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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)
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)
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