton recount garnered 10 votes for Gore. (A similar report by the online news site Consortium News uses different counties—Franklin, Hamilton, Seminole, Washington, Taylor, and Lafayette—to note that Bush has garnered some 418 votes in those counties’ recounts.) Bush campaign spokeswoman Mindy Tucker says that under Florida law, county canvassing boards have the discretion as to whether to inspect uncounted ballots by hand, and says that the Gore campaign’s calls for recounts of undervotes in Miami-Dade County (see November 7, 2000) is another in its attempt to “continually try to change the rules in the middle of the game. The ballots were inspected by hand in some cases but not all, and under Florida law it’s the canvassing board’s decision legally. It’s our belief that these votes have been counted.” Gore spokesman Chris Lehane says the Gore campaign wants the same consideration given to Miami-Dade votes as given to votes in other counties. Moreover, Miami-Dade uses punch-card ballots, which yield far more errors than the “optiscan” balloting systems used in Seminole, Polk, Taylor, and Hamilton. “Keep in mind, punch cards are used in poorer areas,” he says. “Most of these other ballots were optical ones where the reliability was much, much higher. And in poorer areas, you have bad machines or flawed ballots. We think we have a pretty clear and compelling argument.” Senior Bush campaign adviser James Baker says that manually recounting votes in Democratic-leaning counties was comprised of “subjective” attempts to “divine the intent of the voter,” and that hand-counting votes provides “tremendous opportunities for human error and… mischief.” Democrats retort that Baker’s statement is hypocritical, and point to Bush’s gain in Republican-leaning counties as proof of both the accuracy of recounting and the need to count each vote. [Consortium News, 11/19/2000; Salon, 11/28/2000]

Entity Tags: County of Polk (Florida), County of Franklin (Florida), Chris Lehane, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., County of Hamilton (Florida), County of Miami-Dade (Florida), County of Washington (Florida), James A. Baker, County of Seminole (Florida), County of Taylor (Florida), County of Lafayette (Florida), George W. Bush, George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, Mindy Tucker

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

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