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The House Science and Technology Subcommittee on Investigations, chaired by Tennessee Democrat Al Gore, officially approves a report detailing numerous instances of waste, fraud, and abuse at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The 18-month subcommittee investigation finds mismanagement at the highest levels of the agency. The report describes improper awarding of no-bid contracts, the use of agency funds to build luxurious living quarters for FEMA officials, acceptance of gifts by officials from contractors, and questionable payments to contractors. It states that FEMA Director Louis O. Giuffida has used agency funds to pay for first class plane tickets for his wife’s travel. The former third highest-ranking official at FEMA, Fred J. Villella, is accused of using government expenses to upgrade a chapel for his daughter’s wedding. The report says the Triton Corporation, a FEMA contracted company, gave Giuffrida, Villella, and their wives tickets to a $250-a-plate fundraiser held by a private club with ties to the Republican Party. It highlights conflicts in the sworn statements given to the subcommittee by Giuffrida and other agency officials, and recommends the Justice Department review their testimony for possible perjury. (Cromholm 10/24/1984; Associated Press 7/26/1985)
An unusual relationship forms between the virulently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) of Topeka, Kansas (see November 27, 1955 and After), and the political organization of Senator Al Gore (D-TN). In 1988, WBC head Fred Phelps provides rooms in his compound for Gore’s presidential campaign workers. In 1993, Phelps’s oldest son Fred Phelps Jr. is invited to the first Clinton-Gore inauguration. But by 1998, Gore is seen as such an enemy by the WBC that its members picket the funeral of his father. (Southern Poverty Law Center 4/2001) In 2000, Phelps Senior will say that the relationship between himself and Gore is “not what it used to be,” but he will say that he still receives Christmas cards from Gore. Phelps will attempt to explain the relationship between Gore and the WBC, saying: “He was strong pro-life, and he said he wasn’t going to accept any money from homosexual groups, and things of that nature. But there’s no question in my mind that approximately in the late 1980s or the early 1990s he made a conscious decision that he wanted to be a successful national candidate, and he sold out on some of those critical social issues, because that’s what he had to do to succeed nationally in the Democratic Party.” (Myers 11/4/2000)
Faced with a lawsuit from 53 members of Congress demanding that he seek Congressional authorization before invading Iraq (see December 1990 and January 16, 1991 and After), President Bush asks Congress for such an authorization. His carefully worded request does not directly acknowledge the constitutional requirement that Congress authorize any military involvement by the US. After three days of what the New York Times calls “solemn, often eloquent debate,” both chambers of Congress approve the war resolution. (PBS Frontline 1/9/1996; Dean 2007, pp. 90-91) That authority is granted in part because of propaganda efforts mounted by Pentagon and Kuwaiti officials (see October 10, 1990). Even with such powerful persuasive tactics, the vote in the US Senate is 52-47 and 250-183 in the US House of Representatives, the closest such vote since the War of 1812. (NationMaster 12/23/2007)
House Reminds Bush that Congress Retains Power to Declare War - The House passes another resolution, 302-131, informing the White House that Congress has the exclusive authority under the Constitution to declare war. Of this second resolution, author and former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write in 2007, “The breakdown of the vote is telling: 260 Democrats and 41 Republicans along with one independent voted to support the wording and clear intention of Article I of the Constitution; 126 Republicans and 5 Democrats, all hard-right conservatives (including Tom DeLay, R-TX, and two would-be presidents of the United States, Newt Gingrich, R-GA and Duncan Hunter, R-CA) voted against the resolution.” (Dean 2007, pp. 90-91)
Gore Persuaded to Support War by Wilson - One of the few Democratic senators to vote for the war is Al Gore (D-TN). Gore takes time from the floor deliberations to speak with the ranking US diplomat in Iraq, Joseph Wilson, who once served as Gore’s aide (see September 5, 1988 and After). Gore grills Wilson for twenty minutes on the efficacy of US sanctions against Iraq (see August 6, 1990) and the necessity of US intervention to free Kuwait before returning to the Senate to vote for the authorization. Wilson later writes of his outrage that Gore’s fellow senator, Alan Simpson (R-WY), would accuse Gore during the 2000 election of being what Simpson will call “Prime Time Al” for the timing of his speech in favor of the war authorization. Wilson recalls Simpson as the senator who had been “practically on bended knee before Saddam in April 1990, reassuring the Iraqi dictator that he had a press problem and not a policy problem” (see April 12, 1990). Wilson will continue, “It was an outrage that a decade later he had the nerve to be critical of the one senator who had really taken the time to listen to an analysis from the field and factor that into his decision on what most senators agreed was one of the most momentous votes of their careers.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 163-164)
The United States begins a practice known as “rendition,” the official purpose of which is to bring suspected foreign criminals to justice. Suspects detained abroad are “rendered” to courts in the United States or other countries. In some cases they are transferred to countries with poor human rights records and tortured. Some are convicted, even put to death, without a fair trial. (Priest 1/2/2005, pp. A01) The frequency of renditions will increase dramatically after the September 11 attacks (see After September 11, 2001). (Chandrasekaran and Finn 3/11/2002, pp. A01; van Natta 3/9/2003; Priest and Stephens 5/11/2004, pp. A01)
Gore: "Go Grab His Ass" - The policy is proposed by Richard Clarke, head of the Counterterrorism Security Group, who is aware of a suspect he wants to have rendered. However, White House Counsel Lloyd Cutler opposes the policy, saying it violates international law, and demands a meeting with President Clinton to explain the issue to him. Clinton appears favorable to Cutler’s arguments, until Vice President Al Gore returns from a foreign trip. Gore listens to a recap of the arguments and comments: “That’s a no-brainer. Of course it’s a violation of international law, that’s why it’s a covert action. The guy is a terrorist. Go grab his ass.” However, the first operation fails.
Comment by Clarke - Clarke will later write: “We learned that often things change by the time you can get a snatch team in place. Sometimes intelligence is wrong. Some governments cooperate with the terrorists. It was worth trying, however, because often enough we succeeded.” (Clarke 2004, pp. 144)
The Treasury Department issues a 220-page report on the raid mounted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) against the Mt. Carmel compound of the Branch Davidians near Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). The raid resulted in the deaths of four BATF agents, six Davidians, and a 51-day siege culminating in a fiery conflagration that killed most of the Davidians in their burning compound (see March 1, 1993 and April 19, 1993). The report finds that the BATF raid was poorly planned and needlessly aggressive. It criticizes the BATF agents for inadequate information on the Davidians and a plan for an assault dependant on surprise—“shock and awe”—that was carried out even after the Davidians learned of the imminent assault. “The decision to proceed was tragically wrong, not just in retrospect, but because of what the decision makers knew at the time,” the report concludes. The BATF, the report says, handled the situation badly, and then attempted to cover up its poor management with falsehoods and obfustations. “There may be occasions when pressing operational considerations—or legal constraints—prevent law-enforcement officials from being… completely candid in their public utterances,” the report states. “This was not one of them.” After the report is issued, Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen announces the replacement of the BATF’s entire top management; BATF chief Stephen Higgins retires three days before the report is released. Bentsen says, “It is now clear that those in charge in Texas realized they had lost the element of surprise before the raid began.” The field commanders made “inaccurate and disingenuous statements” to cover up their missteps, attempting to blame the agents who actually carried out the raid for their poor planning. (Chua-Eoan 10/11/1993) However, the report finds that while the BATF made errors during the February raid, the agency was correct in its effort to apprehend violators of federal firearms laws, and the decision to effect a “dynamic entry” was the correct one. The report finds the raid was justified because “[t]he extraordinary discipline that [Davidian leader David] Koresh imposed on his followers… made him far more threatening than a lone individual who had a liking for illegal weapons. The compound became a rural fortress, often patrolled by armed guards, in which Koresh’s word—or the word that [he] purported to extrapolate from the Scripture—was the only law.… Were [he] to decide to turn his weapons on society, he would have devotees to follow him, and they would be equipped with weapons that could inflict serious damage.” The report concurs with BATF claims that Koresh and the Davidians had illegal weapons (see May 26, 1993), though it includes analyses from two firearms experts that show the Davidians may not have had such illegal weapons. The Treasury report repeatedly asserts that Koresh and his followers “ambushed” the BATF agents, finding, “On February 28, [they] knew that [B]ATF agents were coming and decided to kill them.” (Dean M. Kelley 5/1995) According to a 1996 House investigation, the Treasury report “criticized [B]ATF personnel, but it exonerated all [Justice] Department officials.” (House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight 8/2/1996)
In Memorium - The Treasury report begins with a black-bordered page reading “In Memory Of” and listing the names of the four BATF officers killed in the raid. (Dean M. Kelley 5/1995)
Lost the Element of Surprise - Acting Special Agent in Charge Darrell Dyer, the report finds, arrived days before the raid to find no plans had been drawn up; he and another agent drew up a plan that was never distributed. And the agents in charge of the raid, Charles Sarabyn and Philip Chojnacki, decided to stage the raid despite information that the Davidians knew of it and were making preparations to defend themselves. (Chua-Eoan 10/11/1993)
Falsifications and Questionable Statements - Even before the Waco compound burned, BATF officials were already misrepresenting the situtation. On March 3, 1993, Daniel Hartnett, associate director of law enforcement, told the press that though their agent, informant Robert Rodriguez, knew Koresh had received a phone call, the agent “did not realize this was a tip at the time.” Twenty-six days later, Higgins said, “We would not have executed the plans if our supervisors had lost the element [of surprise].” Both statements are questionable at best. After the compound burned, Texas Rangers asked BATF officials Dyer, Sarabyn, and Chojnacki to show them the plans for the raid; Dyer realized that the rough written plan was not in a satisfactory form, and the three revised the plan “to make it more thorough and complete.” The document they provided to the Rangers did not indicate that it was an after-action revision. The report states: “The readiness of Chojnacki, Sarabyn, and Dyer to revise an official document that would likely be of great significance in any official inquiry into the raid without making clear what they had done is extremely troubling and itself reflects a lack of judgment. This conduct, however, does not necessarily reveal an intent to deceive. And, in the case of Dyer, there does not appear to have been any such intent. The behavior of Chojnacki and Sarabyn when the alteration was investigated does not lead to the same conclusion.” (New York Times 10/1/1993; Chua-Eoan 10/11/1993)
Repercussions - Vice President Al Gore recommends that the BATF be dissolved, with its firearms division merged into the FBI and the other two sections merged with the IRS. Bentsen is resistant to the idea. However, such large-scale reorgzanizations are unlikely. After the report is issued, Bentsen removes Chojnacki, Sarabyn, Deputy Director Edward Daniel Conroy, and intelligence chief David Troy from active service. A year later, Chojnacki and Sarabyn will be rehired with full back pay and benefits (see December 23, 1994). (Chua-Eoan 10/11/1993) The Treasury report, according to author and church advocate Dean Kelley, “helped to diminish criticism of the federal role.” (Dean M. Kelley 5/1995)
President Clinton gives serious consideration to launching massive military strikes against North Korea’s nuclear facility at Yongbyon. The North Koreans are preparing to remove nuclear fuel rods from the internationally monitored storage site at the facility, expel the international weapons inspectors, and withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which they had signed in 1985 (see July 1, 1968 and December 12, 1985). Clinton asks the UN to consider economic sanctions; in response, North Korea says sanctions will trigger a war. The Pentagon presents Clinton with a plan to send 50,000 US troops to South Korea, bolstering the 37,000 already in place, as well as an array of combat jets, naval vessels, combat helicopters, ground assault vehicles, and various missile and rocket systems. Clinton orders an emplacement of 250 soldiers to a logistical headquarters to manage the influx of weaponry. (In 2005, former Clinton administration officials will confirm that Clinton was quite willing to go to war with North Korea if need be.) But Clinton also extends diplomatic offerings to North Korea. He sets up a diplomatic back-channel to that nation in the form of former President Jimmy Carter, who has an informal conference with North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung. (The press portrays the Carter visit as a private venture without Clinton’s approval; later, former Clinton officials will verify that Clinton recruited Carter to go.) Some Clinton cabinet officials, particularly those who had served in the Carter administration, warn Clinton that Carter is a “loose cannon” and may well go beyond the parameters laid down by Clinton in negotiating with Kim. Vice President Gore and other senior officials urge Clinton to send Carter, believing that there is no other way to resolve the crisis. Clinton agrees with Gore. He believes that Kim has, in the words of reporter Fred Kaplan, “painted himself into a corner and needed an escape hatch—a clear path to back away from the brink without losing face, without appearing to buckle under pressure from the US government. Carter might offer that hatch.” Both sides, Kaplan will write, are correct. Carter succeeds in getting Kim to back down, and goes much farther than his instructions allow, negotiating the outline of a treaty and announcing the terms live on CNN, notifying Clinton only minutes before the news broadcast. That outline will become the Agreed Framework between the two nations (see October 21, 1994). (Kaplan 5/2004; Kaplan 10/11/2006)
US Vice President Al Gore visits Haiti on the one-year anniversary of Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s return to power. During his visit, he meets with President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and stresses the need for his government to comply with the structural reforms which he had agreed to implement in August 1994 (see August 1994). “We discussed the need for continuing international assistance to meet the developmental requirements of Haiti and the steps the government of Haiti and its people need to take in order to ensure the continued flow of these funds,” Gore recounts during a brief press conference. Earlier in the month, Aristide’s government refused to sign a letter of intent assuring the US, IMF, and other donors that the country would follow though with the mandated reforms (see Early October 1995). (Coughlin 10/16/1995; Rizvi 11/2004)
Counterterrorism expert Steven Emerson, head of the Investigative Project on Terrorism, criticizes the Clinton administration for its ties to Abdulrahman Alamoudi in a Wall Street Journal editorial. Alamoudi is a prominent Muslim activist and heads an organization called the American Muslim Council (AMC). Emerson notes that on November 9, 1995, President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore met with Alamoudi as part of a meeting with 23 Muslim and Arab leaders. And on December 8, 1995, National Security Adviser Anthony Lake, met with Alamoudi at the White House along with several other American Islamic leaders. Emerson notes that Alamoudi openly supports Hamas, even though the US government officially designated it a terrorist financier in early 1995 (see January 1995), and he has been the primary public defender of high ranking Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzouk, who the US declared a terrorism financier and then imprisoned in 1995 (see July 5, 1995-May 1997). He notes that Alamoudi’s AMC also has close ties to other Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, and in 1994 the AMC co-sponsored a trip to the US for Sudanese leader Hasan al-Turabi, a well-known radical militant who is hosting Osama bin Laden in Sudan at the time. Emerson concludes, “The president is right to invite Muslim groups to the White House. But by inviting the extremist element of the American Muslim community—represented by the AMC—the administration undercuts moderate Muslims and strengthens the groups committing terrorist attacks.” (Emerson 3/13/1996) It will later be reported that in 1994, US intelligence discovered that the AMC helped pass money from bin Laden to Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, but it is not known if Clinton was aware of this (see Shortly After March 1994). But Alamoudi’s political influence in the US will not diminish and he will later be courted by future President Bush (see July 2000). He will eventually be sentenced to a long prison term for illegal dealings with Libya (see October 15, 2004).
The White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security, led by Vice President Al Gore, issues its final report, which highlights the risk of terrorist attacks in the US. The report references Operation Bojinka, the failed plot to bomb twelve American airliners out of the sky over the Pacific Ocean, and calls for increased aviation security. The commission reports that [it] “believes that terrorist attacks on civil aviation are directed at the United States, and that there should be an ongoing federal commitment to reducing the threats that they pose.” (Gore Commission 2/12/1997) However, the report has little practical effect: “Federal bureaucracy and airline lobbying [slow] and [weaken] a set of safety improvements recommended by a presidential commission—including one that a top airline industry official now says might have prevented the September 11 terror attacks.” (Pasternak 10/6/2001)
The US tries to get direct access to al-Qaeda financial chief Tayyib al-Madani, who is being held by the Saudi government, but the Saudis will not allow it. Tayyib turned himself in to the Saudi government in May 1997 (see May 1997). In August 1998, shortly after the US embassy bombings in East Africa, Vincent Cannistraro, former head of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, said that the US learned “a lot of intelligence” from the Saudi information about Tayyib regarding how Osama bin Laden “keeps his money, how he transfers it from one bank to another, what are the front companies [he uses].” (Katz 8/21/1998) However, FBI agent Ali Soufan will later say the Saudis never give any information from Tayyib to the FBI, although Soufan acknowledges there are claims that they later do give some information to the CIA. (Soufan 2011, pp. 50) The US presses the Saudi government for direct access to Tayyib to learn more, but the Saudis do not allow it. In September 1998, Vice President Al Gore raises the issue with Crown Prince Abdullah. In November 1998, a National Security Council working group on terrorist finances asks the CIA to push again to get access to Tayyib, and to see “if it is possible to elaborate further on the ties between Osama bin Laden and prominent individuals in Saudi Arabia, including especially the bin Laden family.” But the US does not gain direct access to Tayyib. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 14, 121; 9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 39 ; Risen 2006, pp. 181)
The US has been pressuring the Saudi government to do more to stop Saudi financing for al-Qaeda and other militant groups, but so far little has been accomplished (see August 20, 1998-1999). Vice President Al Gore contacts the Saudis and arranges for some US officials to have a meeting with their top security and banking officials. William Wechsler from the National Security Council (NSC), Richard Newcomb from the Treasury Department, and others on an NSC al-Qaeda financing task force meet about six senior Saudi officials in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. One US official will later recall, “We laid everything out—what we knew, what we thought. We told them we’d just had two of our embassies blown up and that we needed to deal with them in a different way.” But the Saudis have virtually no oversight over their charities and do not seem interested in changing that. Newcomb threatens to freeze the assets of certain groups and individuals if the Saudis do not crack down. The Saudis promise action, but nothing happens. A second visit by a US delegation in January 2000 is ineffective as well. (Kaplan, Ekman, and Latif 12/15/2003)
A group called “Republicans for Clean Air” begins running ads attacking Republican presidential candidate John McCain in New York. The ads accuse McCain of voting against alternative energy sources. At the same time, ads paid for by the campaign of Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush accuse McCain of labeling breast cancer programs as wasteful. Governor George Pataki (R-NY) accuses McCain of voting “anti-New York” in the Senate, while Representative John Sweeney (R-NY) says McCain was wrong to vote for raising heating oil taxes, a major issue in cold-weather states such as New York. (Garrone 3/2/2000) The group also runs ads in primary states claiming that Bush, as Texas governor, passed laws intended to reduce air pollution in Texas by over a quarter-million tons a year. The evidence does not support the claim; what few anti-pollution laws have taken effect in Texas were written mostly by Democratic state legislators and signed into law, often reluctantly, by Bush.
