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Context of '2:27 p.m. December 8, 2000: Court Rules Absentee Ballots Lacking Postmarks Must Be Counted'

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A Florida absentee ballot.A Florida absentee ballot. [Source: SaintPetersBlog (.com)]The Bush and Gore campaigns begin a weeks-long wrangle over the issue of Florida’s absentee ballots. The deadline for counting absentee ballots received from citizens overseas is November 17 (see 12:00 a.m., November 17, 2000). Rumors of large numbers of military absentee ballots, presumably favoring Bush in number, and a large number of ballots from American Jews in Israel, presumably favoring Gore, have swirled for days among the media and in both campaigns. Gore campaign lawyer Mark Herron compiles a long memo on the rules governing absentee ballots to Democratic lawyers at each of the 67 county canvassing boards; a copy of the memo is obtained by a Republican legal team, and soon Bush spokespersons are quoting from it to accuse the Gore campaign of attempting to disenfranchise Americans in uniform. The Gore campaign sends vice-presidential candidate Joe Lieberman (D-CT) onto the Sunday morning television talk shows to shore up its position, and Lieberman protests that the campaign would never do anything to disenfranchise soldiers. Lieberman says that in his opinion, the most permissive standards should be applied to the absentee ballots. Herron and other Gore lawyers are dismayed by Lieberman’s position, as these standards would admit a larger influx of absentee ballots, the majority of which they believe will go to Bush. Okaloosa County, a Panhandle county with six military bases, becomes a center of the controversy. Lawyers from both campaigns and both parties attempt to wrangle the issue among themselves and the Okaloosa elections board, often becoming pushy and confrontational. Bush lawyers insist that the rules should be, in essence, jettisoned and all absentee ballots admitted regardless of postmarks, valid numbers and addresses, etc.; Okaloosa elections supervisor Pat Hollarn, a centrist Republican, refuses. “I told them not only no but hell no,” she later recalls. A 2004 Vanity Fair article will note, “At the same time, in the more Democratic counties, Bush lawyers were arguing just as passionately that rules should be strictly adhered to and any questionable ballots put aside.” After the wrangling has settled and the ballots are counted (see 12:00 a.m., November 17, 2000), Bush wins a net gain of 123 votes. [Vanity Fair, 10/2004]

Entity Tags: County of Okaloosa (Florida), Al Gore presidential campaign 2000, Pat Hollarn, Mark Herron, Joseph Lieberman, George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

The deadline of midnight November 17 for Florida to count and tally all overseas absentee ballots, under Florida Administrative Code, Chapter 1S-2.013, arrives. [Leip, 2008] A US News and World Report article indicates that the deadline is noon November 18, not midnight of November 17, though this indication is erroneous. Absentee ballots continue to trickle in and be counted throughout the day and into the evening. [US News and World Report, 12/13/2000; Authentic History, 7/31/2011] Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, the co-chair of Florida’s Bush campaign team (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000 and After), issues an opinion—in conflict with Florida state law—saying that absentee ballots can be counted even if received by mail up to 10 days after November 17 as long as they were sent from outside the country and postmarked by Election Day. Rumors of large numbers of military absentee ballots, presumably favoring George W. Bush in number, and a large number of ballots from American Jews in Israel, presumably favoring Al Gore, have swirled for days among the media and in both campaigns. A 2004 article by Vanity Fair will speculate that Mac Stipanovich, Harris’s “handler” from the Bush campaign, made the decision to have Harris issue her opinion after deciding that the likelihood of Bush gaining votes from the military absentee ballots was higher than the speculative Gore bounce from the perhaps-mythical flurry of votes from Israel. [Vanity Fair, 10/2004] Bush gains 123 votes from the absentee ballots (see November 15-17, 2000).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, George W. Bush, Vanity Fair, Mac Stipanovich, Katherine Harris

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

Florida’s presidential vote tallies are adjusted, in line with state law, to reflect absentee ballots (see 12:00 a.m., November 17, 2000 and November 15-17, 2000). The slim lead belonging to George W. Bush (R-TX—see Evening, November 14, 2000) expands to 930 votes; Bush picks up 1,380 votes and Vice President Al Gore (D-TN) picks up 750 votes. [US News and World Report, 12/13/2000; Leip, 2008] After the modified vote tallies are announced, Bush campaign officials begin publicly complaining of manual-recount irregularities. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12/17/2000] Three Florida counties are either engaged in manual recounts or are preparing to recount (see November 17, 2000, 3:40 p.m. November 15, 2000, and 3:00 p.m., November 16, 2000).

