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2000 Elections

General discrepancies and irregularities

Project: US Electoral Politics
Open-Content project managed by Derek, mtuck

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John Prescott Ellis.John Prescott Ellis. [Source: Bush-Clinton Fraud (.com)]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.) [Washington Post, 11/14/2000; Salon, 11/15/2000; Observer, 11/19/2000; Associated Press, 12/11/2000; Buffalo Beat, 12/14/2000; Nation, 11/6/2006; New York Magazine, 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]

Entity Tags: John Ellis (“Jeb”) Bush, Fox News, Boston Globe, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., George W. Bush, John Dingell, Roger Ailes, Nancy Ellis, Joan Konner, John Prescott Ellis

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Irregularities, Recounts, Key Events, Media Coverage, Florida

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).

Entity Tags: Donna Rogers, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., County of Miami-Dade (Florida)

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Category Tags: Irregularities, Long lines, Resource allocation, Voter intimidation and harassment, Voter registration issues, Florida

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]

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

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Category Tags: Irregularities, Long lines, Resource allocation, Voter intimidation and harassment, Voter registration issues, Key Events, Florida

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; Vanity Fair, 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).

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

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

Category Tags: Irregularities, Punch-card voting machines, Florida

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

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

Category Tags: Irregularities, Political strategies, Punch-card voting machines, Voter intimidation and harassment, Voter registration issues, Florida