RFCA Consists of Two Texas Billionaires - An investigation by the New York Times soon proves that “Republicans for Clean Air” (RFCA) is funded by Dallas billionaire Sam Wyly, a Bush supporter, who has contributed $2.5 million to the group. Wyly and his brother Charles Wyly, also a RFCA contributor, are the co-founders of Sterling Software in Dallas. They are also owners, founders, or executives in firms that own Bonanza Steakhouse, the “Michael’s” chain of arts and craft stores, the hedge fund Maverick Capital, and more. Both are heavy Bush campaign donors, having donated over $210,000 to the Bush gubernatorial campaigns. They are apparently the only two members of the RFCA. Craig McDonald of Texans for Public Justice says of Sam Wyly: “He’s one of the elite. He’s one of the movers and shakers. He’s very big money in the state.” McCain’s campaign accuses the Bush campaign of being responsible for the advertising, and says the Bush campaign is trying to evade campaign finance laws (see February 7, 1972 and May 11, 1992). The McCain campaign complains that the Bush campaign is using unethical and possibly illegal campaign tactics to “steal” the primary election by saturating New York, California, and Ohio with anti-McCain ads just days before the primary elections in those critical states. “There is no question in our campaign’s mind that the ads are being sponsored, coordinated, and managed by the George Bush for President campaign,” says McCain’s campaign manager Rick Davis. “I think it’s incumbent on the Bush campaign to prove somehow that they are not involved in this incredible act.” Davis has no direct evidence for his claim, but cites what the Times calls “a tangle of personal, business, and political relationships between Mr. Wyly and his family and the Bush campaign to suggest that their interests were so close as to be indistinguishable.” One of those relationships cited by Davis is the fact that RFCA uses the same public relations firm, Multi Media Services Corporation, as Pataki, who chairs the Bush campaign in New York and who appears in Bush campaign ads. Bush himself denies any connection with RFCA, and says: “There is no coordination.… I had no idea the ad was going to run.” Wyly also disclaims any coordination with the Bush campaign. He says he laughed during the production of the commercials, and mused over how “surprised” the Bush campaign would be to see them on the airwaves. McCain uses the ads to draw attention to one of his favorite campaign themes, campaign finance reform. On a recent morning talk show, McCain said: “I think maybe the Bush campaign is out of money and somebody’s putting in $2 million to try to hijack the campaign here in New York. Nobody knows where it came from. [When McCain filmed the interview, Wyly’s identity had not been revealed.] We’ll probably find out, but probably too late. This is why campaign finance reform is so important.” (Perez-Pena 3/3/2000; Stevenson and Perez-Pena 3/4/2000; Oppel and Perez-Pena 3/5/2000; Ivins 3/6/2000; Scott E. Thomas and Danny Lee McDonald 4/2002; New York Times 8/23/2010) The press soon learns that Charles Wyly is an official member of the Bush presidential campaign, as a “Pioneer” donor, and has contributed the maximum amount under the law. (Stevenson and Perez-Pena 3/4/2000) It also learns that RFCA’s stated address is a post office box in Virginia belonging to Lydia Meuret, a consultant who runs a political action committee headed by Representative Henry Bonilla (R-TX), a Bush ally. Meuret denies any connection between RFCA and Bonilla or Bonilla’s PAC, but admits she is a consultant to both. (Perez-Pena 3/3/2000)
'527' Group Operates in Campaign Finance Law 'Gray Areas' - RFCA is a “527” group (see 2000 - 2005); such groups operate in a “gray area” of campaign law, as the monies they use are not contributed directly to a candidate or a political party. However, they are banned from coordinating their efforts with candidate campaigns. Their ads must not make direct appeals to voters in support of, or opposition to, a particular candidate. If they comply with this portion of the law, the donors behind the ads, and the amounts they contribute, do not have to be identified. The law does not even require the groups to declare their existence, as was the case for a time with RFCA. The Times reports, “While some of the groups behind issue advertising are vague about their membership, Mr. Wyly’s effort was a rare instance in which commercials were aired without any hint of their origin.” Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21, a group advocating campaign finance reform, says of so-called “issue” ads such as these: “The secrecy aspects of this are taking campaign finance problems to yet another new and dangerous level. What we’re seeing here is the use of unlimited, undisclosed money to influence a federal election, and that’s totally at odds with the whole notion of campaign finance disclosure.” (Perez-Pena 3/3/2000; Ivins 3/6/2000; Broder and Bonner 3/29/2000; New York Times 8/23/2010) Progressive columnist Molly Ivins calls the RFCA ads examples of “sham issue” advertisements. (Ivins 3/6/2000)
Bush Claims RFCA Ads Not Helpful - After Bush secures the nomination over McCain, he tells a reporter, “I don’t think these [Republicans for Clean Air] ads are particularly helpful to me.” But Slate reporter Chris Suellentrop writes: “Of course they were helpful. Otherwise Bush would have called the group and told them to call off the dogs.” (Suellentrop 8/25/2000)
Wyly Brothers Will Fund 2004 'Swift Boat' Campaign, Later Charged with Securities Fraud, Insider Trading - A month after the ads air, Sam Wyly says he will no longer involve himself in politics. Wyly, who says he is a staunch environmentalist, says he admires Bush’s Democratic challenger, Vice President Al Gore (whom Wyly has called a regulation-happy environmentalist, and whom Wyly has considered attacking with television ads). Of his foray into the presidential campaign, Wyly says: “I learned from it. Many of you are aware of my recent foray into presidential politics. It is to be my last.” In 2004, the Wyly brothers will be two of the primary donors behind the “Swift Boat” campaign that will slander and impugn the character and military service of presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA). In 2010, the Wyly brothers will be charged with securities fraud and insider trading that netted them at least $581 million in illegal gains, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission. (Ayres 4/5/2000; New York Times 8/23/2010)
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)
Fox News chairman Roger Ailes (see October 7, 1996), a Republican campaign consultant (see 1968, January 25, 1988, and September 21 - October 4, 1988), chooses an unlikely reporter to anchor Fox’s election night coverage: John Prescott Ellis, a freelance Republican political adviser and the first cousin of George W. Bush (R-TX), the Republican presidential candidate. (Ellis is the son of George Herbert Walker Bush’s sister, Nancy Ellis.) Ellis was originally hired to cover the party primaries. A later study of voting patterns by the University of California will determine that in areas where voters have access to Fox News, the network’s relentless pro-Bush coverage shifts some 200,000 votes from Democrat Al Gore (D-TN) to Bush, but Ailes wants to make sure his network’s coverage is favorable to Bush, and has always had Ellis in mind for the election night anchor position, for which he specifically gives Ellis a 30-day contract. Ellis is very close to Bush’s brother Jeb Bush (R-FL), the sitting governor of Florida (“Jeb” is an acronym for his full name, John Ellis Bush). Ellis recused himself from campaign coverage in a June 1999 Boston Globe column, defending George W. Bush from allegations of cocaine use, calling the Clinton-Gore administration “morally berserk,” and telling his readers, “There is no way for you to know if I am telling you the truth about George W. Bush’s presidential campaign, because in his case, my loyalty goes to him and not to you.” Instead of this posing an ethical dilemma or being seen as a conflict of interest at Fox, Ellis is Ailes’s first and only choice to anchor the network’s election coverage. (Ailes will later tell a February 2001 House committee hearing, “We at Fox News do not discriminate against people because of their family connections”—see February 14, 2001.) (Kurtz 11/14/2000; Boehlert 11/15/2000; Wittstock 11/19/2000; Associated Press 12/11/2000; Niman 12/14/2000; Moore 11/6/2006; Sherman 5/22/2011) Ellis will pre-emptively call the election for Bush, sparking the Florida recount controversy and helping propel his cousin into the White House (see November 7-8, 2000). In a response to testimony in the same February 2001 House committee hearing, Joan Konner, a journalism professor who will lead a CNN-commissioned independent study of the problems in that network’s election night coverage, will call Ellis’s hiring a substantial breach of journalistic ethics and standards. “If John Ellis had, indeed, made comments stating that his loyalties to the Bush family superceded any commitment he has to his profession or his employer, then I would judge that to be not only a perceived conflict-of-interest but a real conflict-of-interest for a journalist,” she will write in a letter to Representative John Dingell (D-MI). “While that does not disqualify an individual from any position as a journalist, it would, in my judgement, disqualify that person for any decision-making role involving reporting on his relatives during an election. Often friends and relatives are hired by journalism organizations because of their connections to the newsmakers. Their access to sources makes them valuable to the organization. However, the news organization should take every precaution against placing such an individual in an assignment that could result in bias in reporting.” (House of Representatives, Committee on Energy and Commerce 2/14/2001)
During the first presidential debate between George W. Bush (R-TX) and Al Gore (D-TN), Bush accuses Gore of advocating a policy of aggressive foreign interventionism, a policy Gore does not support, but which Bush does (see December 2, 1999 and Spring 2000). “The vice president and I have a disagreement about the use of troops,” Bush says. “He believes in nation-building. I would be very careful about using our troops as nation builders” (see March 19, 2003). (Apparently, Bush is conflating the idea of foreign interventionism with the concept of nation building, two somewhat different concepts.) (Unger 2007, pp. 175-176) Bush will reiterate the claim in the next presidential debate (see October 11, 2000).
Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush describes a Middle East foreign policy he would implement that is very different from the policy described in the papers that his advisers have drawn up. On this day, Bush takes part in the second presidential debate with Democratic candidate Al Gore. The topic is foreign policy. Questioned when it would be appropriate to use American military force, especially with regard to the Middle East, Bush responds, “Our nation stands alone right now in the world in terms of power. And that’s why we’ve got to be humble and yet project strength in a way that promotes freedom… If we’re an arrogant nation, they’ll view us that way, but if we’re a humble nation, they’ll respect us.” Bush dismisses toppling Saddam Hussein in Iraq because it smacks of what he calls “nation-building.” He criticizes the Clinton administration for not maintaining the multilateral anti-Iraq coalition Bush Sr. had built in the Gulf War. Author Craig Unger will later comment, “To the tens of millions of voters who had their eyes trained on their televisions, Bush had put forth a moderate foreign policy with regard to the Middle East that was not substantively different from the policy proposed by Al Gore, or, for that matter, from Bill Clinton’s. Only a few people who had read the papers put forth by the Project for a New American Century might have guessed a far more radical policy had been developed.” (Unger 3/15/2004) Just one month before, the Project for a New American Century released a position paper that went completely unnoticed by the media at the time (see September 2000). Many future Bush administration officials, including Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz are involved with the paper. It articulates a bold new policy to establish a more forceful US military presence in the Middle East. Regarding Iraq, it states, “The United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.” (Unger 3/15/2004) From Bush’s first cabinet meeting in January 2001, the focus will be on getting rid of Hussein. Secretary of Treasury Paul O’Neill will later recall, “From the very beginning, there was a conviction, that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go… From the very first instance, it was about Iraq. It was about what we can do to change this regime. Day one, these things were laid and sealed” (see January 30, 2001). Cheney similarly misstates his true foreign policy intentions. In an NBC interview during the 2000 presidential campaign, Cheney defends Bush’s position of maintaining Clinton’s policy not to attack Iraq, asserting that the US should not act as though “we were an imperialist power, willy-nilly moving into capitals in that part of the world, taking down governments.” (Masters 1/12/2002)
In the second presidential debate between George W. Bush and Al Gore, Bush once again accuses Gore of advocating nation-building, as he did in the first debate (see October 3, 2000—as in the first debate, Bush is conflating the idea of foreign interventionism with the concept of nation building, two somewhat different concepts.) Bush, not Gore, has repeatedly advocated using the US military to overthrow Saddam Hussein and forcibly install Western-style democracy in Iraq (see December 2, 1999 and Spring 2000). “Yes, we do have an obligation in the world,” Bush says, “but we can’t be all things to all people.… [Somalia] started off as a humanitarian mission then changed into a nation-building mission, and that’s where the mission went wrong.… And so I don’t think our troops ought to be used for what’s called nation-building.” Author Craig Unger will observe that Bush’s debate performance solidifies his campaign’s efforts to portray him as a moderate on foreign policy. (Fukuyama 1/2004; Unger 2007, pp. 176)
The presidential campaign of George W. Bush (R-TX), fearing that Vice President Al Gore (D-TN) might win the election in the US Electoral College while Bush ekes out a lead in the collective popular vote, devises a strategy to challenge Gore’s legitimacy as the elected president. Bush campaign advisors believe that Green Party candidate Ralph Nader might take millions of votes from Gore nationwide, but not enough in key states to cost Gore a state’s electoral votes. Gore could, theoretically, win 270 or more electoral votes without amassing a majority in the popular vote. In such a case, both the Constitution and historical precedent is clear: Gore wins without argument. “You play by the rules in force at the time,” a Gore aide tells a reporter. “If the nation were really outraged by the possibility, then the system would have been changed long ago. The history is clear.” In 1876, New York Governor Samuel Tilden won the popular vote but lost the presidency to Rutherford B. Hayes, who won a majority of Electoral College votes. In 1888, Grover Cleveland won the popular vote, but lost the presidency to Benjamin Harrison in the Electoral College tally. In 1976, slight differences in the vote tallies in Ohio and Mississippi would have given President Gerald Ford enough electoral votes to beat challenger Jimmy Carter. A Bush aide tells his fellows, “The one thing we don’t do is roll over—we fight.” The New York Daily News will later report: “[T]the core of the emerging Bush strategy assumes a popular uprising, stoked by the Bushies themselves, of course. In league with the campaign—which is preparing talking points about the Electoral College’s essential unfairness—a massive talk radio operation would be encouraged.” The Bush strategy is to launch a massive, orchestrated assault via conservative talk radio, Fox News, and other conservative media outlets to portray the Electoral College as unfair and non-binding. A Bush aide tells a reporter: “We’d have ads, too, and I think you can count on the media to fuel the thing big-time. Even papers that supported Gore might turn against him because the will of the people will have been thwarted.” The Daily News writes that the strategy goes further than a media blitz: “Local business leaders will be urged to lobby their customers, the clergy will be asked to speak up for the popular will, and Team Bush will enlist as many Democrats as possible to scream as loud as they can.” A Bush advisor speculates on the creation of a “grassroots” organization, perhaps to be called “Democrats for Democracy,” that would advocate for the ignoring of the Electoral College in favor of calling for installation of Bush via the popular vote—a process that is entirely outside the Constitution. The Bush strategy would also pressure some of the 538 individual electors. Although it is customary for each elector to vote for the candidate that his or her state selected, legally they are not bound to do so, and can change their votes, although this has happened only rarely in US history and never impacted an election. According to a Boston Globe report, the Bush strategy would “challenge the legitimacy of a Gore win, casting it as an affront to the people’s will and branding the Electoral College as an antiquated relic.… One informal Bush advisor, who declined to be named, predicted Republicans would likely benefit from a storm of public outrage if Bush won the popular vote but was denied the presidency.” The advisor tells the Globe reporter: “That’s what America is all about, isn’t it. I’m sure we would make a strong case.” The Daily News calls the Bush strategy a preparation for electoral “insurrection.” (Kramer 11/1/2000; Consortium News 11/10/2000)
In the wake of the USS Cole bombing, National Security Adviser Sandy Berger meets with Defense Secretary William Cohen to discuss a new approach to targeting Osama bin Laden. Berger says: “We’ve been hit many times, and we’ll be hit again. Yet we have no option beyond cruise missiles.” He once again brings up the idea of a “boots on the ground” option—a Delta Force special operation to get bin Laden. A plan is drawn up but the order to execute it is never given. Cohen and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Henry Shelton oppose the plan. By December 21, the CIA reports that it strongly suspects that al-Qaeda was behind the bombing, but fails to definitively make that conclusion. That makes such an attack politically difficult. Says a former senior Clinton aide, “If we had done anything, say, two weeks before the election, we’d be accused of helping [presidential candidate] Al Gore.” (Elliott 8/12/2002; 9/11 Commission 3/24/2004)
Ninety-three percent of Florida’s African-American voters cast their votes for Al Gore, the Democratic nominee for president. This is in spite of a number of Gore campaign decisions to keep Gore from appearing with black leaders, and with blacks in campaign photographs, in order to keep him from appearing “too liberal.” (Gore also heeded the advice of his campaign managers and refused to attend the National Baptist Convention for fear of alienating white suburban voters.) Regardless, black voters turn out in record numbers throughout Florida’s primarily African-American counties, such as Leon, Miami-Dade, Duval, and Gadsden. Author Jake Tapper will later write that the votes are as much against George W. Bush, the Republican candidate, and Bush’s brother, Florida Governor Jeb Bush, as they are for Gore. (Many state NAACP officials call Jeb Bush “Jeb Crow.”) However, many of these African-American votes will not be counted (see November 7, 2000), and many eligible black voters are not allowed to cast their votes (see November 7, 2000 and April 24, 2001). (Tapper 3/2001)
Thousands of African-American voters in Florida are illegally denied their right to vote, as is proven in many instances by subsequent investigations. Adora Obi Nweze, the president of the Florida State Conference of the NAACP, is told by election officials she cannot vote because she has already cast an absentee ballot, even though she has cast no such ballot. Cathy Jackson, a Broward County voter since 1996, was told falsely that she was not on the rolls and could not vote; she sees a white woman cast an “affidavit ballot” and asks if she can do the same, but is denied. Donnise DeSouza of Miami is told, falsely, that she is not on the voting rolls and is moved to the “problem line”; when the polls close, she is sent home without voting. Another voter, Lavonna Lewis, is in line to vote when the polls close. Though the law says that voters already in line can vote even after the polls close, she is sent home. She will later say she saw election officials allow a white male voter to get in line after the polls had closed.
US Representative Fights to Cast Vote - US Representative Corrine Brown (D-FL) is followed into her poll by a television crew. Officials there tell her that her ballot has been sent to Washington and therefore she cannot vote in Florida. Brown spends two and a half hours in the polling place before finally being allowed to vote. Brown later notes that she helped register thousands of African-American college students in the months prior to the election. “We put them on buses,” she will recall, “took them down to the supervisor’s office. Had them register. When it came time to vote, they were not on the rolls!” Many African-American voters like Wallace McDonald of Hillsborough County are denied their vote because they are told, falsely, that they are convicted felons whose right to vote has been stripped. The NAACP offices are inundated with telephone calls all day from voters complaining that their right to vote is being denied.
'Painful, Dehumanizing, Demoralizing' - Donna Brazile, campaign manager for the Gore campaign whose sister was illegally asked for three forms of identification in Seminole County before being allowed to vote, later says: “What happened that day—I can’t even put it in words anymore. It was the most painful, dehumanizing, demoralizing thing I’ve ever experienced in my years of organizing.” Hearings in early 2001 held by the US Commission on Civil Rights will record more than 30 hours of testimony from over 100 witnesses as to a wide array of racially based disenfranchisement. The commission will find that the election probably violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but Attorney General John Ashcroft will ignore the report.
