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Home » Archives » January 2006 » About that Vote Count in Florida...

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01/11/2006: About that Vote Count in Florida...

The Left Coaster has this piece about a new study:

”Historical Truth

Yet another study has been concluded which indicates that the 2000 Election really did go to President Al Gore.

Lance deHaven-Smith, in his most recent book, The Battle for Florida (University Press of Florida, 2005), looked at the electoral fiasco that is Katherine Harris' historical legacy, and came up with the conclusion that partisanship played a role in the ($)election of King George by the Court Je$ter$ of SCOTUS.
This post is adapted from an interview with deHaven-Smith in the Fall/Winter 2005 Research in Review Magazine, published by Florida State University. Emphases are usually mine.

So, what’s the overarching theme of The Battle for Florida? It essentially says that the people responsible for administering the election had a conflict of interest and that they, in a variety of ways, prevented the recount from being conducted.

One reason there was administrative sabotage of the recount was because a number of steps had already been taken to try to lock in the Republican control of Florida in the face of these demographics that are running in the other direction.

[T]he Republicans are on the losing side of a huge demographic trend in [Florida]: an increasing minority population. And they know this — it’s not a secret.

One of the things I found that hadn’t been reported anywhere is, if you look at where those votes occurred, they were in predominantly black precincts. And (when you look at) the history of black voting in Florida, these are people that have been disenfranchised, intimidated. In the history of the early 20th century, black votes would be thrown out on technicalities, like they would use an X instead of a check mark.

I would have loved to have seen the white precinct ballots.

There were 175,000 votes overall that were so-called “spoiled ballots.” About two-thirds of the spoiled ballots were over-votes; many or most of them would have been write-in over-votes, where people had punched AND written in a candidate’s name.

When you see Gore picked AND then Gore written in, there’s not a question in your mind who this person was voting for. But because of the way the vote-counting machines work, this had the opposite effect: the machines threw out their ballots.

When you go through those, they’re unambiguous: Bush got some of those votes, but they were overwhelmingly for Gore. [Y]ou can understand why African Americans would be so careful, checking off Gore’s name on the list of candidates and also writing Gore’s name in the space for write-in votes.

It’s an embarrassing outcome for George Bush because it showed that Gore had gotten more votes.

For example, in an analysis of the 2.7 million votes that had been cast in Florida’s eight largest counties, The Washington Post found that Gore’s name was punched on 46,000 of the over-vote ballots it, while Bush’s name was marked on only 17,000.

Having established the numerical data behind his premise, deHaven-Smith covers the political motivations behind the way the recount process was corrupted:

The aim was from the beginning to stop the recount. Yet if you looked at the law and if you looked at the case law, what Florida had consistently said was if you can count the votes, you must count the votes.

You cannot penalize the voters for mistakes that the administrators make or that the law may make. You really have to give the voters the advantage.

And in a further debunking of some GOP talking points and Urban Myths of the time [most recently arising in some blog comments on this topic - and you KNOW who you are!! :-)] are these few facts from the case background are below the fold.

Urban Myth : The Gore was “cherry picking districts” to get more votes.

Here are the background Facts from the case filings which were not in dispute (as far as I recall):
“Background. On November 7, 2000, Florida citizens cast almost 6,000,000 ballots in the general election for President of the United States. Under Florida’s election law, this election’s outcome would determine which slate of electors would cast Florida’s twenty-five electoral votes for President. Fla. Stat. § 103. The State Elections Canvassing Commission, which ordinarily is composed of the Governor, the Secretary of State, and the Director of the Division of Elections, is charged with certifying the results of statewide elections based on the “total number of votes cast for persons for said office.” Fla. Stat. §§ 102.111(1), 102.121 (2000).1 The State Commission bases its certification on certifications submitted by the individual election canvassing boards of Florida’s sixty-seven counties.

Based on initial returns transmitted to it by the county canvassing boards on Wednesday, November 8, 2000, the Florida Division of Elections reported that petitioner Governor George W. Bush had received 2,909,135 votes for President and that respondent Vice-President Al Gore had received 2,907,351 votes.

Because the margin between the two leading candidates was less than one-half of one percent of the total votes cast for that office, the provisions of Florida’s election law relating to recounts and certification of election results required an automatic recount of the ballots. Fla. Stat. § 102.141(4). The Election Code does not mandate any specific process for conducting this recount. Most counties simply repeated whatever process, usually a machine count, they had used to tabulate the ballots initially. Others, however, conducted manual recounts. At the end of this initial automatic recount, the margin between candidates Gore and Bush was reduced from the initially stated 1,784 votes to 300 votes.

To recheck the results, Florida law provides that counties may conduct a further manual recount to address any “error in the vote tabulation which could affect the outcome of the election.” Fla. Stat. § 102.166(5). Any candidate “may file a written request with the county canvassing board for a manual recount” “prior to the time the canvassing board certifies the results for the office being protested or within 72 hours after midnight of the date the election was held, whichever occurs later.” Id. § 102.166(4)(a), (b). The request must “contain a statement of the reason the manual recount is being requested.” Id. § 102.166(4)(a).