The US House Committee on Energy and Commerce holds a hearing on the news networks’ election night decision to project George W. Bush the winner of the Florida election, and thereby the winner of the US presidential election (see November 7-8, 2000). One of the matters at hand is Fox News’s choice to have its election night coverage anchored by John Prescott Ellis, President Bush’s cousin and an intensely partisan Bush supporter (see October-November 2000). The chairman of the committee is W.J. “Billy” Tauzin (R-LA).
Opening Statements - In his opening statement, Tauzin tells the assemblage that the hearing is to “give us a real sense of what went wrong in terms of the election night coverage of the presidential election of November 2000.” He notes that news coverage issues have been raised in every election since the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon election. Early calls—the practice of news outlets to “call,” or project, winners in states before elections in other states have closed—have long been acknowledged as having a “deletorious” effect on voting, and the use of “exit polling”—polls of voters taken outside polling booths—have proven both “valuable” and “dangerous.” Voter News Service (VNS), the independent consortium that provided polling and other data to the networks and press agencies for their use during their election coverage, uses exit polling to help those news outlets “project” winners in races. Tauzin spends much of his opening statement attacking VNS and the use of exit polling as the “source” of the election night dissension, and says that on the whole, VNS data “produces statistical biases in favor of Democrats in this case today and against Republicans, that the statistical flaws tend to overstate the Democratic vote in the exit poll and understate the Republican vote.” Tauzin says that investigations have “discovered no evidence of intentional bias, no evidence of intentional slanting of this information,” and instead says the entire problem rests with VNS and its use of exit polling data. In their opening statements, many Republicans echo Tauzin’s remarks. Ranking minority member John Dingell (D-MI) calls the election night coverage “a monumental screw-up which I think has embarrassed an awful lot of people.” Dingell repeats Tauzin’s claim that no evidence of intentional bias has been found—calling such allegations “inflammatory”—and says that the focus of future hearings should be on the issue of voter disenfranchisement. Having said all that, he goes on to say that the networks’ decision to call Florida for Bush in the early hours of November 8, 2000 was premature, and lent itself to later allegations that attempts by Democratic challenger Al Gore were baseless and troublesome. Cliff Stearns (R-FL) accuses the networks of trying to influence Florida voters in the Panhandle, a traditionally Republican stronghold, by prematurely calling the state for Gore eight minutes before polls closed in that region. In questioning, Sherrod Brown (D-OH) notes the almost-immediate appearance of the “Sore Loserman” campaign (derived from the names of the Democratic candidates, Gore and Joe Lieberman), which attempted, successfully, to paint attempts by the Gore campaign to force vote recounts as attempts to “steal” the election.
Focus on Fox - Henry Waxman (D-CA) is the first to mention Fox News. He reads from a Los Angeles Times editorial, quoting: “Suppose that a first cousin of Al Gore had been running one of the network news teams issuing election night projections. Suppose that having previously recused himself from a columnist job saying his objectivity would suffer from family loyalty, this cousin had chatted with Gore six times on Election Day. Suppose the same cousin had been the first to declare Gore as the winner in Florida on election night, helping coax the rival networks to follow suit, leading George W. Bush to call up Gore in order to concede, thereby helping to create that Gore was the duly elected president of the United States long before all the votes had been counted. Can anybody reasonably doubt that the pundits would be working themselves into a nonstop lather charging the liberal media as accessories to grand larceny? Can we imagine, say, Rupert Murdoch’s Fox news channel right-leaning heads dropping the subject?” Waxman says this was absolutely the case, but with Fox News and John Ellis, not Gore and an imaginary Gore cousin at another network. “[O]f everything that happened on election night this was the most important in impact. It created a presumption that George Bush won the election. It set in motion a chain of events that were devastating to Al Gore’s chances and it immeasurably helped George Bush maintain the idea in people’s minds than he was the man who won the election.” Several other Democrats echo Waxman’s statements.
Issues with Florida Election Practices - Peter Deutsch (D-FL) cites issues of rampant voter disenfranchisement of African-Americans, a traditionally Democratic voting bloc, with over 100,000 ballots, mostly from African-American voters, apparently not counted. Deutsch says flatly that “there is no question, it is no longer debatable that if the vote in Florida were counted, Al Gore would be president of the United States.” Bobby Rush (D-IL) cites a large number of incidents where minority group voters were “harassed by police departments” in Florida and in other states besides. In many instances these voters were stopped from voting entirely; in others, their votes were not counted. Other Democrats, such as Eliot Engel (D-NY), echo Deutsch’s and Rush’s concerns; Engel says: “Al Gore was not the only one who lost that night. The American people lost that night, and the news media also lost that night.”
Testimony regarding Independent Review of Election Night Coverage - The first witness is Joan Konner, a professor of journalism at Columbia. Konner led a panel commissioned by CNN “to look at what went wrong in [CNN’s] television coverage of the presidential election 2000.” Her panel submitted a report on the election night coverage to CNN, and CNN provided that report to the committee. “[S]omething went terribly wrong,” she says. “CNN executives, correspondents, and producers themselves describe election night coverage as a debacle, a disaster, and a fiasco; and in our report we agree.” She blames the problems with CNN’s coverage on “excessive speed and hypercompetition, combined with overconfidence in experts and a reliance on increasingly dubious polls. We have stated that the desire to be first or at least not to be consistently behind the others led the networks to make calls unwisely based on sketchy and sometimes mistaken information.” The choice to create, fund, and use VNS by all the networks was primarily a cost-cutting decision, she says, but that choice was a mistake: “Relying on a single source eliminates the checks and balances built into a competitive vote-gathering and vote system. It eliminates the possibility of a second source for validating key and possible conflicting information.” Another member of the panel, James Risser of Stanford University, notes that the report’s findings apply equally to other networks along with CNN.
Media Panel - After much questioning of the CNN panel, a second panel is sworn in. This panel includes: Fox News chairman Roger Ailes; CBS president Andrew Heyward; CNN chairman Tom Johnson; NBC president Andrew Lack; ABC president David Westin; VNS director Ted Savaglio; VNS editorial director Murray Edelman; and the Associated Press’s president, Louis Boccardi. In an opening statement, Savaglio admits that VNS made “errors” in vote tabulation and predictives based on “flaws” in the statistical analyses. Two major errors were made on election night, Savaglio says, the first leading to the incorrect awarding of Florida to Gore early in the evening, and the second provision of data that indicated Bush had a statistically insurmountable lead in Florida that did not include an accurate tabulation of votes cast in Volusia County as well as errors in other county tabulations and estimates. Boccardi says that the Associated Press used VNS-provided data in the erroneous Gore projection, but “takes full responsibility” for the error. The Associated Press did not join in with the second, Fox News-led projection of Bush’s victory. “[T]he race was too close to call” at that point, he says. “It would be right to surmise that the pressure on AP at that moment [to join the networks in calling the election for Bush] was enormous.” Heyward testifies that CBS, like CNN, hired an independent panel to assess its election coverage, and has a number of improvements to be made for future coverage. “Our method of projecting winners, one that, as you have heard, has produced only six bad calls in over 2,000 races since the 1960s, failed us this time; and as a well-known candidate would say, failed us big time in the very state that held the key to this election,” he says. He also notes that charges by Republican committee members that there is an inherent bias in the statistical models against Republicans “has been rejected by every single outside expert who examined each of the networks, even those experts, and you heard from them today, who are the most highly critical of us.” Lack asks why there was not more media coverage and examination of other voting-related problems, from “ineffective voting machines” and “confusing ballots” to allowing felons to vote.
Ailes's Statement - Ailes blames VNS for Fox’s “mistakes” in its reporting, saying: “As everyone knows, Voter News Service, a consortium with a good track record, gave out bad numbers that night. In the closest race in history the wheels apparently came off a rattle trap computer system which we relied on and paid millions for.” He claims, “Through our self-examination and investigation we have determined that there was no intentional political favoritism in play on election night on the part of Fox News.” Ailes does not mention his choice to use Ellis as Fox’s election night anchor in his verbal statement, but in a written statement he submits to the committee, he says that Ellis was not the person who made the final decision to declare Florida for Bush. The news division’s vice president, John Moody, made the final call. As for hiring Ellis, he praises Ellis’s professionalism and experience, and writes: “We at Fox News do not discriminate against people because of their family connections. I am more than happy to give you examples of offspring of famous politicians who are employed at Fox News.” He also says that he was aware that Ellis was speaking to both George W. and Jeb Bush throughout the night, and writes: “Obviously, through his family connections, Mr. Ellis has very good sources. I do not see this as a fault or shortcoming of Mr. Ellis. Quite the contrary, I see this as a good journalist talking to his very high level sources on election night.” Though Ellis has freely admitted to sharing VNS data with both Bushes, Ailes writes, “Our investigation of election night 2000 found not one shred of evidence that Mr. Ellis revealed information to either or both of the Bush brothers which he should not have, or that he acted improperly or broke any rules or policies of either Fox News or VNS.” He concludes: “[I]n my heart I do believe that democracy was harmed by my network and others on November 7, 2000. I do believe that the great profession of journalism took many steps backward.”
Questioning the Media Representatives - Almost immediately, Ailes raises the question of skewed exit polling that appears to favor Democrats, though experts have refuted these claims in just-given testimony, and Savaglio has just said that exit polls exhibit no such bias. Ailes tells the panel: “I do know that when Republicans come out of polls and you ask them a question they tend to think it’s none of your business and Democrats want to share their feelings. So you may get some bias there that is inadvertent, just because it’s a cultural thing and unless you send the Republicans to sensitivity training you’re not going to get them to do that.” Tauzin says that a study of VNS results tends to bear out Ailes’s claim. Westin says if there is bias in exit polling, it cuts both ways, an observation with which Tauzin also agrees. Savaglio admits that after midnight, VNS provided substantially inaccurate information to the networks that led them to conclude Bush had a slight but insurmountable lead in Florida. Lack denies the rumor that Jack Welch, the CEO of NBC’s parent company General Electric, made the decision for NBC News to follow Fox’s lead in declaring Bush the presumptive winner in Florida. Waxman accepts Lack’s denial, but notes that he has been told Welch’s command to declare Bush the winner is preserved on videotape, “filmed by NBC’s advertising and promotions department.” Lack says if the tape exists, he will provide it to the committee. Bart Stupak (D-MI) asks the representatives directly if they believe any bias towards one party or another exists in their networks’ coverage, and all answer strongly in the negative. Heyward says that rumors of networks such as his trying to “slant” their coverage to give the idea of an “inevitable” Gore victory are entirely negative, and says: “[C]ertainly we displayed the popular vote graphic 15 times between 7 and 11. President Bush was ahead every single time; on the electoral count, 75 out of 100 times.… The video [shown by the commission at the beginning of the hearing] that gave the impression that the networks were saying Gore’s got it in the bag I believe was misleading, yes.” Westin agrees with Heyward, and says the networks generally gave the impression of “a much more balanced, much closer race throughout the night.” Under questioning by Gene Green (D-TX), Ailes contradicts previously presented evidence and says no one at the election desk, Ellis or anyone else, was in contact with “Austin” (meaning the Bush campaign and George W. Bush personally) at all that night. [House of Representatives, Committee on Energy and Commerce, 2/14/2001]