Gadsden County - One exemplar of systematic disenfranchisement is seen in Gadsden County, one of Florida’s poorest counties, with 57 percent of its voters African-American. Its elections are supervised by white conservative Denny Hutchinson. Hutchinson refuses to take action to increase registration, put in more polling places, and other actions designed to increase voter turnout. Gadsden County Commissioner Ed Dixon later recalls: “He never advocated for any increased precincts, even though some of our people had to drive 30 miles to get to a poll. In the only county that’s a majority African-American, you want a decreased turnout.” After the votes have been tallied, Hutchinson’s deputy, African-American Shirley Green Knight, notices that over 2,000 ballots (out of 14,727 cast) are not included in the registered count. The reason? Gadsden uses a so-called “optiscan” balloting device, which allows voters to “bubble in” ovals with a pencil; these “bubbles” are scanned and the votes they indicate are tallied. Optiscan ballots are prone to register “overvotes,” essentially when the ballot indicates votes for two separate candidates in the same race. Overvotes are not machine-tallied. The machines have a sorting switch that when set to “on” causes the machine to record overvotes or “undervotes” (no vote recorded) in a separate category for later review and possible inclusion. Knight will learn that Hutchinson had insisted the machines’ switches be set to “off,” which rejects the overvotes without counting them at all. “I have no idea why he would do that,” Knight later says. When she learns of the problem, she asks Hutchinson to run the ballots through again with the sorting switch on, but he refuses. He is later overruled by the Gadsden canvassing board. When the ballots are run through a second time, the results are startlingly different. Gadsden uses a variant of the so-called “caterpillar ballot,” which lists candidates’ names in two columns. George W. Bush, Al Gore, and six other presidential candidates are listed in one column. The second column lists two more candidates, Monica Moorehead and Howard Phillips, and a blank for a “Write-In Candidate.” Hundreds of voters apparently believe that the second column is for an entirely different race, and vote not only for Bush or Gore, but for Moorehead or Phillips. And some voters vote for Gore and, to ensure clarity, write “Gore” in the write-in box. (Some, thoroughly confused by directions telling them to “Vote for ONE” and “Vote for Group,” bubble in all 10 presidential candidates and write “Gore” in the box.) None of these votes are originally counted. More sophisticated optiscan machines would refuse to accept the ballot, prompting the voter to correct the error. But Gadsden uses a cheaper machine that allows the error to go through unbeknownst to the voter. When Gadsden performs its machine recount, Gore will receive 153 additional votes from the erroneous optiscan. These will be included in the state’s final tally. However, over 2,000 of the “overvote” ballots will not be counted. Two-thirds of those ballots have Gore as their selection.
Duval County - Similar problems plague voters in Duval County. Duval, a large Democratic stronghold because of its inclusion of Jacksonville, is 29 percent African-American. Twenty-one thousand votes are thrown out as “overvotes.” Part of the problem is a sample-ballot insert placed in the newspaper by elections supervisor John Stafford, giving erroneous instructions as to how to complete the Duval ballot; any voter who follows these instructions does not have their votes tallied, though corrected instructions are posted in some Duval precincts. In the critical 72-hour period after the votes are complete, Gore campaign staffer Mike Langton will spend hours with Stafford, a white Republican, attempting to address the situation. Stafford lies to Langton and tells him Duval has “only a few” overvotes. It is not until after the deadline to ask for a machine recount has passed that Langton learns of the 21,000 uncounted votes. Nearly half of these are from four heavily African-American precincts that usually vote 90 percent Democratic. In theory, nearly 10,000 votes for Gore from Duval County will go untallied.
'Felons' and 'Purge Lists' - Florida law disenfranchises citizens convicted of many felonies (see June 24, 1974). In this election, thousands of Florida voters, mostly African-American males, lose their vote when they appear at their precinct and are told they cannot vote because they are felons, even though they are not. One is Willie Steen, a military veteran who loses his vote in Hillsborough County. “The poll worker looked at the computer and said that there was something about me being a felon,” Steen later recalls. “I’ve never been arrested before in my life,” he recalls telling the poll worker. The worker refuses to listen, and orders Steen to leave the line. Steen later learns that the felony he supposedly committed was done between 1991 and 1993, when he was stationed in the Persian Gulf. Tampa youth leader Willie Dixon and Tallahasse pastor Willie Whiting are also denied their votes through improper classification as felons, as do thousands of other voters. Investigative journalist Greg Palast later learns that the felon-disenfranchisement is widespread and systematic. He will publish a story exposing the scheme during the Florida recounts—in a London newspaper. No US newspaper will consider it. Palast later says: “Stories of black people losing rights is passe, it’s not discussed, no one cares. A black person accused of being a felon is always guilty.” Palast and other investigators learn that Republican legislators have in recent years upgraded a number of selected crimes from misdemeanors to felonies, apparently in order to “purge” the voting rolls of African-Americans. State Senator Frederica Wilson is one of many who believe the new classifications are “aimed at African-American people.” Black lawmakers have been unsuccessful in attempting to repeal the felon-disenfranchisement laws. After a 1997 election, where some 105 felons were found to have voted and analysis showed that 71 percent of Florida felons were registered Democrats, the Florida state government allocated $4 million to “purge” felons off the voting rolls. The government turned the task over to a private firm, Database Technologies (DBT) of Boca Raton (which later merged with the firm ChoicePoint). When the first purge lists from DBT began appearing in 1998, county elections officials were worried. Ion Sancho, the elections supervisor for Leon County, will recall: “We were sent this purge list in August of 1998. We started sending letters and contacting voters, [saying] that we had evidence that they were potential felons and that they contact us or they were going to be removed from the rolls. Boy, did that cause a firestorm.” One of the “felons” was Sancho’s close friend Rick Johnson, a civil rights attorney. “Very few felons are members of the Florida bar,” Sancho will note. In early 2000, Sancho asked Emmett “Bucky” Mitchell, a lawyer for the Florida Division of Elections, why so many “false positives”—innocent people—were on DBT’s list. Mitchell told Sancho that the problem was DBT’s, not Florida’s, and the firm had been told to handle the problem. Instead, according to ChoicePoint marketing official James Lee, Florida relaxed the criteria for its purge list, and tens of thousands of voters who had names roughly similar to those of actual felons were added to the list. Why? Lee will say, “Because after the first year they weren’t getting enough names.” Willie D. Whiting, a law-abiding pastor, is denied the vote because Willie J. Whiting is a felon. Willie Steen is denied his vote because Willie O’Steen is a convicted felon. Mitchell told a DBT project manager that it was up to elections officials like Sancho to find and correct the misidentifications. The lists even include actual felons whose right to vote had been restored by previous Florida administrations during amnesty programs. The initial database for the purge lists is comprised of people arrested for felonies, not convicted—thusly many citizens never convicted of a crime are now on the purge list. Others are incorrectly listed as felons when they were convicted of misdemeanors. A May 2000 “corrected” list stunned county elections officials. Linda Howell, election supervisor of Madison County, found her own name on the list. Monroe County supervisor Harry Sawyer found his father on the list, along with one of his employees and the husband of another. None of those people were felons. Some counties, such as Broward, Duval, Madison, and Palm Beach chose not to use the lists at all; Sancho meticulously checked his list of 697 names and ended up retaining only 33. Most supervisors use the lists without question. A thousand Bay County voters are denied their vote; 7,000 Miami-Dade voters lose theirs. It is unknown how many of these are actual felons and how many are law-abiding, legitimate voters. A 2001 class-action lawsuit brought by the NAACP and African-American voters will charge DBT and Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris with deliberately attempting to disenfranchise black voters. It will be settled out of court, with Florida agreeing to provisions that nominally settle the problem (see Late August 2002), but a 2004 article by Vanity Fair will note that by 2004, Florida’s government has implemented none of the corrective procedures mandated by the settlement. Subsequent investigations will show that the “felons” on the various purge lists are disproportionately Democratic voters and disproportionately African-American. (Tapper 3/2001; Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004)
2001 Investigation Proves Widespread Disenfranchisement - A 2001 investigation by the progressive newsmagazine The Nation will show a widespread and systematic program of voter disenfranchisement in effect in Florida during the 2000 elections (see April 24, 2001).
Hundreds of thousands of voters in Miami-Dade County go to the polls to cast their votes for president. Two of its precincts, 255 and 535, are over 88 percent Democrat and over 90 percent African-American. The 20 punch-card machines designated for the two precincts were tested beforehand and certified as working properly, but in the hours before the polls open, a worker at Precinct 255 does a test and finds that seven of the 10 machines do not accept punch-card votes for president. Precinct clerk Donna Rogers will later claim that no one tells her of the problems with the machines, but by the end of the day, 113 of the 868 ballots cast do not register a vote for president. Of the votes that do register in the precinct, over 99 percent of them go to Democrat Al Gore. At Precinct 535, six of the 10 machines fail to register votes for president during test runs. Of the 820 ballots cast in this precinct, 105 do not register a vote for president. Gore wins over 98 percent of this precinct’s votes. The 13 percent “discarded ballot,” or “undervote,” rate for these two precincts is by far the largest in Miami-Dade. (Tapper 3/2001) A later attempt to hand-count the ballots in question is forcibly prevented by an orchestrated “riot” by conservative activists and political aides at the Miami-Dade elections office (see 9:00 a.m. and after, November 22, 2000).
Fox News chief Roger Ailes has hired John Prescott Ellis, a freelance Republican political advisor and an intensely loyal cousin of presidential candidate George W. Bush (R-TX), to head the network’s election-night coverage for the 2000 presidential election (see October-November 2000). During the election, Ellis is in constant contact with Bush and his senior campaign aides, speaking with Bush himself five separate times during the evening.
Calling Florida for Gore - At 7:52 p.m., Bush’s brother Jeb Bush (R-FL), the sitting governor of Florida, calls Ellis to protest when Fox “mistakenly” projects Florida as going to Al Gore (D-TN). Ellis tells Jeb Bush that he is looking at a computer “screenful of Gore.” Bush reminds Ellis, “But the polls haven’t closed in the panhandle.” Ellis replies, “It’s not going to help.” Voter News Service (VNS), the voting consortium the networks all use, rates the race a 99.5 percent certainty that Gore has won Florida, a conclusion that VNS and network officials alike later say was a mistake (see February 14, 2001). The prediction is indeed inaccurate; within minutes, Gore’s lead begins to shrink again. At 9:38 p.m., VNS issues a correction of an inaccurate vote count for Duval County, stripping Gore of a number of phantom votes, and the race is again far too close to call.
Calling Florida for Bush - At 2:10 a.m., Ellis sees data from VNS that shows Bush with a 51,433-vote lead, and 179,713 votes left to be counted. (The latter figure is grossly inaccurate, later data proves; over 350,000 votes actually remain to be counted.) Gore would need 63 percent of those votes to win, a scenario that is statistically unlikely. Ellis calls Jeb Bush to say that it is “statistically impossible” for Bush to lose. Around 2:15 a.m., Ellis puts the telephone down and excitedly announces to his team: “Jebbie says we got it! Jebbie says we got it!” Even though Florida is still rated “too close to call” by VNS, Fox News vice president John Moody gives the go-ahead to project Bush the winner in Florida. Fox News anchor Brit Hume makes the call for Bush at 2:16 a.m. The other networks hurriedly, and inaccurately, follow suit. (Kurtz 11/14/2000; Wittstock 11/19/2000; Associated Press 12/11/2000; Niman 12/14/2000; Shepard 1/2001; Moore 11/6/2006; Sherman 5/22/2011) Hume himself is a bit apprehensive of the call. “I must tell you, everybody, after all this, all night long, we put Bush at 271, Gore at 243,” he tells Fox viewers. “I feel a little bit apprehensive about the whole thing. I have no reason to doubt our decision desk, but there it is.” (Reaves 11/15/2000)
Other Networks Follow Suit - As Hume is announcing Bush’s “victory” in Florida, NBC News election coverage chief Sheldon Gawiser is on the telephone with Murray Edelman, the editorial director for VNS. Gawiser is considering calling Florida for Bush, and wants to discuss calling the race for Bush while citing Edelman and VNS as the sources responsible for such a call. Edelman is shocked that Gawiser wants to make any call with Bush’s lead not only very small, but dwindling. But as the two are talking, Fox’s announcement comes over NBC’s monitors, and Gawiser breaks off the call, saying: “Sorry, gotta go. Fox just called it.” At 2:17 a.m., NBC projects Bush the winner in Florida and the next president of the United States. The joint decision team for CBS and CNN, Warren Mitofsky and Joe Lenski, make the same decision a minute later. After CBS declares Bush’s victory, anchor Dan Rather tells viewers: “Let’s give a tip of the Stetson to the loser, Vice President Al Gore, and at the same time, a big tip and a hip, hip, hurrah and a great big Texas howdy to the new president of the United States. Sip it, savor it, cup it, photostat it, underline it in red, press it in a book, put it in an album, hang it on the wall—George W. Bush is the next president of the United States.” The ABC decision team resists making the call, not trusting the data (it had similar reservations about the earlier call for Gore), but according to ABC election consultant John Blydenburgh, a network executive overrides the decision team and has ABC declare Bush the projected winner at 2:20 a.m. Blydenburgh says the executive does not want ABC to look “foolish” by being the only network not to recognize Bush as the next president. The Associated Press (AP) refuses to make the call, saying that its figures show Bush with only a 30,000-vote lead, and that steadily dwindling (by 2:30 a.m., Bush’s lead, by the AP’s count, is below 19,000 votes; a glitch in the Volusia County numbers that comes in minutes after the call for Bush slashes Bush’s lead considerably, validating the AP’s reluctance to make the call). But the television broadcasts drive the story. Network pundits immediately begin dissecting Bush’s “victory” and speculating as to why Gore “lost.” (Shepard 1/2001; Moore 11/6/2006) Shortly after 3 a.m., CBS’s Ed Bradley begins informing viewers that the AP numbers show Bush with a lead of only 6,000 votes. Rather tells the viewers that if the AP is correct, the previous call for Bush may be premature. “Let’s not joke about it folks,” he says. “You have known all night long and we’ve said to you all night long that these estimates of who wins and who loses are based on the best available information we have. CBS News has the best track record in the business, over a half century plus, for accuracy on election night. But nobody’s perfect.” However, few listen to either CBS’s caveats or the AP’s refusal to call the election. (Shepard 1/2001) By 4:52 a.m., Bush’s lead has dwindled to 1,888 votes.
Fox Leads the Narrative for Bush - Gore initially concedes the race, but when the networks begin retracting their declaration and return Florida to the “too close to call” status, he retracts his concession. In their last conversation of the evening, Bush tells Ellis that Gore has taken back his concession, and says: “I hope you’re taking all this down, Ellis. This is good stuff for a book.” The morning headlines in most daily papers declare Bush the winner; much of the news coverage slams Gore as indulging in “sour grapes” for not conceding the election. Rather later says: “We’ll never know whether Bush won the election in Florida or not. But when you reach these kinds of situations, the ability to control the narrative becomes critical. Led by Fox, the narrative began to be that Bush had won the election.” In 2011, Rolling Stone reporter Tim Dickinson will write, “A ‘news’ network controlled by a GOP operative who had spent decades shaping just such political narratives—including those that helped elect the candidate’s father—declared George W. Bush the victor based on the analysis of a man who had proclaimed himself loyal to Bush over the facts.” After the election, House Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) says: “Of everything that happened on election night, this was the most important in impact. It immeasurably helped George Bush maintain the idea in people’s minds that he was the man who won the election.” (Wittstock 11/19/2000; Associated Press 12/11/2000; Niman 12/14/2000; Sherman 5/22/2011) Ellis later writes that Bush did not try to influence his coverage. “Governor Bush was, as always, considerate of my position,” Ellis will write. “He knew that I would be fried if I gave him anything that VNS deemed confidential, so he never asked for it. He made a point of getting the early exit poll data from other sources before talking to me.” (Associated Press 12/11/2000)
Criticism of Fox, Ellis - Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, later says of Ellis and Fox while the election is still in dispute: “The notion you’d have the cousin of one presidential candidate in a position to call a state, and the election, is unthinkable. Fox’s call—wrong, unnecessary, misguided, foolish—helped create a sense that the election went to Bush, was pulled back, and it’s just a matter of time before his president-elect title is restored. But that said, John Ellis is a good man, a good journalist whose judgment was overcome by excitement. He put himself in an impossible situation, but the mistake was not so much his as Rupert Murdoch’s for putting him in that position.… Everybody knows it’s a partisan channel, but its marketing slogan, ‘We report; you decide,’ is now totally obliterated by the fact that one candidate’s first cousin is actually deciding, and then they report.” (Rosenstiel is apparently unaware that Murdoch, who owns Fox News’s parent company News Corporation, did not make the call to hire Ellis.) Rosenstiel’s colleague Carl Gottlieb is less restrained, saying: “It’s beyond belief. The network should not have allowed Ellis to report on this election. As a viewer, after reading this story and reading about Ellis’s involvement in calling the race, you can’t help but get the idea that this guy’s complicit in what’s going on now down in Florida.” Murdoch will later claim that Fox News displayed “no partisanship” in its election-night coverage. Ellis will later tell a reporter: “It was just the three of us guys handing the phone back and forth—me with the numbers, one of them a governor, the other president-elect. Now that was cool. And everybody followed us.” (Wittstock 11/19/2000; Moore 11/6/2006) Ellis will also later deny telling his team that “Jebbie” gave him the go-ahead to call the election for Bush, instead saying he made the call based on his own calculations. Statistician Cynthia Talkov, the only member of Fox’s election team who actually understands the VNS statistical models, later says she never saw Ellis making any such calculations, and will say Ellis did not ask her for her opinion for his call, though every other projection that evening was made with her explicit approval. Talkov is one of the people who will confirm that Ellis received the go-ahead to call the election from Jeb Bush. A post-election analysis prepared by outside reviewers for CNN later issues sharp criticisms of the networks, noting, “On Election Day 2000, television news organizations staged a collective drag race on the crowded highway of democracy, recklessly endangering the electoral process, the political life of the country, and their own credibility.” Mitofsky, who invested election polls and developed the election night projection system the networks use, later calls Ellis’s actions “the most unprofessional election night work I could ever imagine. He had no business talking to the Bush brothers or to any other politician about what he was doing.” On the other hand, Ailes will characterize Ellis’s actions as those of “a good journalist talking to his very high-level sources on election night.” (Moore 11/6/2006)
Fox 'Investigation' Comes Up Empty - Fox News will announce an “investigation” of any conflicts of interest or unprofessional behavior concerning Ellis’s role in declaring Bush the winner, but nothing will come of any such investigation. The “investigation” will find that Ellis gave no VNS information to either George W. Bush, Jeb Bush, or any Bush campaign official, though Ellis himself will freely admit to a New Yorker reporter that he shared VNS data with both Bushes repeatedly during the evening. Such sharing of data would constitute a violation of journalistic ethics as well as possible criminal behavior. (Wittstock 11/19/2000; Moore 11/6/2006) Ailes had specifically warned his team not to share VNS information with anyone from the campaigns. (Boehlert 11/15/2000) Before the investigation is even launched, Moody will say: “Appearance of impropriety? I don’t think there’s anything improper about it as long as he doesn’t behave improperly, and I have no evidence he did.… John has always conducted himself in an extremely professional manner.” (Kurtz 11/14/2000)
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)