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

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

Bush campaign attorneys note that all the absentee ballots have been tallied (see November 18, 2000 and November 15-17, 2000). They ask the Florida Supreme Court to just instruct the State of Florida to name a winner of its presidential election (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000). [US News and World Report, 12/13/2000]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

Both the Bush and Gore campaigns send veteran politicians and military veterans to argue for and against the acceptance of military absentee ballots that may not meet the criteria for acceptance under the law (see November 12, 2000, November 15-17, 2000, and November 18, 2000). For George W. Bush, Senator Bob Dole (R-KS) argues for their inclusion. Vietnam War veteran Senator Bob Kerrey (D-NE) argues against their inclusion; Kerrey also tells reporters that Al Gore “understands that he may be the loser in Florida.” [US News and World Report, 12/13/2000]

Entity Tags: Al Gore presidential campaign 2000, Robert J. (“Bob”) Dole, George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, Bob Kerrey

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

Bush campaign lawyers file a motion to force the inclusion of hundreds of overseas ballots, mostly from soldiers serving at overseas duty stations, that lacked the proper postmark or signatures (see November 15-17, 2000). On November 24, Florida Republicans from the state legislature will join the Bush effort. [US News and World Report, 12/13/2000] Three days later, they will drop the suit (see 7:00 p.m. November 25, 2000).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

Refusing to accept the certification of George W. Bush as the winner of the Florida presidential election (see 7:30 p.m. November 26, 2000), Vice President Al Gore’s campaign files an election contest action challenging the election results in Palm Beach, Miami-Dade, and Nassau Counties. Gore campaign officials believe Gore was denied a net gain of over 1,100 uncounted votes in Palm Beach and 750 in Miami-Dade (see November 7, 2000). In Nassau, Gore officials believe Bush was wrongly credited with 51 votes. “The vote totals reported in the election canvassing commission’s certification of November 26, 2000, are wrong,” Gore lawyers allege in court filings. It is the first formal contest challenge in the history of US presidential elections. The case is assigned by random computer selection to Judge N. Saunders Sauls. Gore lawyers also challenge vote totals in three Florida counties, and ask a state judge to order a manual recount of some 13,000 ballots in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade Counties that showed no votes for president on machine runs (so-called “undervotes”). Gore lawyers also file an emergency motion to accelerate the contest proceedings, a motion that Bush lawyers will challenge the next day. Bush campaign lawyers file an appeals court motion seeking to delay oral arguments in a pending federal case challenging Florida’s hand recounts. A Seminole County lawsuit seeking to throw out some 4,700 absentee ballots for technical reasons (see November 12, 2000, November 15-17, 2000, and November 17, 2000) is moved to a state court in Leon County, which is also hearing the Gore campaign’s certification challenges. And a lawsuit challenging the validity of Palm Beach County’s “butterfly ballot” (see 10:46 a.m. November 20 - November 22, 2000) goes to the Florida Supreme Court, which will reject the suit on December 1. [Guardian, 11/28/2000; US News and World Report, 12/13/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12/17/2000; Leip, 2008]

Entity Tags: County of Seminole (Florida), County of Leon (Florida), Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Al Gore presidential campaign 2000, County of Miami-Dade (Florida), County of Palm Beach (Florida), George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, N. Saunders Sauls, George W. Bush, County of Nassau (Florida)

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

Florida Democratic voters file a lawsuit to throw out 9,773 absentee-ballot votes in Martin County; two-thirds of them are votes for George W. Bush. Democrats charge that, as in Seminole County (see November 12, 2000, November 15-17, 2000, and November 17, 2000), Republican officials illegally added voter ID numbers to Republican applications for absentee ballots, rendering the once-invalid ballots able to be counted. Judge Terry Lewis sets a trial date of December 6. [US News and World Report, 12/13/2000]

Entity Tags: County of Martin (Florida), Terry Lewis, George W. Bush, County of Seminole (Florida)

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

Two lawsuits filed by Florida Democrats challenging the validity of some Florida absentee ballots are heard in Tallahassee. Judge Nikki Clark hears the Seminole County absentee ballot case (see November 12, 2000, November 15-17, 2000, November 17, 2000, and November 27, 2000) and Judge Terry Lewis presides over a similar challenge filed against Martin County ballots. (The Gore campaign has declined to join either lawsuit, though Vice President Al Gore has said it “doesn’t seem fair to me” that Republicans but not Democratic operatives in those counties were allowed to add and correct voter ID numbers on absentee ballot applications. The Bush campaign has joined the opposing side of both lawsuits.) Both Clark and Lewis reject the lawsuits. The Florida Supreme Court will uphold their rulings. [US News and World Report, 12/13/2000; Leip, 2008] Democratic leaders are beginning to edge away from continued support for Gore’s attempts to secure the election. Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) says, “This is coming to an end.” A George W. Bush presidency, he says, “looks more and more” likely. [Guardian, 12/8/2000]

Entity Tags: Nikki Clark, County of Martin (Florida), Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., County of Seminole (Florida), George W. Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Durbin, Terry Lewis, Florida Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

Federal District Court Judge Lacey Collier rules that Florida must count overseas absentee ballots even if they lack a postmark as required by Florida Election Code 101.62 (see November 15-17, 2000). [Leip, 2008] On November 20, Florida Attorney General Robert Butterworth, a Democrat and the chairman of the Gore campaign in Florida, said that those ballots should be counted. [National Journal, 11/9/2000; US News and World Report, 12/13/2000]

Entity Tags: Robert Butterworth, Lacey Collier

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

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