The Stealing of The 2000 U.S. Presidential Election

We watched the movie “Recount” last night, which is about the 2000 Presidential election and specifically about the mess in Florida, and it stirred up in me a lot of the old frustrations that arise when you try to talk to people about what was, essentially, a bloodless political coup. For the most part, average Americans don’t know the details of what happened in Florida, and so they spout rhetoric about how the Democrats were poor losers, or the Democrats were trying to steal the election, or that there’s two sides to every story and everyone is entitled to their opinion. Before I go any further, I just want to state for the record that what I know about the debacle in Florida during the 2000 elections did not come from the movie “Recount”. This is something I’ve studied up on. Specifically because I wanted to know if the will of the American people was countermanded by Republican operatives.
As to that last question, my opinion is “yes”. The Republicans stole the 2000 election.
In a nutshell, here are the issues. The initial election results in Florida were very close; close enough to trigger an automatic machine recount. So despite Republican allegations, the Florida recounts were not the results of the Democrats trying to steal an election. The automatic recount was part of Florida law. Most Americans reasonably expect that elections come down to one person, one vote, and that all votes are counted. Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is that election results are subject to a margin of error. Like it or not, there are votes in every election which simply are not counted, for whatever reason (ballots can’t be read, aren’t properly marked, voters’ registration aren’t valid, etc). Generally speaking, even with this margin of error, it’s easy enough to determine the will of the people. For example, Barack Obama won the 2008 Presidential election by around 7 million votes. The intent of the American people is clear in that example, because the range between the winner and the loser is well outside of that margin of error. Sure, some votes weren’t counted, but that didn’t matter because their inclusion wouldn’t have affected the outcome. This wasn’t the case in Florida. Only a little over 1,000 votes separated Bush and Gore, and that margin fell under the minimum requirement for certification, triggering a recount automatically.
Had the recount been allowed to continue unimpeded, there would be little to discuss about the 2000 election. Whichever candidate had come out ahead, the process would have been above board and beyond reproach. However, the recounts were not allowed to continue as they should have. Gore’s team made a tactical error when they requested recounts in only certain counties (believing that there wasn’t time for a state-wide recount). These were the counties in which the most irregularities showed up, and they turned out to be heavily Democratic counties (not all that surprising, considering that Republican Secretary of State Katherine Harris, coincidentally the chairperson for George W. Bush’s 2000 campaign in Florida, had previously authorized the purging of almost 30,000 Democrats from the voter roles), but the appearance was, largely due to Republican efforts to portray it as such, that Gore was requesting recounts in only counties that would benefit his campaign. From that moment on, the recounts were the subject of partisan political streetfighting.
Long story short, the Democrats tried to get the recounts to proceed and the Republicans did everything they could to stop them. At one point Clay Roberts, director of the Florida Division of Elections, sent Republican operatives to county election boards to volunteer questionable advice pertaining to the recounts. In other instances the Republicans sent operatives into recount committees to challange as many ballots as possible, with the aim of slowing down the recount process so that deadlines would be missed. When angry citizens apparently charged the elections board in Miami Dade, they later turned out to have been Republican Congressional aides that were sent down to disrupt those recounts. Katherine Harris did everything should could to impede the recounts, refusing time extensions and generally trying to find any legal way she could to put a stop to the process.
In the end, whichever side of the political spectrum you fall upon and however you might want to portray the issues in Florida, an automatic machine recount was triggered as a part of Florida law, Republicans essentially shut down that process and prevented it from ever being completed. When these Republican operatives were side stepped by the Florida Supreme Court and the recount was ordered to resume, the Conservative-leaning United States Supreme Court stopped the recounts to hear the case, only to decide a mere day before the deadline for recounts that it should be allowed to resume. The U.S. Supreme Court also declared that their decision to countermand the will of the American people and the laws of the state of Florida pertained to “the present circumstances only”, meaning that the decision could not be used in the future as a legal precedent. In other words, they knew it was a political decision and not one that was based upon norms of jurisprudence, and they didn’t want to open up the can of worms that would allow their crimes to be repeated.
Harvard University law professor Alan Dershowitz, wrote of the U.S. Supreme Court decision:
“The decision in the Florida election case may be ranked as the single most corrupt decision in Supreme Court history, because it is the only one that I know of where the majority justices decided as they did because of the personal identity and political affiliation of the litigants. This was cheating, and a violation of the judicial oath.”
In closing, if you merely brush across the surfaces of the issues that were presented during the Florida debacle of the 2000 Presidential election, it might be easy to dismiss, as Republicans did, Democratic complaints as childish whining. But if you look at the details, a legal process that was automatically triggered by Florida law prevented from taking place. Al Gore was within his legal rights to request that other processes be allowed to continue. However you might want to look at it, Republicans stopped the due process of law at every turn.
Ultimately, the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago examined 175,010 ballots that were discounted; these ballots contained under-votes (votes with no choice made for president) and over-votes (votes made with more than one choice marked). Their goal was not to deduce who actually won the election, but to determine the reliability and accuracy of the systems used for the voting process. Nonetheless, NORC concluded that if the disputes over the validity of the ballots in question had been consistently resolved and any uniform standard applied, the initial electoral result would have been reversed and Al Gore would have won.
By preventing this process from taking place, the Republicans clearly stole the 2000 election. Al Gore won the national popular vote by over 500,000 votes. What was disputed in Florida were the state’s Electoral votes. Had the legal process been allowed to continue, Al Gore would have won those Electoral votes and the Presidency of the United States.
In the end, I lay much of the blame for the confusion with Al Gore. Had he picked a better running mate, the voting in Florida may not have fallen within that margin of error and triggered a recount process. Had there been a more definitive victory by either side, this issue wouldn’t be something that is still being debated today. Of course, some of the blame can be lain at the feet of Ralph Nader, who siphoned off votes from Democrats, and who we largely have to thank for eight years of George W. Bush. However, these are semantic arguments. In the end, what matters is that the Republicans prevented a legal process from taking place. When all was said and done, George W. Bush was appointed President of the United States by the U.S. Supreme Court and not by the will of the people, and that is the true tragedy of the 2000 Presidential election.
We’ll never know who would have won Florida if the recounts had taken place. The Republicans saw to that by engineering a bloodless political coup and thereby ensuring that bitter partisanship would be the norm of political discourse in the United States for at least a generation.

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