Based on Voter News Service (VNS) projections from exit polling, the Associated Press projects Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic presidential candidate, as the winner of the Florida elections over Governor George W. Bush (R-TX). Gore’s victory, if confirmed, would give him the electoral votes he needs to win the US presidency. The major television networks—ABC News, CBS News, Fox News, and NBC News—call Florida for Gore between 7:50 and 8:00 p.m. (Leip 2008) In light of the predictions of a Gore victory, Bush decides to abandon his plans to watch the rest of the returns from a suite in the Austin, Texas, Four Seasons Hotel, and instead returns to the relative privacy of the governor’s mansion in Austin. (Tapper 3/2001) Florida polling places in the Central Time Zone do not close until 8:00 p.m., so the networks’ projection that Florida is going to Gore comes out 10 minutes before those polling places—all in Florida’s “Panhandle” region, a Republican stronghold—close. Bush campaign officials will later allege that the networks called Florida for Gore an hour before the polls closed, potentially discouraging some Bush voters from casting their votes. The liberal news Web site Consortium News will later observe: “Though the networks certainly could have and obviously should have waited, it is unclear that any Bush voter decided not to go to the polls because of a projection that occurred only minutes before the polls closed. It’s unlikely that more than a few late-arriving voters were even aware of Gore’s projected victory.” (Consortium News 11/22/2000) Many Florida lawmakers and officials are shocked by the pronouncement. Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) will later recall feeling that the networks are “stretching it” to make such a prediction. Broward County elections supervisor Jane Carroll will say acidly, “That’s very kind of [the networks] to just give this away.” Broward has yet to tally a single vote. Broward canvassing board chairman Judge Robert Lee is incredulous at the announcement, and like Graham and others, is disturbed that the networks would call the election before the polls are closed. As the evening goes on and the returns begin to come in, Lee wonders, “Why are they calling Florida for Gore when it’s so close?” Bush campaign strategist Karl Rove goes on the air to argue that Florida is still in play, and to complain about the networks’ choice to project Florida for Gore before the Panhandle counties have concluded their polling. The VNS voting predictions are later shown to be badly flawed, with a number of erroneous estimates, a drastic overestimation of African-American (Democratic) votes in Miami-Dade and a corresponding underestimation of Cuban-American (Republican) votes in that county, and poorly managed exit polling. (Tapper 3/2001)
Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, attending a Washington, DC, party and watching the news networks predict Florida, and thusly the presidency, for Democrat Al Gore, says aloud, “This is terrible.” Her husband explains that she is considering retiring from the Court, but will only do so if George W. Bush, a fellow Republican, is in office to appoint her successor. (Tapper 3/2001)
The Associated Press’s projection that Vice President Al Gore won Florida’s presidential election (see 7:50 p.m., November 7, 2000) collapses in the wake of new poll results. Governor George W. Bush (R-TX), Gore’s opponent, tells reporters: “The networks called this thing awfully early, but the people actually counting the votes are coming up with a different perspective. So we’re pretty darn upbeat about things.” By 10:00 p.m., the major television networks—ABC News, CBS News, Fox News, and NBC News—begin retracting their earlier projection of Gore’s victory and revert Florida to the “too close to call” category. (Leip 2008)
Senator Robert Torricelli (D-NJ) joins the ranks of Democratic lawmakers unwilling to forcefully support Democratic presidential contender Al Gore’s attempt to force manual recounts in the Florida elections (see Early Morning, November 8, 2000). In an MSNBC interview, Torricelli says: “I consider myself a very loyal Democrat, but like most Americans, that does not begin to compare with my interest in the Constitution, or with an orderly process of government in a very unusual time in American history.… We should all insist in an orderly, fair, and honest counting of the votes. But, I believe collateral issues, or strategies that involve anything outside of those counting as the votes were cast, is not in the national interest.” (National Journal 11/9/2000)
Several Republican spokesmen tell television news audiences that they believe Democratic presidential contender Al Gore should stop fighting for manual recounts in Florida (see Early Morning, November 8, 2000 and After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000). Former Governor John Sununu (R-NH) says: “There is a measure of character on how this is handled.… Everybody running around trying undermine confidence, by making allegations on the random chance that there might be some validity out there is unbelievable.… To be running around the way they are is exactly opposite of the statesmanlike character that Nixon showed in 1960” (see November 10, 2000). Republican political strategist Ed Rollins says, “The bottom line I think that by tomorrow, you are going to have a legitimate vote that gets approved by the board, or we are going to have a long tedious process that is going to damage the political process even more than it is today.” And Governor Frank Keating (R-NE) says: “There should be a recount, and once the count is over, the winner should be declared, and we should move on.… You haul in 50 lawyers per side and in about a year we’ll figure out where we are going. The reality is, the Democrats have played dirty tricks, I’m sure the Republicans, on occasion, have played dirty tricks.… We have to move on and resolve the election so the country can be stable.” (National Journal 11/9/2000)
Many Democrats blame third-party presidential candidate Ralph Nader for the election confusion in Florida (see Early Morning, November 8, 2000), noting that had he not run, most of those who voted for him would have voted for Democratic presidential contender Al Gore instead and thus given Gore an unquestionable win. Nader ran on the left-wing Green Party ticket, winning 2,883,105 votes nationwide (2.73 percent of the popular vote), and, more importantly, 97,488 votes, or 1.63 percent, of Florida’s electorate. Chicago Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper writes, “Ralph Nader is a jerk” who seeks media attention like Pat Buchanan and Jesse Jackson, and “he can match them in the ego department as well.” And “isn’t it great for Ralph that instead of walking around as a nostalgic trivia question from the 1970s—the activist equivalent of [television actor] John Ritter—that he was getting so much attention again. Congratulations. Jerk.” A Boston Globe editorial states, “If Ralph Nader had not been in the race, Al Gore would today be preparing to become president.” The vote for Nader in Florida “was the key to George W. Bush’s” small lead there, and without Nader, “Gore would probably have gained enough of these to defeat Bush unless the latter does extraordinarily well in the recount.” Nationally, Gore “could have earned enough of Nader’s 2,655,233” to win Oregon and New Hampshire “and give him a convincing national plurality.” Though Nader’s supporters “raise serious questions” on several issues, “they chose the wrong campaign to make their point.” The Globe concludes that before this election, Nader “had earned an honored place in US history as a pioneer in consumer safety. If Bush prevails in Florida, Nader will become a footnote as the willful eccentric who denied Gore the political prize he deserved.” Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE) says: “Ralph Nader is not going to be welcome anywhere near the corridors. Nader cost us the election.” Kate Michelman of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) says: “He cost Al Gore the race. Not only by what happened in Florida, but by making these other states a threat to Al Gore. Not to recognize what was at stake—or to dismiss it if he did—was dangerous and represented a type of arrogance. As a result, he lost a lot of credibility.” AFL-CIO president John Sweeney calls Nader’s campaign “reprehensible,” and says: “As a rule, we really reject the role that Nader played in the political process this time around. I don’t know if there’s any room in a national election for president for somebody who is a message candidate.” Enviro Working Group president Ken Cook says: “The public interest community is going to spend tens of millions of dollars a year for the next four years playing defense. I don’t think [Nader is] going to build a Green Party any more than O.J.‘s out there looking for a murderer,” referring to notorious murder suspect O.J. Simpson, who famously claims to be aggressively searching for the person who supposedly killed his wife and her boyfriend. Miramax Studio chairman and Gore supporter Harvey Weinstein says Nader is a “name that will go down in infamy.” According to writer Harold Evans, President Clinton was “very emphatic about the damage Nader had done to Gore” at a post-election gathering. Former Nader supporter Larry Marx says: “Ralph got tunnel vision and lost sight of progressive goals. People remember those kind of things, and there’s a price to be paid.” Polls show that 80 percent of Florida citizens who voted for Nader would have voted for Gore had Nader not been on the ballot, giving Gore a presumed 77,990 extra votes—far more than the number Gore would have needed to take Florida. Fellow third-party candidate Pat Buchanan notes, “Mr. Nader, I believe, can take credit for having sunk… the Gore candidacy.” Nader himself is defiant, noting that Gore failed to win his own home state of Tennessee or Clinton’s home state of Arkansas, and saying: “The Democrats must find their progressive roots or watch the party wither away, or become a crypto-Republican Party, seeking the same money and voters.… I’ve always said that it was Al Gore’s election to lose, that only Al Gore could beat Al Gore. If Democrats are disappointed with the returns, they need to take a long, close look at their party and the empty campaign waged by Al Gore.” (Leip 2000; National Journal 11/9/2000)
Republican presidential contender George W. Bush (R-TX) appears to enjoy a late surge in Florida votes, securing what appears to be a slim but decisive lead of some 50,000 votes. Led by Fox News (see October-November 2000 and November 7-8, 2000), the four major television networks—ABC News, CBS News, Fox News, and NBC News—begin declaring Bush the projected winner of Florida and therefore the winner of the US presidential elections. By 2:20 a.m., the last of the networks has projected Bush as the winner. (Sack and Bruni 11/9/2000; Leip 2008) The Associated Press (AP) refuses to make the call, saying that its figures show Bush with only a 30,000-vote lead, and that steadily dwindling. By 2:30 a.m., Bush’s lead, by the AP’s count, is below 19,000 votes; a glitch in the Volusia County numbers that comes in minutes after the call for Bush slashes Bush’s lead considerably, validating the AP’s reluctance to make the call. But the television broadcasts drive the story. Network pundits immediately begin dissecting Bush’s “victory” and speculating as to why Gore “lost.” (Shepard 1/2001; Moore 11/6/2006) After the Fox announcement, Gore campaign manager Donna Brazile sends Gore a text message reading: “Never surrender. It’s not over yet.” But others in the campaign feel the campaign is indeed over. Gore’s brother-in-law Frank Hunger later recalls, “They were just so damn positive,” referring to the networks. “And they were talking about 50,000 votes, and we never dreamed they would be inaccurate.” The Gore campaign’s deputy campaign manager for communications, Mark D. Fabiani, will later recall: “I felt so deflated. It had been an evening where you won and then lost and winning felt a lot better than losing. You had been up and down and swung around and then dumped out on your head.” (Sack and Bruni 11/9/2000)
Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic presidential candidate, calls Republican contender George W. Bush to concede the US presidential election, based on the news networks’ projection of Bush’s slim “victory” in Florida (see 2:15 a.m. November 8, 2000). According to Bush campaign advisor Karen Hughes, Gore tells Bush, “We gave them a cliffhanger.” Bush responds: “You’re a formidable opponent and a good man. I know it’s hard. I know it’s hard for your family. Give my best to Tipper [Gore’s wife] and your children.” Gore’s motorcade drives to the War Memorial Plaza in Nashville, where Gore plans to address his supporters. But by 3:15 a.m., Gore’s advisors tell him that Bush’s lead in Florida has dropped dramatically, leaving Bush with a lead of only 6,000 votes or less, well within the 0.5 percent margin that will trigger an automatic machine recount. Votes in three Democratic strongholds—Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade Counties—are still outstanding. And a computer error in Volusia County tallies shows Gore with a total of negative 16,000 votes. The numbers continue to drop; by the time Gore’s motorcade is approaching the Plaza, the tallies show a Bush lead of less than 1,000 votes. Gore returns to his Nashville hotel without addressing his supporters. Speechwriter Eli Attie later recalls, “I stopped him from going out onstage, and said, ‘With 99 percent of the vote counted, you’re only 600 votes behind.’” (National Journal 11/9/2000; Sack and Bruni 11/9/2000; Tapper 3/2001; Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004; Leip 2008) Minutes later, Gore calls Bush to retract his concession (see 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000).
Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic presidential candidate, calls Republican contender George W. Bush to retract his concession of the presidential election (see 2:30 a.m. - 3:15 a.m. November 8, 2000). “Circumstances have changed dramatically since I first called you,” Gore says. “The state of Florida is too close to call.” Bush says: “Are you saying what I think you’re saying? Let me make sure I understand. You’re calling me back to retract your concession.” Gore responds, “You don’t have to be snippy about it.” Bush informs Gore that his brother, Governor Jeb Bush of Florida, has assured him he has already won Florida (see 2:15 a.m. November 8, 2000 and November 7-8, 2000). Gore replies, “Your younger brother is not the ultimate authority on this.” Instead of giving a concession speech as planned, Gore sends his campaign chairman, former Commerce Secretary William Daley, to speak to the gathering at Nashville’s War Memorial Plaza. “Our campaign continues,” Daley says. New polling data shows that Florida, still projected to go to Bush as the last needed electoral victory, is once again too close to be accurately predicted. Bush calls his cousin John Ellis, who is anchoring Fox News’s election night coverage (see October-November 2000), and says, “Gore unconceded.” Ellis responds, “You’re kidding.” Within the hour, the networks will, for the second time (see 9:30 p.m. November 7, 2000), retract their projection and classify Florida as “too close to call” (see 3:57 a.m. - 4:15 a.m. November 8, 2000). Bush campaign chairman Donald Evans orders aides to be on a 6 a.m. flight to Florida to begin contesting the recounts. Gore aides give similar orders to their personnel. (CNN 12/13/2000; Tapper 3/2001; Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004; Leip 2008)
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)
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 ; Sutin 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)
George W. Bush (R-TX), reiterating the message of his campaign that he has indisputably won the Florida elections (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000), meets with reporters on the patio of the governor’s mansion in Texas, accompanied by his vice-presidential running mate, Dick Cheney. Bush tells reporters: “This morning brings news from Florida that the final vote count there shows that Cheney and I have carried the state of Florida. And if that result is confirmed in an automatic recount, as we expect it will be, we have won the election.” Bush is referring to the machine recounts triggered by the closeness of the election results (see Early Morning, November 8, 2000). Bush tells reporters that the race will “be resolved in a quick way,” a statement contradicted by Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who says the questions surrounding the race “will not be resolved for 10 days.” Harris will soon be brought to heel and make statements as authorized by the Bush campaign (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000 and After). Bush takes a single question, then he and Cheney leave the lectern without speaking further. For his part, Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore urges that the process be carried out “expeditiously but deliberately—without a rush to judgment.” Gore says: “We now need to resolve this election in a way that is fair, forthright, and fully consistent with our Constitution and our laws. What is at issue here is the fundamental fairness of the process as a whole.” Bush campaign aides tell reporters that they are preparing to transition into the White House, with Bush naming Cheney to head the White House transition team and former Ford Motors executive Andrew Card named as White House chief of staff. (ABC News 11/9/2000; Tapper 3/2001)
New York Daily News columnist Mike Barnicle, considered by many to be a liberal, tells MSNBC viewers that Democratic presidential contender Al Gore should concede the election. Barnicle says, referring to Gore’s father, former Democratic Senator Albert Gore Sr.: “This could be Al Gore’s moment. It could be the moment where he finally gets the chance to live up to his great father’s ideals and have the courage to step aside.” (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting 11/16/2000; NewsBusters 2011)
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; Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004)
NBC political commentator Tim Russert recommends that Democratic presidential contender Al Gore either concede the election or wrap up his challege to the reported election results (see Early Morning, November 8, 2000 and After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000) to avoid being called “a whiner.” Russert says that the election recounts are a “crisis” that must be resolved as quickly as possible. Gore “can’t extend it to too long, nor can he become a whiner about Florida at some point,” he says, and adds: “If they continue then to file lawsuits and begin to contest various areas of the state, then people will begin to suggest: ‘uh-oh, this is not magnanimous. This is being a sore loser.’ I think the vice president understands that as well.… If it starts dragging into petty politics and we get to Thanksgiving and we still don’t know who our president is, I think the public will not have much patience with the candidate they believe is dragging it out.” The progressive media watchdog Web site Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) will note that polls show strong majorities of Americans favor continuing the recount process if it will ensure the accuracy of the voting results, even weeks into the recount process. FAIR will write, “[M]ost public opinion polls suggest that citizens are taking a much more reasonable approach to the situation than some of the elite media, supporting a process that emphasizes fairness rather than speed.” (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting 11/16/2000)
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.” (Adair 11/10/2000; Tapper 3/2001)
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. (Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 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; Berke 11/9/2000)
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. (Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 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. (Lantigua 4/24/2001)
An editorial in the Los Angeles Times reassures the American populace that the Florida recounts (see November 10, 2000) are being handled according to law and custom, and do not constitute a “crisis” as other news outlets and pundits have claimed (see Evening, November 8, 2000 and 11:35 p.m. November 9, 2000). “If there are legal challenges, the suspense could stretch for weeks,” the editorial warns. “But in the end, Americans can be assured that this election will be settled in due time, fairly and legally—a democratic confidence still sadly too rare in the world.” Calls to abandon the Electoral College in favor of raw popular vote talles are wrong, the editorial says: “On its face it makes sense, but the electoral college is a foundation of our federal system, in which much power rests with the states. Yes, by basing the number of electors on Senate as well as House representation, smaller states have proportionately more power. But if the popular vote were all that mattered, what candidate would ever waste time on small or thinly populated states like Wyoming or Maine?” The Times agrees with many Democrats that third-party candidate Ralph Nader cost Democrat Al Gore a clear victory in Florida (see November 8-9, 2000) and other states as well. “If [Republican George W.] Bush wins, he will bear the stigma of a minority-vote president, putting his promise to end the bitter infighting in Washington to the severest possible test,” the Times writes, and warns that if Bush does take the presidency, he and his fellow Republicans must work with Democrats to avoid “four years of deadlock.” It concludes: “Through all the turmoil and frustration of Wednesday, two people in particular handled the situation with public calm and grace—George W. Bush and Al Gore. Both provided a welcome example of leadership in the midst of confusion and turmoil. That in itself bodes well for the nation.” (Los Angeles Times 11/9/2000)
The US presidential election remains undecided as “final” tallies are reported. Vice President Al Gore (D-TN) has a slim popular vote lead, with 48,976,148 votes to contender George W. Bush (R-TX)‘s 48,783,510 votes, for a popular-vote margin of 192,638. Gore has won 18 states plus the District of Columbia for 260 electoral votes; Bush has 29 states with 246 electoral votes. Florida’s 25 undecided electoral votes will give either candidate enough to surpass the 270 electoral votes needed to claim the presidency. (Leip 2008)
The presidential campaigns of Vice President Al Gore (D-TN) and George W. Bush (R-TX) make very different decisions as to how to handle affairs as the Florida recount continues to delay the naming of a victor in the 2000 presidential race (see Mid-Morning, November 8, 2000 and November 9, 2000). Gore returns to Washington, where he will remain for most of November, in an attempt to be seen as “remaining above the fray.” Bush, on the other hand, meets with advisors and begins alerting the media as to the members of his prospective presidential administration; aides tell reporters that the Bush team will begin announcing Cabinet appointments within a week. Bush himself will soon return to his ranch in Crawford, Texas. The Bush strategy is simple: to insist that Bush has already won the election and to act as if he is president-elect (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000). (Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004; Leip 2008) Bush’s running mate Dick Cheney says, “We look forward to getting this matter resolved as quickly as possible so that we can get on with the important business of transition.” ABC reports that the Bush campaign wants “to create a sense of unstoppable momentum. They believe that the voters have spoken and that they have to get about the business of creating a new government.” The Washington Post reports that Bush starts the day by “feeding his dog and two cats and making coffee for his wife, displaying a nonchalance amid crisis that could portend an amiable style if he were to wind up as president.” The Post reports that Bush “acted” the part of president when meeting with reporters in the courtyard of the governor’s mansion in Texas. (National Journal 11/9/2000) The Gore campaign has said it would not engage in transition actitivies until the election dispute is resolved; of Bush’s transition activities, Gore aide Roy Neel, the campaign’s transition director, says, “It is mind-boggling to me that they would be so presumptuous.” (Berke 11/9/2000)
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:
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
500 absentee ballots were left at a post office on Election Day, and presumably were not counted.