If a county canvassing board grants a request for a manual recount, it need not initially order such a manual recount county-wide. Rather, an initial manual recount need only “include at least three precincts and at least 1 percent of the total votes cast for such candidate or issue * * * . The person who requested the recount shall choose three precincts to be recounted, and, if other precincts are recounted, the county canvassing board shall select the additional precincts.” Fla. Stat. § 102.166(4)(d). The statute further provides that:

If the manual recount indicates an error in the vote tabulation which could affect the outcome of the election, the county canvassing board shall:

(a) Correct the error and recount the remaining precincts with the vote tabulation system;
(b) Request the Department of State to verify the tabulation software; or (c) Manually recount all ballots. Id. § 102.166(5) (emphasis added).

These procedures for conducting manual recounts require that the county canvassing board appoint counting teams of at least two electors who are members of different political parties. Fla. Stat. § 102.166(7). If a counting team is unable to determine a voter’s intent in casting a ballot, the ballot must be “presented to the county canvassing board for it to determine the voter’s intent.” Id. § 102.166(7)(a)-(b).

After the automatic statewide recount reduced the margin between Governor Bush and Vice-President Gore to 300 votes, petitioner [Bush] declined to request a manual recount in any county. The Florida Democratic Party requested a manual recount in four Florida counties: Palm Beach, Volusia, Broward, and Miami-Dade. Two of those counties, Palm Beach and Broward, are parties to the instant litigation. Pursuant to those requests and the requirements of Section 102.166(4)(d), the county canvassing boards of those counties conducted a sample manual recount of one percent of the total votes cast in their respective counties.

Both Palm Beach County and Broward County employ a punch card balloting system. Voters in the counties are given a rectangular card ballot covered with perforated squares. Although the squares are numbered, the candidates’ names do not appear on the ballot. Voters are instructed to slide the card into a machine, which holds a book listing the candidates for office next to a series of holes. Voters are told to insert a stylus into the hole next to their candidate of choice. The aim of the voting machine design is that the stylus be inserted in such a way that a “chad,” one of the perforated squares, is completely separated from the ballot. If this happens, a machine reader generally will later be able to count the votes reflected on the ballot. Unfortunately, a chad does not always fully separate from a ballot when punched by a stylus. The chad may only partially detach from the card, or, if the voting machine is old or has become clogged with chads from previous voters, the ballot may only be indented, or “dimpled.” The machine reader will not be able to read the ballot. Such uncounted ballots are called

Because of the high percentage of undervotes created by punch card voting systems, the vast majority of counties in Florida do not use them. In Broward County, the undervote in the November 7, 2000, election for President was over 6,000 ballots. In Palm Beach County, it was 10,750 ballots. At the conclusion of those initial recounts, each of the four county canvassing boards determined that the sample had revealed tabulation discrepancies that could affect the outcome of the election and decided, consistent with the requirements of Section 102.166(5)(c), to manually recount all of the ballots.

Concerned that it would not be able to complete the full county recount in time, the Palm Beach County Canvassing Board, pursuant to Section 106.23, sought an advisory opinion from the Division of Elections of the Florida Department of State. The Division of Elections responded by issuing Advisory Opinion DE 00-10, stating that all county returns had to be received by November 14. Secretary of State Katherine Harris then issued a statement on Monday, November 13, announcing that she would not accept any
county vote certifications received after 5:00 p.m. on November 14. On that date, she issued two further opinions. In one, she stated that manual recounts were authorized under Florida law only when there existed a software defect or mechanical error in the vote tabulation equipment. In the other, she asserted that undertaking statutorily authorized manual recounts would not excuse a failure to comply with the 5:00 p.m. deadline for transmitting results. Later that day, the Attorney General of Florida issued an opinion squarely disagreeing with the Secretary of State’s conclusion that a recount could be authorized only on the basis of a “voting tabulation error” caused by a defect in the machine itself.”

[Emphasis and underlining is mine.]

Thus the recount was automatic under the Florida Statutes and for a candidate to request specific counties was specified by the law at that time (though these laws have since been amended on various items). The law specifically provided for a candidate to specify the districts wherein the claim for a recount was warranted. So, Gore was following both the statute and procedures as it was codified in law.

Further, the Bush Campaign declined to either request any counties be recounted and declined and an offer (from the Gore Campaign) to recount all Florida districts or any further districts the Bush Campaign wanted to add. This was declined by the Bush team…and specifically because their claim was NOT that recounting all counties would produce a more accurate or more fair recount effort, but that there was NO basis for ANY recount at all. Not the product of Gore "cherry picking districts" in violation of the Florida laws. Further, the Bush efforts were all aimed at arguing against ANY recount effort at all (in violation of the Florida Statutes and the precedent on recounts in that state and elsewhere.)

The Florida Statutes also provided for the “intent of the voter” to be effectuated where it could be determined that there was an intent to cast a vote. That is the subject of the new study quoted above in considering “overvotes” and not merely “undervotes” as indicative of manifesting an “intent of the voter” under the Florida Statute. So, as to those supposed previous MSM studies, I wouldn't comment without knowing the process and procedures used this psuedo-recount efforts, without giving effect to voter intent - to the extent it could be determined on "overvotes" as well as for "undervotes."

[Note: Changes made in 2003 to the Florida Statutes and election recount procedures and to language for findings that show a voter made a "definitive choice" from the previous "voter intent."

other changes to the Fla. Statutes, amended 4/13/04 and 11/03/05]

Karen on 01.11.06 @ 06:29 PM CST

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