Entity Tags: CBS News, Sherrod Brown, Bobby Lee Rush, Roger Ailes, Raymond Eugene (“Gene”) Green, Ted Savaglio, Tom Johnson, US House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Voter News Service, ABC News, Andrew Heyward, Andrew Lack, Associated Press, W.J. (“Billy”) Tauzin, Peter R. Deutsch, NBC News, Rupert Murdoch, Louis Boccardi, Fox News, Eliot L. Engel, David Westin, Clifford Bundy (“Cliff”) Stearns, CNN, Murray Edelman, George W. Bush, John Prescott Ellis, Jack Welch, Joan Konner, John Dingell, John Ellis (“Jeb”) Bush, Joseph Lieberman, James Risser, Henry A. Waxman, Bart Stupak

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Absentee votes, Diebold, Electronic voting, Exit polls, Irregularities, Recounts, Key Events, Media Coverage, Florida

The state of Florida settles a voter discrimination suit filed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in the wake of allegations of massive and widespread discrimination during the November 2000 elections (see November 7, 2000 and April 24, 2001). The class-action suit charged Database Technologies (DBT), a private firm hired by the Florida government, and Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris with deliberately attempting to disenfranchise black voters. Florida agrees to provisions that nominally settle the problem, but by 2004 will have implemented virtually none of the corrective procedures mandated by the settlement. Miami-Dade, Broward, Leon, Volusia, and Duval Counties settled earlier rather than face trial. [Center for American Progress, 12/9/2010]

Entity Tags: National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, County of Broward (Florida), County of Duval (Florida), Katherine Harris, County of Leon (Florida), Database Technologies, County of Miami-Dade (Florida), County of Volusia (Florida)

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Category Tags: Irregularities, Legal action, Political strategies, Resource allocation, Voter intimidation and harassment, Voter registration issues, Florida

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