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)
By the end of the business day, 64 of Florida’s 67 counties have retallied their machine votes. Presidential candidate George W. Bush (R-TX) leads Vice President Al Gore (D-TN) by 362 votes in an unofficial tally released by the Associated Press. Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000 and After) announces that official results from the recount may not be completed until November 14. (Leip 2008) The Bush campaign’s quick-response team (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000 and Mid-Morning, November 8, 2000) finds the recount tallies sobering and fears a true manual recount. Led by lawyer James Baker, they decide that the only way to ensure victory for their candidate is to stop all recounts. (Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004)
In an editorial, the Washington Post castigates the Gore campaign for continuing to press for recounts in Florida. After acknowledging that George W. Bush’s lead in that state “appear[s] to have melted to fewer than 300 votes” as the recounts continue (see 5:00 p.m. November 9, 2000), and noting that for Gore to “call for as careful a count as possible in an election as close as this, with so much a stake, seems unobjectionable to us; it can only help to ensure legitimacy,” it then slams Gore campaign manager William Daley for his suggestion that Gore may file lawsuits to ask for manual recounts. Daley said, referring to the widely held belief in the Gore camp that if the votes are tallied completely, Gore would have significantly more votes than Bush, “If the will of the people is to prevail, Al Gore should be awarded a victory in Florida and be our next president.” The Post calls Daley’s remark “poisonous,” saying that Daley is attempting to imply that the Bush camp is trying to steal the election, and demands that Gore “disown” it immediately. The Post also chides Gore officials for implying, somehow, that “Gore’s narrow lead in the popular vote somehow gives him superior status—if not quite a partial claim to the office, then a greater right to contest the electoral outcome in Florida. But that’s false, and they know it. The electoral vote is what matters.” The editorial chides the Bush campaign for leaking its “transition plans” and trying to give “the impression of measuring for new curtains in the Oval Office,” as Bush has not been certified the winner of the race. “Florida hasn’t certified its results, and Mr. Bush has no more claim to the title of president-elect than the vice president. Both sides need to back off at this stage. They are risking a political war that could spread far beyond Florida, one that would be far harder to stop than to begin.” The Post concludes by advising the Gore campaign that calling for recounts is far different from filing lawsuits to force recounts; the first is acceptable, but the second “should be approached with enormous caution and restraint.” (Washington Post 11/10/2000) In 2010, the Center for American Progress will note that Daley’s claim that Gore “should be awarded a victory in Florida and be our next president” was a claim Bush campaign lawyer James Baker “was saying pretty much every day on Bush’s behalf.” The Post does not have a similar reaction to Baker’s claims. (Alterman 12/9/2010) The same day the Post editorial is published, the New York Times publishes a piece by historian Richard Reeves that flatly falsifies presidential history in its call for Gore to abandon his post-election challenge (see November 10, 2000). The Post also publishes an editorial by former Republican Senator Bob Dole asking Gore to concede for the good of the nation (see November 11, 2000).
In an editorial, the New York Times sounds a cautionary note about the Florida presidential election, warning both sides to avoid what it calls “scorched earth” solutions. It begins by accusing the Democratic presidential nominee, Vice President Al Gore, of “escalat[ing] the atmosphere of combat surrounding the presidential election results with his decision to go to court in Florida” (see November 10, 2000). The Times acknowledges that “Gore has a right as a private citizen to take his grievances to court. But he and Governor George W. Bush [the Republican candidate and apparent frontrunner] are also political figures seeking the world’s most important leadership position. Part of the test of presidential leadership, it seems to us, is finding a way to resolve electoral matters in the political arena.” The Times calls the Gore campaign’s discussion of potential lawsuits “worrying,” accuses it of a “rush to litigation,” and says the Gore campaign should not be using phrases like “constitutional crisis.” Nor should it talk about “efforts to block or cloud the vote of the Electoral College on December 18” (though Bush campaign advisors have threatened just such efforts—see November 1, 2000 and After). The Times says it agrees with CNN’s Bill Schneider that to challenge the machine tallies in Florida would be to choose a “treacherous path.” The Times acknowledges that reports of voting irregularities (see November 7, 2000, Mid-Morning, November 8, 2000, and November 9, 2000) “need to be taken seriously,” but not so much so as to question the results as already reported. To call for manual recounts or file legal challenges, the Times writes, would “paralyze… the succession process, undermine… the finality of presidential elections, and make… nervous a world that looks to the United States as a model of political stability. Neither the prospect of legal warfare nor Mr. Bush’s rush to put together a transition team is helpful at this point.” (New York Times 11/10/2000)
Historian and presidential biographer Richard Reeves fundamentally misrepresents history in a New York Times editorial asking Vice President Al Gore (D-TN) to end the Florida election standoff by conceding to George W. Bush (R-TX). Reeves notes correctly that the 1960 presidential election between Republican Richard Nixon and Democrat John F. Kennedy was extraordinarily close. Reeves asserts that Nixon and Kennedy discussed the situation after the votes were initially tallied and Nixon decided not to challenge the results. “If Nixon had decided to pursue a challenge, he might have had a good case,” Reeves writes. “Republicans were producing claims of fraud, waving sworn depositions from election officials in Illinois and Texas. It was great stuff: there were 6,138 votes cast by the 4,895 voters registered in Fannin County, Texas; in the 38th precinct of Chicago’s sixth ward, 43 voters seemed to have cast 121 votes in the hour after the polls opened. But whatever else he was, Nixon was a patriot. He understood what recounts and lawsuits and depositions carried out over months—even years—would do to the nation. He was also a realist, and he knew that investigations might well turn up examples of his own party’s tradition of recording votes for folks dead or alive in southern Illinois and a few other venues.” Reeves goes on to note that Kennedy’s slight popular vote lead translated into a strong Electoral College lead, and that Nixon’s patron, former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, “was angry about the alleged fraud but finally told Nixon that he could not back him in a challenge to the results.” As Nixon reportedly explained to a reporter afterwards, “The country can’t afford the agony of a constitutional crisis, and I damn well will not be a party to creating one just to become president or anything else.” Reeves uses the example of Nixon’s patriotism and restraint in arguing that Gore should emulate Nixon and gracefully concede the election. (Reeves 11/10/2000) However, Reeves fundamentally misrepresents Nixon’s actions and historical events. Nixon was, as Reeves writes, convinced that Kennedy fraudulently won the election. And rumors of election fraud had circulated even before Election Day, such as in Chicago, where Democratic majorities were considered suspect. When the votes were tallied and Kennedy declared the winner, angry Republicans demanded an investigation. Nixon later said in both interviews and his own memoirs that he refused to dispute the election. Publicly, Nixon conceded the election to Kennedy, but privately, he encouraged his aides and fellow Republicans to overturn the results. In the weeks after the election, many newspapers pursued the story, fueled by Republicans who made a bevy of allegations and charges of election fraud and rampant cheating. Slate’s David Greenberg later writes: “[T]he Republican Party made a veritable crusade of undoing the results. Even if they ultimately failed, party leaders figured, they could taint Kennedy’s victory, claim he had no mandate for his agenda, galvanize the rank and file, and have a winning issue for upcoming elections.” Three days after the election, Senator Thruston Morton (R-KY), the chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), launched bids for recounts and investigations in 11 states, including Texas, Illinois, and New Jersey. Days later, close Nixon aides sent agents to conduct what they called “field checks” in eight of those states. Another aide tried to create a “Nixon Recount Committee” in Chicago. Recounts were indeed obtained. Grand juries were empaneled and a special prosecutor was appointed. The FBI launched investigations into voter fraud and election theft. The recounts and investigations proved nothing of significance, and one by one, they lapsed. The last recount, in Illinois, lasted for over a month after the election; on December 9, 1960, when recount tallies gave Nixon a mere 943 extra votes, Republicans filed a lawsuit in federal court to summarily grant Illinois’s 27 electoral votes to Nixon, which was dismissed. Republicans then took their case to the Illinois Board of Elections, which, even though it had a majority of Republicans comprising it, rejected the petition. Even after December 19, when the Electoral College formally certified Kennedy as the winner, recounts and legal challenges were still in the works. (Greenberg 10/16/2000; Posner 11/10/2000) Boston Globe columnist David Nyhan, considered a liberal like Reeves, echoes Reeves’s portrayal of Nixon in a column that is published the same day as Reeves’s. Nyhan calls Nixon’s supposed concession that president’s “most magnaminous act” and recommends that Gore step aside. (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting 11/16/2000)
The presidential campaign of Vice President Al Gore (D-TN) gains seven electoral votes when Oregon, a state rated too close to call, is officially reported as voting for him. The Gore campaign loses five electoral votes when New Mexico, a state once rated as projected for Gore, is relabeled “too close to call.” (Leip 2008; Leip 2008) New Mexico will be granted to Gore when that state completes manual recounts demanded by the Bush campaign (see November 13 - December 1, 2000).
The mandated machine recount in Florida’s 67 counties (see 5:00 p.m. November 9, 2000) is completed by all but one county. George W. Bush (R-TX) holds a 327-vote lead. The Gore presidential campaign has requested manual recounts for Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, and Volusia Counties, where ballot totals are in dispute (see November 9, 2000). Miami-Dade (see November 7, 2000), Broward, and Palm Beach, all of which use obsolete punch-card voting machines, are weighing whether to conduct manual recounts of, firstly, 1 percent of their ballots (sample recounts), and if the results warrant, moving to full recounts. One of the biggest questions is that of so-called “undervotes,” ballots that have no choice registered for a candidate. When a voter attempts to punch through a hole to register a choice but fails to do so completely, that vote is not counted, and instead is classified as an “undervote.” (“Overvotes” are an issue as well with “optiscan” machines, where voters use pencils to fill in ovals corresponding to their choices and feed the ballots into a machine scanner. Sometimes voters fill in votes for both candidates—say, both Bush and Gore—and in such cases voter intent cannot be determined. The machine records no choice. But sometimes voters accidentally “bubble in” both choices, then write “Gore” and an arrow or some other indication of their selection on the ballot. These votes are also not counted, though a manual recount can quickly determine voter intent in these cases. Even stray pencil marks can cause an optiscan ballot to be rejected. Forty-one of Florida’s 67 counties use optiscan machines.) 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), sends young lawyer Kerey Carpenter to Palm Beach to lend her “assistance” in resolving its recount question. Elections board chairman Judge Charles Burton will later recall that while Carpenter identifies herself as a lawyer, she does not inform them that she works for Harris. Instead of assisting in the sample recount process, Carpenter interferes. At one point, after the sample recount has produced some 50 additional votes for Gore, Carpenter objects to the standard of decision; the punch cards have small rectangular holes filled with detachable “chads,” small portions of paper that are pushed through and discarded. The board is using the criteria that a “chad” that is detached at one corner can indicate a vote. Carpenter convinces Burton to change the standard to two detached corners. This decision reduces Gore’s 50 new votes to six. Carpenter, still not revealing her status as a Harris employee, convinces Burton to ask Harris for a “formal opinion” as to what grounds justify a full recount. Burton does so. Harris will set an impossibly high standard for recounts, but will almost immediately be overruled by a judge (see 9:00 a.m. November 13, 2000). (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 12/17/2000; Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004)
Former US Senator Bob Dole (R-KS) writes an op-ed for the Washington Post urging Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore to abandon his attempts to win the presidential election and concede the election to Republican George W. Bush. “It was a close election, but it’s over,” Dole writes. Dole begins by recalling his own experience from 1976, where Republican President Gerald Ford, with Dole as his running mate, chose not to challenge a narrow election loss to Democrat Jimmy Carter. “It took a while, but I was proud of Gerald Ford when he did the right thing by not contesting the election,” Dole writes. Dole asserts that two separate recounts have taken place [in reality, only one, a machine recount, has occurred—see November 10, 2000] and both verify Bush as the winner of the Florida vote. Instead of gracefully conceding, Dole writes, the Gore campaign is “making every effort to keep the nation divided for weeks with recounts, lawsuits, and endless politicization of the election.” Dole urges Gore “to put his country’s agenda ahead of his agenda; to put the people’s interests before his personal interests.” The American people need closure after a long presidential campaign, Dole argues, and to drag out the process “is bad for the people.” Gore “risks alienating even more Americans” by continuing to press for manual recounts. “Participation in our democracy continues to decline. More and more people are turned off by politics and are tuning out of elections. It is precisely this type of politicization that continues to disenchant people. They want leadership, not lawsuits. They need someone committed to what is good for the country, not what is good for a post election campaign.” Asking for recounts “is bad for the country.” Bush needs time to plan and execute a smooth transition into the presidency, Dole writes, time that Gore is not giving him. Bush “must begin planning his administration. He must prepare a budget and begin selecting a cabinet. He must begin meeting with world leaders and a Congress already bitterly divided. A smooth transition will help to ensure a successful presidency and a more secure and prosperous nation for the next four years.” And finally, history will look askance at Gore for being “the first presidential candidate to challenge his election defeat in the courts. The presidency should be won through inspiration, not litigation.” (Dole 11/11/2000)
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 ; Whitman et al. 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. (Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004)
Two counties in Florida announce recount decisions. At 2:00 a.m., Palm Beach County officials indicate that a sample recount turned up 19 votes for Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore, and announce that the county’s manual recount, initially restricted to designated precincts, will now recount all 462,657 ballots. A manual recount of all ballots, says County Commissioner Carol Roberts, “clearly would affect the results of the national election.” Volusia County begins manually recounting its 184,018 ballots at 10:06 a.m. (Whitman et al. 12/13/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 12/17/2000; Leip 2008) The Bush campaign has requested the courts stop all manual recounts (see November 11-13, 2000). Republicans have been critical of the decision by the two Democrats on the Palm Beach County canvassing board, Roberts and Theresa LePore, to ask for the countywide recount, saying that the decision would require an extension of the November 14 submission deadline (see 9:00 a.m. November 13, 2000). (Salon 11/13/2000)
Lawyers for the Gore presidential campaign and local Democrats say they intend to sue the Seminole County elections supervisor. In this county, Republican Party workers were permitted to correct errors on thousands of applications for absentee ballots for Republicans, in what Democrats call illegal ballot tampering. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 12/17/2000) Subsequent investigations show that Seminole elections officials and Republican Party workers corrected data on absentee ballots that showed votes for Republican George W. Bush, while throwing away flawed absentee ballots that showed votes for Democrat Al Gore. Republican Party operatives worked unsupervised in Seminole County offices for 10 days preceding the November 7 vote; those offices house the county’s computer database of voters. It is not known if the operatives attempted to access that database. County elections supervisor Sandra Goard later says in a sworn statement that she does not know the identity of one of the two Republican operatives given access to the absentee ballots and the computer rooms. After the absentee ballots were counted into the county’s tallies, Seminole County showed a 5,000-vote lead for Bush over Gore. (Consortium News 11/27/2000)
After Democratic presidential contender Al Gore withdraws his concession (see 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000) and announces his determination to press forward with his request for manual recounts (see November 10, 2000), Fox News host Tony Snow tells viewers that “his decision made the poisonous political atmosphere in Washington even more toxic. Gore has established a precedent for turning elections into legal circuses and giving the final word not to voters but to squadrons of lawyers.” (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting 11/16/2000)
Conservative columnist George Will lambasts the Gore presidential campaign for trying to “steal” the presidential election through unwarranted legal manipulation (see Early Morning, November 8, 2000 and November 9, 2000). Will begins his Washington Post column by comparing the Gore request for recounts to “the blue dress,” a reference to President Clinton’s affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, and accuses Democrats of “complaining that the Constitution should not be the controlling legal authority” over elections. Will continues: “The mendacity of Al Gore’s pre-election campaign is pertinent to the post-election chaos. He ran with gale-force economic winds at his back, and with a powerful media bias pulling him along.… Even on election night: by calling Florida for Gore before all Floridians had voted, the networks almost certainly hurt Republican turnout in Florida, and out West” (see 7:50 p.m., November 7, 2000). Will does not mention Fox News’s inaccurate call of Florida for Bush (see 2:15 a.m. November 8, 2000 and November 7-8, 2000). Gore is attempting to steal the election because of his “corrupt… hunger for power” and his “serial mendacity,” Will states, accusing Gore of “desperately seeking lawyering strategies and a friendly court to hand him the presidential election.” He is, Will states, the quintessential liberal, attempting to impose his will “through litigation rather than legislation. Liberalism’s fondness for judicial fiat rather than democratic decision-making explains the entwinement of the Democratic Party and trial lawyers.” Will ridicules reports that the Palm Beach County “butterfly ballot” may have denied Gore votes (see November 9, 2000), and calls Democrats’ questioning of that ballot “sinister.” The claims that Palm Beach voters were confused by the ballot are, Will writes, “baseless.” Will says that the November 17 addition of absentee ballots (see November 18, 2000), with their “large military, hence Republican, component,” will almost certainly lock down the Florida vote for Bush. However, Will writes, “Gore operatives probably will still toil to delegitimize the election. Their actions demolish the presidential pretensions of the dangerous man for whom they do their reckless work.” Will concludes: “All that remains to complete the squalor of Gore’s attempted coup d’etat is some improvisation by Janet Reno, whose last Florida intervention involved a lawless SWAT team seizing a 6-year-old [referring to Cuban-American youngster Elian Gonzales, whom Reno ordered to be sent back to Cuba with his father instead of being allowed to remain in the US with a group of more distant relatives]. She says there is no federal role, but watch for a ‘civil rights’ claim on behalf of some protected minority, or some other conjured pretext. Remember, Reno is, strictly speaking, unbelievable, and these things will continue until these people are gone.” (Will 11/12/2000) The progressive media watchdog organization Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) will note, “The comment about a ‘protected minority’ seems to be a reference to the complaints of voter fraud and intimidation coming from African-American communities in Florida” (see November 7, 2000). (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting 11/16/2000)
According to media analyses performed by the Center for American Progress (CAP) and by the team of Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Paul Waldman, the Sunday talk show coverage of the Bush-Gore conflict in Florida between November 12 and December 10 is heavily skewed towards painting George W. Bush as the legitimate president (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000) and Al Gore the losing contender who continues to carry on after having legitimately lost the election. On December 3 and December 10, panelists on ABC’s This Week refer to Bush’s future presidency 27 times. Tim Russert, the host of NBC’s Meet the Press, does so 19 times and calls Bush’s running mate Dick Cheney the “vice president.” In a December 3 interview, Russert asks Cheney if he feels Gore is being a “sore loser” (see November 24, 2000 and After). On December 3, ABC’s Sam Donaldson attempts to get Gore’s running mate, Joseph Lieberman, to concede the election on-air. ABC’s Cokie Roberts attempts to get a concession from Gore campaign representative George Mitchell. Jamieson and Waldman later determine that in the five Sunday shows aired by the three networks during this time period, the word “concede” appears in 23 questions. In 20 of these questions, the hypothetical conceder is Gore. In the other three questions, the hypothetical conceder is no one. Similarly, the hosts and guests on these talk shows, and on other network news broadcasts, frequently warn of “dire consequences” to America’s constitutional democracy if the Florida question is not settled immediately. The hosts also issue frequent warnings that the citizenry’s patience is at “the breaking point,” though polls consistently show that most Americans are content to let the recall process work itself out. CAP later notes, “The Baker-Bush team [referring to James Baker, the head of the Bush campaign’s ‘quick response’ recount team—see Mid-Morning, November 8, 2000] worked hard to create this crisis atmosphere in the hopes of increasing the pressure on Gore to relent for the good of the country, the markets, and the maintenance of world peace.” During this time period, Russert tells viewers, “We could have chaos and a constitutional crisis.” NBC’s Tom Brokaw tells viewers: “If the Florida recount drags on, the national markets are at risk here. National security is involved.” Pundits on ABC’s This Week warn of “turmoil” if Gore does not concede; pundits on CBS’s Face the Nation remark on “spinning out of control.” Columnist David Broder says this period of US history is worse than the turmoil the country weathered after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. (Alterman 12/9/2010)
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; Alterman 12/9/2010)
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), announces she is refusing requests to extend the 5:00 p.m. November 14 deadline for certifying election results (see 5:00 p.m. November 9, 2000) in the interest of what she calls “the public’s right to clarity and finality.” This is her prerogative as secretary of state under Florida Election Code 102.112, though she has the option to extend the deadline. Absentee ballots, by law, can be counted through November 17. Neither Palm Beach nor Miami-Dade Counties have even decided to start recounts yet (see November 7, 2000 and November 10, 2000), and Broward County has not finished the recount it began. Volusia County, also attempting to finish manually recounting all of its ballots (see November 11-12, 2000), sues to extend the November 14 deadline. Lawyers for the Gore campaign join Volusia in the suit, while Bush lawyers file briefs opposing the suit. (Salon 11/13/2000; Whitman et al. 12/13/2000; Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004; Leip 2008) In light of Harris’s decision, Broward will choose to abandon its recount (see Evening, November 13, 2000); Palm Beach will decide to delay the recount until it can receive clarification (see 8:20 a.m. November 14, 2000), and resume the recounting shortly thereafter (see 4:30 p.m. November 14, 2000). Miami-Dade, in contrast, will begin recounting (see November 14, 2000). Later in the day, Harris issues what she considers a legal opinion concerning the recounts, but her opinion conflicts with a decision issued by Florida’s attorney general. (Whitman et al. 12/13/2000) Harris says that no manual recounts should take place unless the voting machines are broken. Judge Terry Lewis finds that opinion not backed by any state law and overrules her opinion. (Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004) Harris has drawn criticism for her apparent partisanship before now. Warren Christopher, a lead advisor for the Gore campaign, calls Harris’s decision “arbitrary and unreasonable.” Representative Peter Deutsch (D-FL) calls her decision “bizarre,” adding, “I honestly think what’s going on is a strategic decision by the Bush campaign to hurt the litigation efforts.” Representative Robert Wexler (D-FL) says: “The only reason to certify the elections at 5 p.m. tomorrow is a partisan one. If she does what she says she’s going to do—certify the elections at 5 p.m. tomorrow—she will have proven her critics correct; she will have proven that she is an emissary of the Bush campaign who is willing to steal an election.” (Salon 11/13/2000)
Presidential candidate and Vice President Al Gore (D-TN) makes a televised statement saying that it is important to “spend the days necessary” to determine the rightful winner of the Florida presidential election. (Whitman et al. 12/13/2000)
Palm Beach Circuit Judge Jorge Labarga agrees to hear legal challenges from Palm Beach County Democrats that claim poor ballot design misled some supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore to cast their votes for conservative third-party candidate Patrick Buchanan instead (see November 9, 2000). Five judges had previously recused themselves from the case. (Leip 2008)
Officials in Palm Beach County vote 2-1 to delay their manual recounts of their election ballots (see November 11-12, 2000) until they are able to clarify whether they have the legal authority to proceed. 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), has rejected requests to extend the election certification deadline past 5:00 p.m. today (see 9:00 a.m. November 13, 2000). (Whitman et al. 12/13/2000; Leip 2008) Harris actually issues an order stopping the recounts, but her order is almost immediately countermanded by Florida Attorney General Robert Butterworth (Dickenson 11/19/2000) , who serves as the Gore campaign’s Florida chairman. (National Journal 11/9/2000) The canvassing board meeting is contentious. The lead Republican counsel, Mark Wallace, demands that County Commissioner Carol Roberts recuse herself from the board because of her “active” involvement in the Gore campaign. Roberts responds that her activity includes having a Gore bumper sticker on her car and attending a single cocktail party for Joe Lieberman, Al Gore’s running mate. Election observer Steven Meyer, working with the Democratic Party, writes that he has never heard Republicans complain about Harris’s involvement as co-chair of the Bush campaign. Elections Supervisor Theresa LePore has come under intense scrutiny and criticism for the controversial “butterfly ballot” that she approved for use in the county (see September 2000); many county Democrats blame her for what they believe were some 10,000 votes that should have gone to Gore (see November 9, 2000). Some board members, including LePore, have received death threats; whether these threats came from Republicans, Democrats, or others is unknown. Meyer observes that Republicans such as Wallace mount incessant complaints about ballot handling, and issue frequent demands that already-counted stacks of ballots be recounted again because someone touched or handled them inappropriately. Meyer observes Republican observers using tweezers to pick up tiny “chads” (paper rectangles discarded when a voter punches through a punch-card ballot to cast a vote) and place them in plastic baggies. He also notes that Republicans have placed thousands of Gore ballots in the “questionable” stacks when the ballots plainly indicate votes for Gore. (Meyer 12/14/2000)
After her self-imposed deadline of 5:00 p.m. for election results certification passes (see 9:00 a.m. November 13, 2000), 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), announces that George W. Bush (R-TX) leads Vice President Al Gore (D-TN) by some 300 votes, based on returns submitted by all 67 Florida counties. The 300-vote lead Bush currently has is substantially smaller than the 1,784-vote lead he had immediately after the election. Harris says she will comply with a judicial order to consider late returns (see Afternoon, November 14, 2000). She gives three heavily Democratic counties still counting votes until 2:00 p.m. November 15 to submit written explanations as to why they want to add their manual-recount tallies after the deadline; all three counties will comply with her request. (Whitman et al. 12/13/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 12/17/2000; Leip 2008)
Contradicting her previous statement that she would comply with a judicial order to consider the post-election recount tallies from several counties (see Evening, November 14, 2000), 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), asks the Florida Supreme Court to force Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties to end their manual recounts (see November 14, 2000, 3:40 p.m. November 15, 2000, and 4:30 p.m. November 14, 2000) “pending resolution as to whether any basis exists to modify the certified results” after the November 14, 2000 deadline. Harris argues that manual recounts threaten “the integrity of the ballots.” Harris previously imposed a November 14 deadline for all ballots to be counted and results certified (see 9:00 a.m. November 13, 2000). Palm Beach County officials ask the Florida Supreme Court to decide if they can manually recount their ballots. At 5:00 p.m., the Court rejects Harris’s request to stop the recounts. (Dickenson 11/19/2000; Whitman et al. 12/13/2000; Leip 2008) A judge has already ruled that Harris can refuse to consider recount results submitted after her deadline (see Afternoon, November 14, 2000). A Gore campaign spokesman later says that considering the obstacles Harris has placed in the way of the hand recounts, the situation is analogous to a policeman forcing a motorist to pull over, then blaming him for the traffic piling up behind him. Bush spokeswoman Karen Hughes counters with the accusation that the counties still engaged in recounts are “no longer counting ballots; they are ‘reinventing’ them.” And James Baker, the head of the Bush “quick response” recount team, accuses the manual recounters of “subjective” attempts to “divine the intent of the voter.” Such recounts, Baker says, present “tremendous opportunities for human error and… mischief.” Both Hughes’s and Baker’s remarks are apparently intended to imply deliberate falsification of vote tallies, and echo similar charges made by Rush Limbaugh and other conservative media figures. Gore officials note that George W. Bush has picked up 418 votes in manual recounts in six counties: Franklin, Hamilton, Seminole, Washington, Taylor, and Lafayette. The Bush campaign, the Gore officials say, was eager to have those votes added in with the totals. Baker’s counterpart on the Gore team, Warren Christopher, says the fact that “Republicans have hand counted in many of the counties themselves” (see November 19, 2000) belies Republican charges that “we have picked out a certain few counties.” The Bush campaign has also picked up 143 votes from recounting in Volusia County. (Dickenson 11/19/2000; Consortium News 11/27/2000)
The presidential campaign of Vice President Al Gore (D-TN) suggests that all 67 Florida counties conduct manual recounts of their ballots if Republicans object to recounts in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties (see November 9, 2000). Gore himself says he will eschew any further legal challenges if Republicans will accept the three counties’ recounts. He also proposes a face-to-face meeting with his opponent, George W. Bush (R-TX). (Whitman et al. 12/13/2000; Leip 2008)
The Bush presidential campaign rejects the Gore presidential campaign’s proposal for a statewide manual recount of Florida’s presidential votes (see 6:36 p.m. November 15, 2000), stating that such a recount would be neither fair nor accurate. George W. Bush also informs the Gore campaign that he has no interest in meeting with Al Gore face-to-face, though he says he is open to such a meeting after the election. (Leip 2008) “The outcome of this election,” Bush says in a statement, “will not be the result of deals or efforts to mold public opinion” (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000). (Whitman et al. 12/13/2000)
The Bush presidential campaign announces that it will not seek a recount of votes in Iowa. (Leip 2008) Iowa was called in favor of Vice President Al Gore (D-TN) at 2:04 a.m. on November 8, giving Gore seven electoral votes. (Leip 2008)
Apparently emboldened by a judge’s halt to Florida declaring a winner in its presidential race (see 5:00 p.m. November 17, 2000), Miami-Dade County election officials vote to conduct a full manual recount of their county’s presidential ballots. (Leip 2008) Initial figures in the recount show a significant number of “undervotes” going to Democrat Al Gore (see November 7, 2000). In response, Republican lawyers attempt to challenge vote after vote that is tallied to Gore, with corresponding counter-challenges from Democratic lawyers. Kendall Coffey, a Gore campaign lawyer, later recalls that as the Gore totals begin to accumulate, “panic buttons were being pushed” among the Republicans. Days later, a mob of Republican activists will descend on the Miami-Dade election board and force the shutdown of the recounts (see 9:00 a.m. and after, November 22, 2000). (Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004)
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. (Whitman et al. 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).
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. (Dickenson 11/19/2000; York 11/28/2000)
Florida’s Miami-Dade County begins a manual recount of its presidential ballots (see November 7, 2000 and November 17, 2000). Bush campaign lawyers and local Republicans tried and failed to get a judge to stop the recounts, arguing that using machines to sort ballots to find votes would damage ballots and, presumably, give Democrat Al Gore more votes. The judge refuses to rule in the Republicans’ favor, and Miami-Dade election officials begin hunting for questionable ballots for recounting. (Whitman et al. 12/13/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 12/17/2000; Leip 2008) On November 22, after Bush operatives and local Bush supporters stage a riot outside the elections offices, the Miami-Dade elections board will cancel the recount, saying it does not have enough time to complete the recount by the November 26 deadline (see 9:00 a.m. and after, November 22, 2000).
The Bush presidential campaign files a petition in the US Supreme Court, asking the Court to review the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling that Florida can continue manual recounts, and that those new recount tallies be included in the final election results (see November 20-21, 2000). Bush lawyers argue that the Supreme Court effectively rewrote Florida election law in mandating the recount tallies be counted, by essentially changing the law after the election had occurred; they also argue that Florida judges have no jurisdiction or legal authoritiy to order Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000 and After) to consider manually recounted votes. Both arguments are considered somewhat abstruse and technical. The Bush campaign also claims, with little legal backing, that to recount the votes violates constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection. Gore lawyers say that the matter is up to the state courts, and is not a federal matter warranting the involvement of the US Supreme Court. The Court agrees to hear the case, and sets the hearing date for December 1, 2000. (Supreme Court of the United States 11/22/2000 ; Certiorari Granted 11/24/2000 ; Guardian 11/25/2000; Whitman et al. 12/13/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 12/17/2000; Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004; Leip 2008) “We believe we stand on both strong political and legal ground for fighting beyond Sunday,” says Gore campaign adviser Ron Klain. After the Court agrees to hear the case, Harris, the co-chair of Florida’s Bush campaign team, says she is ready to certify the election for George W. Bush tomorrow night regardless of the outcome of the Supreme Court hearing. “The Department of State is prepared for the earliest contingency, which would be certification Sunday evening,” her chief of staff Ben McKay says. “This will be done publicly regardless of the outcome, which is, of course, unknown at this time.” (Guardian 11/25/2000) Many Court observers, and some of the justices themselves, are surprised that the case is being heard. The Bush petition for certiorari, or for the Court to take the case, comes to Justice Anthony Kennedy, whose task it is to consider emergency motions from Florida, Georgia, and Alabama. Kennedy pushes his colleagues to take the case, arguing that the Court is the true and ultimate arbiter of such matters, though he concedes that the Bush petition is legally questionable. The Court’s conservative bloc—Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Sandra Day O’Connor (see After 7:50 p.m. November 7, 2000), and Chief Justice William Rehnquist—agree to hear the case. (Court rules mandate that the consent of four justices, not a majority, is enough to hear a case.) The case is to be expedited in a way far different from the usual sedately paced Court proceedings. The sudden urgency has Court clerks scrambling to change their Thanksgiving plans and contacting the justices they work for. The clerks for the four liberal justices, David Souter, John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer, are dismayed by the entire situation. “We changed our minds every five minutes about whether the fix was in,” one clerk later recalls. The liberal clerks find it almost impossible to believe that any Court justice would consider interceding in what is by constitutional definition an executive and legislative matter. Justice Stevens is not convinced of his conservative colleagues’ restraint, and begins drafting a dissent from what he fears will be a majority opinion granting Bush the election. The early draft focuses on the reasons why the Court should have never accepted the case. (Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004)
Miami-Dade County election officials vote unanimously to halt the county’s manual recount of presidential ballots (see November 7, 2000 and Before 10:00 a.m. November 19, 2000), saying the county does not have enough time to complete its recount by the November 26 deadline. Instead, they vote to recount only 10,750 “undervotes,” ballots that don’t clearly indicate a presidential choice. The decision costs Democratic candidate Al Gore a 157-vote gain from the halted recount process. That evening, a Florida State appeals court denies a motion by Democrats to force Miami-Dade County to restart the manual recount. (Whitman et al. 12/13/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 12/17/2000; Leip 2008)
Opposing Beliefs - The next day, the Florida Supreme Court will also refuse to order Miami-Dade to restart the recount (see 2:45 p.m. November 23, 2000). Press reports say that the decision “dramatically reverse[s] the chances of Al Gore gathering enough votes to defeat George W. Bush.” Gore’s senior campaign advisor William Daley calls the recounts “mandatory” and calls for “the rule of law” to be upheld. For his part, Bush says: “I believe Secretary Cheney and I won the vote in Florida (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000). And I believe some are determined to keep counting in an effort to change the legitimate result.” In light of the Miami-Dade decision, the Bush campaign’s chief legal advisor James Baker invites the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature to unilaterally declare Bush the victor, saying, “One should not now be surprised if the Florida legislature seeks to affirm the original rules.”
Agitators Disrupt Recount Proceedings - The recount proceedings are disrupted and ultimately ended by a mob of Republicans, some local and some bussed and flown in from Washington by the Bush campaign. The agitators are protesting outside the Miami-Dade County election offices, shouting and attempting to interfere with the proceedings of the canvassing board. Republicans have accused a Democratic lawyer of stealing a ballot. (Kettle 11/23/2000; Guardian 11/25/2000)
Rioters Made Up of Republican Staffers, Others - Democrats accuse Republican protesters of intimidating the Miami-Dade County officials into stopping the recount. Democratic vice-presidential candidate Joe Lieberman says the demonstrations in Miami have been orchestrated by Republicans “to intimidate and to prevent a simple count of votes from going forward.” Six Democratic members of the US Congress demand the Justice Department investigate the claims, saying that civil rights have been violated in “a shocking case of undermining the right to vote through intimidation and threats of violence.” Jenny Backus, a spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee (DNC), says, “The Republicans are out of control,” and accuses them of using paid agitators to “create mob rule in Miami.” (Guardian 11/25/2000) Later investigations show that the “spontaneous protests” by Republican protesters were far more orchestrated and violent than generally reported by the press at the time. Investigative journalist Robert Parry will write that the protests, called the “Brooks Brothers Riot” because of the wealthy, “preppie” makeup of the “protesters,” helped stop the recount, “and showed how far Bush’s supporters were ready to go to put their man in the White House.” He will write that the protests should be more accurately termed a riot. At least six of the rioters were paid by the Bush recount committee, payments documented in Bush committee records only released to the IRS in July 2002 (see July 15, 2002). Twelve Republican staffers will later be identified in photographs of the rioters. The six who can be confirmed as being paid are: Bush staffer Matt Schlapp from Austin, Texas; Thomas Pyle, a staff aide to House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-TX); DeLay fundraiser Michael Murphy; Garry Malphrus, House majority chief counsel to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Criminal Justice; Charles Royal, a legislative aide to Representative Jim DeMint (R-SC); and former Republican House staffer Kevin Smith. Another Republican is identified as Doug Heye, a staffer for Representative Richard Pombo (R-CA). At least three of the rioters—Schlapp, Malphrus, and Joel Kaplan—will later join the Bush White House. Many of the rioters were brought in on planes and buses from Washington as early as mid-November, with promises of expenses payments. On November 18, 2000, the Bush campaign told activists, “We now need to send reinforcements” to rush to Florida. “The campaign will pay airfare and hotel expenses for people willing to go.” Many of the respondents are low-level Republican staffers from Congress. “These reinforcements… added an angrier tone to the dueling street protests already underway between supporters of Bush and Gore,” Parry will write. Quoting ABC reporter Jake Tapper, Parry will write, “The new wave of Republican activists injected ‘venom and volatility into an already edgy situation.’” Signifying the tone, before the Miami riot, Brad Blakeman, Bush’s campaign director of advance travel logistics, screamed down a CNN correspondent attempting to interview a Democratic Congressman: “This is the new Republican Party, sir! We’re not going to take it anymore!” (Consortium News 11/27/2000; Parry 8/5/2002; Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004) Some of the local protesters are summoned to the Miami-Dade electoral offices by angry broadcasts over radio stations with largely Cuban-American audiences; over these radio stations, listeners hear Bush campaign lawyer Roger Stone, coordinating the radio response, say that the recounts intend to disenfranchise Hispanic voters. Republican operatives coordinate the protests by shouting orders through megaphones. (Consortium News 11/24/2000; Alterman 12/9/2010) Cuban-Americans voted heavily for Bush in the November 7 election. (Tapper 3/2001)
Details of the Riot; Staffers Assaulted and Beaten - After learning that the Miami-Dade County canvassing board was beginning to examine 10,750 disputed ballots that had not previously been counted, US Representative John Sweeney (R-NY) issues the order to “Shut it down!” (Sweeney is coordinating his efforts with a local Cuban congressman who himself is coordinating the Cuban-American mob response.) Brendan Quinn, the executive director of the New York Republican Party, tells some two dozen Republican operatives outside the Miami-Dade County election offices to storm the room on the 19th floor where the canvassing board is meeting. Tapper later writes: “Emotional and angry, they immediately make their way outside the larger room in which the tabulating room is contained. The mass of ‘angry voters’ on the 19th floor swells to maybe 80 people,” including many of the Republican activists from outside Florida, and joined by local protesters. As news organizations videotape the scene, the protesters reach the board offices and begin shouting slogans such as “Stop the count! Stop the fraud!” “Three Blind Mice!” and “Fraud, fraud, fraud!” and banging on doors and walls. The protesters also shout that a thousand potentially violent Cuban-Americans are on the way. Official observers and reporters are unable to force their way through the shouting crowd of Republican operatives and their cohorts. Miami-Dade spokesman Mayco Villafena is physically assaulted, being pushed and shoved by an unknown number of assailants. Security officials, badly outmanned, fear the confrontation will swell into a full-scale riot. Miami-Dade elections supervisor David Leahy orders the recounts stopped, saying, “Until the demonstration stops, nobody can do anything.” (Although board members will later insist that they were not intimidated into stopping, the recounts will never begin again. Leahy will later say: “This was perceived as not being an open and fair process. That weighed heavy on our minds.”) Meanwhile, unaware of the rioting, county Democratic chairman Joe Geller stops at another office in search of a sample ballot. He wants to prove his theory that some voters had intended to vote for Gore, but instead marked an adjoining number indicating no choice. He finds one and leaves the office. Some of the rioters spot Geller with the sample ballot, and one shouts, “This guy’s got a ballot!” Tapper will later write: “The masses swarm around him, yelling, getting in his face, pushing him, grabbing him. ‘Arrest him!’ they cry. ‘Arrest him!’ With the help of a diminutive DNC [Democratic National Committee] aide, Luis Rosero, and the political director of the Miami Gore campaign, Joe Fraga, Geller manages to wrench himself into the elevator.” Rosero stays behind to attempt to talk with a reporter, and instead is kicked and punched by rioters. A woman shoves Rosero into a much larger man in what Tapper will later theorize was an attempt to start a fight between Rosero and the other person. In the building lobby, some 50 Republican protesters and activists swarm Geller, surrounding him. Police escort Geller back to the 19th floor in both an attempt to save him from harm and to ascertain what is happening. The crowd attempts to pull Geller away from the police. Some of the protesters even accost 73-year-old Representative Carrie Meek (D-FL). Democratic operatives decide to leave the area completely. When the mob learns that the recounts have been terminated, they break forth in lusty cheers.
After-Party - After the riots, the Bush campaign pays $35,501.52 for a celebration at Fort Lauderdale’s Hyatt Regency, where the rioters and campaign officials party, enjoy free food and drink, receive congratulatory calls from Bush and Dick Cheney, and are serenaded by Las Vegas crooner Wayne Newton, singing “Danke Schoen,” German for “thank you very much.” Other expenses at the party include lighting, sound system, and even costumes.
Media Reportage - Bush and his campaign officials say little publicly about the riot. Some press outlets report the details behind the riots. The Washington Post later reports that “even as the Bush campaign and the Republicans portray themselves as above the fray,” national Republicans actually had joined in and helped finance the riot. The Wall Street Journal tells readers that Bush offered personal words of encouragement to the rioters after the melee, writing, “The night’s highlight was a conference call from Mr. Bush and running mate Dick Cheney, which included joking reference by both running mates to the incident in Miami, two [Republican] staffers in attendance say.” The Journal also observes that the riot was led by national Republican operatives “on all expense-paid trips, courtesy of the Bush campaign.” And, the Journal will note, the rioters went on to attempt to disrupt the recounts in Broward County, but failed there to stop the proceedings. The Journal will write that “behind the rowdy rallies in South Florida this past weekend was a well-organized effort by Republican operatives to entice supporters to South Florida,” with DeLay’s Capitol Hill office taking charge of the recruitment. No similar effort was made by the Gore campaign, the Journal will note: “This has allowed the Republicans to quickly gain the upper hand, protest-wise.” And the Journal will write that the Bush campaign worked to keep its distance from the riots: “Staffers who joined the effort say there has been an air of mystery to the operation. ‘To tell you the truth, nobody knows who is calling the shots,’ says one aide. Many nights, often very late, a memo is slipped underneath the hotel-room doors outlining coming events.” But soon, media reports begin echoing Bush campaign talking points, which call the “protests” “fitting, proper,” and the fault of the canvassing board: “The board made a series of bad decisions and the reaction to it was inevitable and well justified.” The Bush campaign says the mob attack on the elections office was justified because civil rights leader Jesse Jackson had led peaceful, non-violent protests in favor of the recounts in Miami the day before. The campaign also insists that the protests were spontaneous and made up entirely of local citizens. On November 26, Governor Marc Racicot (R-MT), a Bush campaign spokesman, will tell NBC viewers: “Clearly there are Americans on both sides of these issues reflecting very strong viewpoints. But to suggest that somehow this was a threatening situation, in my view, is hyperbolic rhetoric.”
Effect of the Riot - According to Parry, the riot, broadcast live on CNN and other networks, “marked a turning point in the recount battle. At the time, Bush clung to a lead that had dwindled to several hundred votes and Gore was pressing for recounts (see November 20-21, 2000). The riot in Miami and the prospects of spreading violence were among the arguments later cited by defenders of the 5-to-4 US Supreme Court ruling (see 9:54 p.m. December 12, 2000)… that stopped a statewide Florida recount and handed Bush the presidency. Backed by the $13.8 million war chest, the Bush operation made clear in Miami and in other protests that it was ready to kick up plenty of political dust if it didn’t get its way.” In the hours after the riot, conservative pundits led by Rush Limbaugh will engage in orchestrated assaults on the recount process as fraudulent and an attempt by the Gore campaign to “invent” votes. No one is ever charged with any criminal behaviors as a result of the riot. (Consortium News 11/24/2000; Milbank 11/27/2000; Barrett 12/19/2000; Parry 8/5/2002; Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004; Alterman 12/9/2010)
The Gore presidential campaign files an emergency petition with the Florida Supreme Court asking the Court to force Miami-Dade County to resume its manual recount of presidential ballots (see 9:00 a.m. and after, November 22, 2000). Gore lawyers unsuccessfully argue that Miami-Dade “[v]oters had their votes inexplicably erased” (see November 7, 2000). The Court rejects the request. (Supreme Court of Florida 11/23/2000 ; Whitman et al. 12/13/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 12/17/2000; Leip 2008)
Gore campaign lawyers ask the US Supreme Court to deny a Bush campaign request to not count manually-recounted presidential ballots, calling the request a “bald attempt to federalize a state court dispute.” The next day, the Court will agree to hear the Bush petition (see November 22-24, 2000). (Whitman et al. 12/13/2000)
Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, a self-described moderate liberal, says that although he voted for Vice President Al Gore (D-TN) in the presidential elections, he believes that for the good of the country, Gore should stop pushing for recounts in Florida and concede the election to George W. Bush (R-TX). “I now think that under current circumstances he would not be the right man for the presidency,” he writes. “If I could, I would withdraw my vote.” Cohen says his considered opinion is based in part on the recent mob riot in Miami, where Bush campaign operatives orchestrated a violent confrontation that forced Miami-Dade County election officials to prematurely shut down their attempts to recount that county’s votes (see 9:00 a.m. and after, November 22, 2000). Cohen writes that in light of the Florida circumstances: “Given the present bitterness, given the angry irresponsible charges being hurled by both camps, the nation will be in dire need of a conciliator, a likable guy who will make things better and not worse. That man is not Al Gore. That man is George W. Bush.” Cohen says that he believes Bush’s claims to be “a uniter, not a divider,” citing as proof Bush’s popularity among Republican governors, “each of whom probably thought the next president should be none other than himself.” Bush also has a reputation for affability from his days in private enterprise, Cohen writes: “I talked with one of them once, a Democrat who disagreed with Bush on many issues. Yet he, too, praised Bush’s leadership abilities, his talent for bringing order out of chaos and for reaching some sort of consensus. That man’s testimony impressed me. His disagreements with Bush were real, his admiration for him profound.” Gore is not a uniter, Cohen asserts. “His own party is sore at him for taking the one-two punch of peace and prosperity and running a race that is still not concluded. His performance was as erratic as his uniform-of-the-day: earth tones on Tuesday, business suit on Wednesday. The country sensed that either he did not know himself, or what he did know the country would not like.” Cohen calls Gore “stiff, robotic,” and appearing “insincere even when he is not… unable to mask his ambition.” Unlike Bush, he does not give the impression of being someone’s “good buddy.” Bush will rally the nation behind him, Cohen opines, where Gore is likely to further divide it. Besides, Cohen writes, having a Republican in the White House may work to “restrain… GOP Dobermans like Reps. Tom DeLay (R-TX) and J.C. Watts Jr. (R-OK),” who presumably would behave in an uncontrollable manner if a Republican is not in the White House to keep them in line. While Bush and Gore have profoundly different approaches to governance, Cohen says, “what matters at the moment is the moment itself—a mere tick of the historic clock that could, if things continue, just stop it dead where it is. History does not guarantee that things will be as they have been. The first and most daunting task of the next president is not a tax bill or a Social Security plan but—as it was when Jerry Ford succeeded Richard Nixon—the healing of the country. I voted for Gore because he was the better man for the job. I can’t help thinking that he no longer is.” (Cohen 11/24/2000) The liberal news Web site Consortium News writes that Cohen’s column is “[t]ypical of th[e] Democratic desire to submit to angry Republicans.… Cohen reached his conclusion although Gore has been the one to temper his rhetoric while Bush and the Republicans have escalated their public denunciations of Gore and the Florida Supreme Court.” (Consortium News 11/24/2000)
The Bush campaign works with Florida Republicans to orchestrate the so-called “Sore Loserman” campaign, playing off the names of the two Democratic presidential ticket members, Al Gore (D-TN) and Joe Lieberman (D-CT), to bring pressure for the Democrats to concede the presidency to George W. Bush. Throughout the day, Republican activists protest and wave “Sore Loserman” signs outside the canvassing board offices in the Florida counties that are still recounting votes. One Gore ally is physically threatened by protesters outside the Broward County courthouse and requires bodyguards to exit the courthouse unscathed. Democrats charge that the protesters are trying to disrupt the recount effort (see 9:00 a.m. and after, November 22, 2000) and send a letter to the US Justice Department asking for an immediate investigation. (Whitman et al. 12/13/2000) A few days later, Steven Meyer, a Democratic election observer in Palm Beach County, writes that both Republicans and Democrats are busing in protesters, but Republicans are paying protesters to participate. “I doubt that the people on the Democratic side are getting paid because we don’t have the cash,” he notes. Democrats who “infiltrate” the Republican protests will report being offered pay and expense money to keep coming back. He also writes: “Now, it’s reported that many of these protesters are the same people whom Cuban groups paid to stand outside of Elian Gonzalez’s home in Little Havana. It’s a regular cottage industry—have sign and clever slogan, will travel.” (Meyer 12/14/2000) Gonzalez is a young Cuban-American boy who became a cause celebre for some conservatives who accused the Clinton administration of enabling his Cuban father to “kidnap” him and return with him to Cuba after his mother died. (Haberman 1/14/2000)
Broward County officials begin counting “dimpled chads” as votes, following Palm Beach County’s similar decision. In the Broward recount, Democrat Al Gore has picked up 245 votes so far. (Whitman et al. 12/13/2000)
Throughout the day, pro-Bush supporters demonstrate outside Blair House, the vice-presidential residence in Washington where Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore and his family are residing. Gore tries to break the impression of being besieged by making a public “run” for ice cream. (Whitman et al. 12/13/2000) Gore’s daughter Kristin later tells a reporter that their home was “under siege” by protesters during this time period. She will say that many screamed, “Get out of Cheney’s house!” referring to George W. Bush’s running mate Dick Cheney. (Solomon 6/24/2007)
Broward County finishes its manual recount of its presidential votes. Democratic candidate Al Gore gains 567 votes, slicing Republican George W. Bush’s lead to 465 (see November 18, 2000) if the recounted votes are to actually be counted. A Broward County elections official, Judge Robert Lee, says that he is “confident, confident that there were many more votes that should have been counted,” presumably referring to other Florida counties. He cites as one example a ballot where the voter had written, “I’m voting for George Bush.” Lee says, “We were able to count it, where a computer couldn’t.” (Whitman et al. 12/13/2000; Tapper 3/2001; Leip 2008)
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) tells an interviewer on NBC’s Meet the Press that he “truly” believes Vice President Al Gore won the Florida presidential election. “I’ve talked with most of my colleagues,” he says, “and there isn’t any interest in conceding anything at this point.” Later in the morning, Senator Bob Dole (R-KS) expresses a different view on ABC’s This Week, telling the audience, “If George Bush is certified the winner at 5 or 6 o’clock tonight, I think the great majority of the American people will say, ‘Enough is enough.’” (Whitman et al. 12/13/2000)
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), rejects a request by Palm Beach County election officials to give them a brief extension on turning in their recount tallies (see 3:00 p.m., November 16, 2000). This morning, Republican lawyers successfully disrupted the recounting for an hour by arguing about the order in which precincts should be handled (see 4:00 a.m. November 26, 2000). The county misses the 5:00 p.m. deadline by less than three hours, and thusly leaves almost 2,000 ballots unrecounted, though officials continue to count the remaining ballots. Harris decides to reject Palm Beach’s request after conferring with Mac Stipanovich, a Florida Republican lobbyist serving as her political “handler” (see Mid-Morning, November 8, 2000). (Whitman et al. 12/13/2000; Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004; Leip 2008) Some media reports say that Democrat Al Gore picked up some 46 votes in the Palm Beach recount, though these votes are not added to the tally; Harris dubs Palm Beach’s entire recount null and void. (Kettle and Campbell 11/27/2000; Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004) Steven Meyer, an election observer for the Democratic Party, writes that when the 5:00 deadline arrived, election officials “had reviewed the challenged ballots in all but 51 of the 637 precincts and Gore had received a net gain of 192 votes in the manual recount.” The entire recount is finished by 7:20 p.m., and Gore’s net gain is 215 votes. Meyer learns that though Harris refused to accept the recount votes from Palm Beach County because it missed the deadline, she had accepted recounts from counties where Bush showed slight gains. Meyer writes, “This resulted in the 537 vote ‘official’ lead that the media is reporting.” Of the recount process itself, Meyer writes: “The Republican spin is that all votes have been counted by machine at least twice in every county. The only trouble is the machines don’t read every vote. The counting includes much more than simply reading the dimpled ballots. In our hand recount, we found many, many ballots on which the voter had indicated a preference, but not punched the ballot in the prescribed way. On some ballots, the voter had darkened in the numbers in each race for the candidate he or she wanted. On others, the voter punched out two different numbers, but wrote ‘Mistake’ or something equally as clear, with an arrow pointing to one of the holes. This shows clear intent to cast a vote for one candidate. The tabulating machine records this as an ‘overvote’ because more than one candidate’s number is punched, and the ballot is disqualified in the machine count.” (Meyer 12/14/2000)
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), certifies George W. Bush (R-TX) the winner of Florida’s presidential election, though according to a Florida Supreme Court ruling she can choose to accept recount tallies through November 27 (see November 20-21, 2000). She chooses not to do so. Harris says Bush has a 537-vote lead. Her totals are: Bush, 2,912,790; Vice President Al Gore (D-TN), 2,912,253. The totals include none of the recounted ballots from either Palm Beach or Miami-Date Counties, both of which did not complete their recounts by Harris’s deadline (see 9:00 a.m. and after, November 22, 2000 and 2:45 p.m. November 26, 2000). Ongoing legal actions by both parties keep the election in doubt. Regardless, Governor Jeb Bush, George W. Bush’s brother, signs the Certificate of Ascertainment designating 25 Florida electors pledged to George W. Bush and transmits the document to the National Archives as required by Title 3, US Code, Section 6. Three days later, a Florida legislative committee will recommend a special session to name the state’s 25 representatives to the Electoral College, where they will presumably cast their votes for Bush. (Whitman et al. 12/13/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 12/17/2000; Leip 2008) If Bush is indeed the winner of the Florida presidential election, he has enough electoral votes to assume the presidency (see November 9, 2000). The Gore campaign refuses to accept Harris’s certification, and says it will ask Florida courts to order recounts of thousands of disputed votes. Gore’s running mate Joe Lieberman says, “This evening, the secretary of state of Florida has decided to certify what—by any reasonable standard—is an incomplete and inaccurate count of the votes cast in the state of Florida.” The Gore campaign is working out details of what will be a formal “contest” of the results, and will ask a state judge to order court-appointed “special masters” to complete interrupted recounts of about 2,000 uncounted votes in Palm Beach County and 10,700 uncounted votes in Miami-Dade County. They also want an inquiry into the Nassau County returns, where Gore officials believe Bush was wrongly credited with some 51 votes, and are considering challenging the legality of Palm Beach’s controversial “butterfly ballots.” Gore’s chief lawyer David Boies says: “We’re preparing contest papers that will be filed Monday, as early in the day as we can get them done. Until these votes are counted, this election cannot be over.” Republicans intend to use Harris’s ruling to publicly pressure Gore into conceding the election, pressure the Gore campaign says it is prepared to combat. Miami-Dade County, expected to yield enough votes in a recount to swing the election in favor of Gore, called off its recount under pressure from Republican protesters and due to time constraints (see 9:00 a.m. and after, November 22, 2000). (Salon 11/25/2000; Kettle and Campbell 11/27/2000; Kettle 11/28/2000) Investigative reporter Robert Parry will later write that Harris deliberately allowed Nassau County to throw out its recounted figures that gave Gore the 51 votes. (Parry 8/5/2002) A brief furor ensues when some media outlets mistakenly report that 500 absentee ballots “not previously counted” were discovered in Broward County. The story is not true. (Salon 11/25/2000) According to state law, it is only now that Gore can ask for a statewide recount. (Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004) Former President Jimmy Carter tells a reporter: “More than two weeks will remain before Florida’s 25 electors will have to be named, and then two more months before a new president will be sworn into office. We must not sacrifice speed for accuracy in deciding who has been chosen by the voters to take that oath.” (Salon 11/25/2000)
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. (Kettle 11/28/2000; Whitman et al. 12/13/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 12/17/2000; Leip 2008)
Democratic Congressional leaders Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD) and Representative Richard Gephardt (D-MO) hold a televised conference call with Vice President Al Gore and his running mate, Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT), in a show of support for the Gore campaign efforts to stop Florida from certifying George W. Bush as the winner of the state presidential race (see 7:30 p.m. November 26, 2000). “What we’re talking about involves many thousands of votes that have never been counted at all,” Gore tells Daschle and Gephardt. (Kettle 11/28/2000; Whitman et al. 12/13/2000)
Five minutes before the start of the Monday Night Football broadcast, Vice President Al Gore delivers a brief, nationally televised address defending his decision to contest the election (see November 27, 2000). “Our Constitution matters more than convenience,” he tells viewers. All he wants, he says, is “a complete count of all the votes cast in Florida,” noting that “many thousands of votes… have not yet been counted at all, not once.” (Whitman et al. 12/13/2000)
The Gore presidential campaign asks Leon County Circuit Court Judge N. Saunders Sauls to authorize an immediate recount of about 14,000 disputed “undervote” ballots. Instead of ordering an immediate recount, Sauls orders the disputed ballots, sample voting booths, and voting machines from Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties brought to his courtroom in Tallahassee by Friday, December 1—a total of 1.1 million ballots, posing a tremendous logistical challenge to election boards in the two counties. On November 30, a truck carrying more than 460,000 presidential ballots from Palm Beach County leaves on its way to Tallahassee as ordered by Sauls. On December 1, two more trucks carrying over 654,000 ballots begin the long drive to Tallahassee from Miami. On December 1, the Bush campaign asks Sauls to have another 1.2 million ballots trucked in from Volusia, Broward, and Pinellas Counties; Bush campaign spokesman Scott McClellan says, “We believe there were a number of illegal votes for Gore in those counties.” Sauls does not grant this request. The trial begins on December 2, with Gore’s lawyers arguing, “There is no reason to delay counting ballots even one day.” Bush’s lawyers advance a number of arguments against expediting or even conducting the recounts, including the position that the dispute is not between Bush and Gore, but between two disparate groups of Florida electors. Bush lawyers also say that Gore’s lawyers missed a 10-day deadline to file such challenges; manually recounting only some ballots is illegal; and the recounts the Gore campaign wants are “illegal, inappropriate, and manifestly unfair.” On December 4, Sauls rules against the Gore campaign (see 4:43 p.m. December 4, 2000). (Whitman et al. 12/13/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 12/17/2000; Leip 2008; Guardian 11/30/2008; Guardian 12/1/2008)
A Florida legislative committee dominated by Republicans debates on whether the legislature should call a special session to appoint its own slate of electors to vote in the US Electoral College. The Republicans fear that Democrat Al Gore, with help from Florida courts, might block Republican George W. Bush from winning Florida’s electoral votes (see November 27, 2000). (Whitman et al. 12/13/2000)
Vice President Al Gore leaves the vice-presidential residence in Washington and publicly asks the Bush campaign to stop trying to “run out the clock” on further recounts in Florida. “This is not a time for… procedural roadblocks,” Gore says (see November 27, 2000). (Whitman et al. 12/13/2000)
Pundit and editor Michael Kelly, recently fired by the New Republic for his continued partisan attacks on the Gore campaign, accuses Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore and his campaign of trying to steal the Florida election, and the presidency, through the courts. Kelley says that Gore’s “theft” is being facilitated by the Democratic Party. Kelly falsely states that most polls show “60 percent to 70 percent” of Americans want Gore to concede immediately (see November 12 - December 10, 2000), and says, again falsely, that Democratic “leaders and elders” are working in “virtual lockstep” to “stand behind their defeated candidate’s unprecedented defiance of democracy’s national edict” (see November 8, 2000, Morning, November 8, 2000, and November 10, 2000). The “Clinton-Gore crowd,” Kelly writes, has “created a crisis that would wreak more destruction than” the Clinton impeachment. “But with these men of fathomless selfishness, there is always more damage to be done. There is always another institution, another principle, another person that must be destroyed—for the greater good of their greater power.” Kelly says that Gore has relentlessy ignored “the results of a fair and full recount that confirmed his loss (see Early Morning, November 8, 2000 and November 9, 2000), and demanded hand recounts only in selected Democratic counties” (see November 9, 2000). Kelly goes on to claim that Gore manipulated the Florida courts to “rewrit[e] Florida election law” to continue the standoff, “and still lost—a third time—to Bush.” When Gore promises to stand by the results of the manual recounts, Kelly says he is “lying” and has no such intentions. Kelly calls into question the Democratic election officials’ figures in Broward County, accusing the two Democratic officials of inventing votes over the objections of the single Republican official. Kelly concludes: “Democrats accuse Republicans of seeking to delegitimize a Gore presidency. Gore seeks more; if he doesn’t get his way he threatens to delegitimize democracy itself. Got to burn that village down.” (Kelly 11/29/2000; Alterman 12/9/2010)
The clerks for the four liberal justices at the Supreme Court—John Paul Stevens, Stephen Breyer, David Souter, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg—continue their speculation as to whether the Court will actually attempt to decide the presidential election ((see November 20-21, 2000 and November 22-24, 2000), especially in light of Florida’s recent attempt to certify George W. Bush as the winner (see 7:30 p.m. November 26, 2000). At a November 29 dinner attended by clerks from several justices, a clerk for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor tells the group that O’Connor is determined to overturn the Florida Supreme Court’s decision to go ahead with manual recounts of election ballots (see 3:00 p.m., November 16, 2000). One clerk recalls the O’Connor clerk saying, “she thought the Florida court was trying to steal the election and that they had to stop it.” O’Connor has the reputation of deciding an issue on her “gut,” then finding legal justifications for supporting her decision. Unbeknownst to anyone outside the Court, O’Connor has already made up her mind. Gore lawyers in particular will spend endless hours trying to craft arguments to sway her vote, when the actual case will come down to Justice Anthony Kennedy, who originally wanted to accept the case. Many clerks of both liberal and conservative justices have little respect or regard for Kennedy. They consider him, according to a 2004 Vanity Fair article, “pompous and grandiloquent.” They believe he fills his office with elaborate, expensive decorations and trappings, including an elaborate chandelier, to give the idea of his power and importance. “The clerks saw his public persona—the very public way in which he boasted of often agonizing over decisions—as a kind of shtick, a very conspicuous attempt to exude fairness and appear moderate, even when he’d already made up his mind,” according to the Vanity Fair article. Conservative clerks suspect Kennedy of untoward liberal leanings, and have taken steps to ensure that the clerks he receives are ideologically sound. One liberal clerk later explains the conservative justices’ reasoning, saying, “The premise is that he can’t think by himself, and that he can be manipulated by someone in his second year of law school.” By now, Kennedy is surrounded by clerks from the hard-right Federalist Society. “He had four very conservative, Federalist Society white guys, and if you look at the portraits of law clerks on his wall, that’s true nine times out of 10,” another liberal law clerk will recall. “They were by far the least diverse group of clerks.” The conservative and liberal clerks do not socialize with one another as a rule, so it is unusual when, a day after the clerk dinner, Kevin Martin, a clerk for conservative justice Antonin Scalia, visits Stevens’s chambers. Martin went to Columbia Law School with Stevens’s clerk Anne Voigts, and he wants to see if he can explain to her the conservatives’ judicial point of view. However, two other Stevens clerks, Eduardo Penalver and Andrew Siegel, believe Martin is on some sort of reconnaissance mission, attempting to find out what grounds Stevens will cite to argue against overturning the Florida decision. Penalver and Siegel believe Martin is trying to manipulate Voigts, and Martin, after telling them to “F_ck off!” storms out of Stevens’s chambers. Clerks from O’Connor’s staff pay similar visits to other liberal justices, though these conversations do not end so contentiously. (Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004) O’Connor said to partygoers when the news networks announced the election for Al Gore, “This is terrible” (see After 7:50 p.m. November 7, 2000).
A Republican-dominated panel in the Florida Legislature votes to recommend convening a special session of the legislature (see 1:00 p.m. November 28, 2000) to designate the state’s 25 electors and send them to Washington to cast the state’s ballots for George W. Bush even if the election is not resolved by December 12, when all states are to officially certify a winner of their presidential contests. The previous day, Florida Governor Jeb Bush, the brother of George W. Bush, said it would be an “act of courage” for the legislature to call a special session “if it was the appropriate thing to do.” The legality of designating electors in such a fashion is questionable; Democratic vice-presidential candidate Senator Joe Lieberman says such a decision “threatens to put us into a constitutional crisis.” Shortly after Lieberman’s comments, candidate Bush meets with reporters outside his Crawford, Texas, ranch, flanked by vice-presidential candidate Dick Cheney and putative Bush Secretary of State designate General Colin Powell. Bush says, “One of our strategies is to get this election ratified, and the sooner the better for the good of the country.” (Whitman et al. 12/13/2000; Guardian 11/30/2008)
The US Supreme Court hears oral arguments on the Bush presidential campaign’s challenge on constitutional grounds of Florida Supreme Court’s ruling on selective manual recounts (see November 20-21, 2000). The case is Bush v. Palm Beach Canvassing Board. Throngs of protesters surround the Supreme Court building. Inside, the justices’ questions indicate that they are divided on the legality of the Florida high court’s intervention, and some justices seem to think that Florida courts should resolve the issue. Justice Anthony Kennedy says, “We’re looking for a federal issue.” Justice Stephen Breyer asks, “What’s the consequence of our going one way or the other now in this case?” Observers will later describe Laurence Tribe, an experienced Supreme Court litigator representing the Gore campaign, as listless and flat, while Theodore Olson, arguing the Bush campaign’s case, is “more impressive.” Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justice Antonin Scalia give the impression that they believe the Florida Supreme Court encroached on the Florida legislature’s bailiwick. Justices Kennedy and Sandra Day O’Connor (see After 7:50 p.m. November 7, 2000 and (November 29, 2000)) express their irritation with the Gore arguments. When the arguments are over, the justices meet in chambers for the usual conference. At one end of the argument is Scalia, who wants to overturn the Florida decision and in essence award George W. Bush the election, and at the other, Justice John Paul Stevens, who wants the Court to stay out of the case altogether. Neither justice can command a majority among the other seven. Rehnquist begins drafting a ruling asking the Florida high court to clarify its ruling, to cite the state constitution in its decision (which the Bush team had argued would have been improper), or under state law (which the Bush team had found arguably permissible). All nine justices eventually sign onto Rehnquist’s opinion. A 2004 Vanity Fair article will observe: “The unanimity was, in fact, a charade; four of the justices had no beef at all with the Florida Supreme Court, while at least four others were determined to overturn it. But this way each side could claim victory: the liberal-to-moderate justices had spared the Court a divisive and embarrassing vote on the merits, one they’d probably have lost anyway. As for the conservatives, by eating up Gore’s clock—Gore’s lawyers had conceded that everything had to be resolved by December 12—they had all but killed his chances to prevail, and without looking needlessly partisan in the process. With the chastened Florida court unlikely to intervene again, the election could now stagger to a close, with the Court’s reputation intact, and with Bush all but certain to win.” On December 4, in a setback for the Gore campaign, the Court unanimously sets aside the Florida Supreme Court ruling and remands for clarification the Florida Supreme Court’s decision. (Supreme Court of the United States 12/4/2000; Whitman et al. 12/13/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 12/17/2000; Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004; Leip 2008)
In televised interviews, Dick Cheney, the Republican vice-presidential candidate, urges Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic presidential candidate, to drop his legal challenges and concede defeat to Republican presidential contender George W. Bush. Gore says he has given little thought to any such concession. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 12/17/2000)
Leon County, Florida, Judge N. Saunders Sauls rules against the Gore campaign in the recount issue (see November 28 - December 2, 2000), saying that manual recounts in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach Counties are not warranted, and the Nassau County vote totals should stand. Sauls also refuses to block Florida’s certification of George W. Bush as the Florida presidential winner (see 7:30 p.m. November 26, 2000). The London Guardian calls the ruling a “crushing blow” to Al Gore’s chances of winning the disputed election. Sauls rules that there is “no credible statistical evidence and no other competent substantial evidence” to establish a reasonable probability that Gore might win if granted a hand recount of the undervotes. “This court… concludes the evidence does not establish any illegality, dishonesty, improper influence, coercion, or fraud in the balloting and counting processes,” Sauls rules. The ruling also restores Bush’s 930-vote lead that existed before recount numbers were taken into account (see November 18, 2000). After Saul’s ruling, Gore’s lead attorney David Boies says the campaign will appeal the ruling to the Florida Supreme Court, and that the campaign had always assumed the case would end up in that court. “What has happened today is that we have moved one step closer to having this finally resolved,” he tells reporters, but admits that in this instance, “They won, we lost.” Boies notes that after the incredible effort expended to bring over a million ballots to Sauls’s courtroom, the judge never looked at them. “The ballots were the best evidence of the intents of the voters,” Boies says. “This was the first court in an election contest where the court has refused to look at the ballots.” The Florida high court will hear the appeal on December 7. (Circuit Court of the Second Judicial Circuit, In and For Leon County, Florida 12/4/2000 ; Kettle and Borger 12/5/2000; Whitman et al. 12/13/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 12/17/2000; Leip 2008)
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. (Whitman et al. 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)
The Bush campaign seeks stays in the Florida Supreme Court, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and the US Supreme Court regarding the acceptance of 43,852 “undervote” recounts in Florida counties. Most importantly, the Bush campaign also asks the US Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari, which would declare its candidate the winner of the Florida presidential election. Both the Florida Supreme Court and Eleventh Appeals Court refuse to issue the stay. Most observers believe that if the recounts are completed and their vote totals tabulated, Democrat Al Gore will win enough votes to win Florida, and thusly become president. Currently Republican George W. Bush has a mere 193-vote lead (see December 7-8, 2000), and recount totals from Miami-Dade County alone are expected to give Gore more than this amount. One example of the problematic situation in Florida is with Duval County, which includes the city of Jacksonville, where claims of massive African-American disenfranchsement and discrimination (see November 7, 2000) have already tainted the balloting. Duval has 4,967 undervotes, but they are mixed in with 291,000 others, all stored in boxes in a vault. The all-Republican electoral board, as seen on national television, has begun examining ballots, but as The Guardian observes, “with such painstaking reluctance to proceed, it amounted to an effective filibuster.” Democratic spokeswoman Jenny Backus tells reporters, “What we’ve heard is that they’re going to try to slow this down by every means they can.” However, the US Supreme Court issues the requested stay and the undervote tabulation stops. The Court does not issue the requested writ of certiorari. (Supreme Court of the United States 12/8/2000 ; Supreme Court of the United States 12/9/2000 ; Vulliamy and Borger 12/10/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 12/17/2000; Leip 2008) The divide among the nine US Supreme Court justices is plain. The five conservative justices, led by Antonin Scalia, have since December 4 been circulating memos among themselves and their clerks, bouncing various arguments off one another in what the liberal justices’ clerks feel is an attempt to audition and solidify their arguments in favor of overturning the Florida high court’s decision and giving the presidency to Bush. The four liberal justices, led by John Paul Stevens, have long felt that the Court had no business being involved in the issue, that it was instead up to the Florida judiciary and legislature to settle the matter. Stevens, writing the anticipated dissent for the minority, has to ask the majority for more time to complete his dissent, so eager are they to issue their ruling. When Scalia sees in Stevens’s dissent the line that says, “counting every legally cast vote cannot constitute irreparable harm”—a direct rebuke to Scalia’s earlier argument that the Florida recounts would do “irreparable harm” to a Bush presidency—Scalia inadvertently delays the proceedings to write his own angry rejoinder, which reads in part, “Count first, and rule upon legality afterwards, is not a recipe for producing election results that have the public acceptance democratic stability requires.” Scalia’s nakedly partisan stance discomfits even some of the other conservative justices’ clerks and angers the liberal clerks. “The Court had worked hard to claim a moral high ground, but at that moment he pissed it away,” one later recalls. “And there was a certain amount of glee. He’d made our case for us to the public about how crassly partisan the whole thing was.” After Scalia finishes his rejoinder, the Court issues its stay, stopping all further recounts. Gore himself, unaware of the arguments and partisanship dividing the Court, still holds out hope that one of the conservatives—O’Connor or Anthony Kennedy, perhaps (see After 7:50 p.m. November 7, 2000 and (November 29, 2000))—can be reached. “Please be sure that no one trashes the Court,” he admonishes his staffers. Gore decides to have campaign lawyer David Boies instead of Laurence Tribe argue the campaign’s case in the upcoming arguments, perhaps hoping that Boies, more moderate than the outspokenly liberal Tribe, might win some support from either Kennedy or O’Connor. Boies has also been representing Gore in Florida, and can presumably reassure the justices of the fundamental fairness of what is happening there. The liberal clerks have no such illusions. What hopes they have now are pinned on the press. One has heard a rumor that the Wall Street Journal is preparing to publish a story reporting that O’Connor had been overheard at a dinner party expressing her opposition to a Gore presidency; that report, the clerks hope, might force O’Connor to recuse herself from the decision and tie the court at 4-4. However, O’Connor has no such intention. Gore’s lawyers, aware of O’Connor’s statements, consider asking her to recuse herself, but decide instead to restrain themselves in hopes that she will, according to a 2004 Vanity Fair article, “now lean toward them to prove her fairness.” (Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004)
The US Supreme Court begins hearing oral arguments in the lawsuit Bush v. Gore on the Florida recounts and election results. The Bush campaign has challenged the legality of a Florida Supreme Court ruling mandating the recounting of “undervote” ballots (see December 7-8, 2000). Bush lawyers argue that manual recounts violate the Constitution’s mandate of equal protection. Gore lawyers argue that the overriding issue is the importance of counting each vote cast. By the afternoon, the public is hearing the arguments via audiotapes. Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the Court’s most hardline conservatives, drew criticism when he said in an earlier opinion that the majority of the Court believed that George W. Bush had “a substantial probability of success,” a conclusion disputed by other justices such as John Paul Stevens. Scalia now says that he is inclined to vote in favor of Bush because, he says, “the counting of votes that are of questionable legality does in my view threaten irreparable harm [to Bush]” (see December 8-9, 2000). (Kettle 12/11/2000; Whitman et al. 12/13/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 12/17/2000; Leip 2008)
Kennedy Determines that 'Equal Protection' Is Key to Reversing Florida Decision - Al Gore’s lawyers, led by David Boies, believe that one of the Bush team’s arguments is flawed: the idea that the Florida Supreme Court exceeded its bounds restricts one appellate court far more than another appellate court is willing to condone. Unbeknownst to the Gore lawyers, Justice Anthony Kennedy agrees with the Gore team on this issue. Kennedy has no intention of finding in favor of the Gore position, but he does want the other four conservatives on the bench to come together behind the Bush argument that using different standards for ballot evaluation in different counties violates the equal-protection clause of the Constitution, an argument that most of the justices, litigants, and clerks have not considered up until now. As a practical matter, enforcing a single standard of ballot evaluation among the disparate Florida counties would be virtually impossible. And the Court under the leadership of Chief Justice William Rehnquist has, until now, been reluctant to interpret the equal-protection clause except in the narrowest of circumstances. Neither the Bush nor the Gore lawyers had given that argument a lot of attention, but it will prove the linchpin of the Court’s majority decision. As oral arguments proceed, and Kennedy pretends to not understand why this is a federal argument, clerks for the liberal justices find themselves sourly amused at Kennedy’s pretense. “What a joke,” one says to another. When Kennedy cues Bush lawyer Theodore Olson that he is interested in the equal protection clause as an argument—“I thought your point was that the process is being conducted in violation of the equal-protection clause, and it is standardless”—Olson quickly pivots and begins building his case under that rubric. Liberal justices Stephen Breyer and David Souter use the equal-protection argument to suggest that the best and simplest solution is simply to remand the case back to the Florida Supreme Court and ask it to set a uniform standard. Breyer has been working for days to convince Kennedy to join the four liberals in sending the case back to Florida, and for a time during the oral arguments, believes he may have succeeded. The liberal clerks have no such hopes; they believe, correctly, that Kennedy is merely pretending to consider the option. “He probably wanted to think of himself as having wavered,” one clerk later says. A brief private chat with Scalia and his clerks during oral arguments may have swayed Kennedy back into the fold, assuming he is wavering at all.
Demands for Identical Standards among All Florida Counties - Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (see After 7:50 p.m. November 7, 2000 and (November 29, 2000)) rails at Boies over the idea that the 67 counties cannot all have the same standards of ballot evaluation, and shows impatience with Boies’s explanation that for over 80 years, the Florida courts have put the idea of “voter intent” over identical ballot identification standards. (Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004)
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