13 Myths About Election 2000
In the next week, millions of dollars will be spent in a public relations war in an attempt to determine the next president of the United States. Will the outcome of the election be determined by ratings in the polls? Will the present standoff be resolved by escalation and threats? Or will the intention of the voters on election day, and the responsibility of the states to count their ballots, actually be taken into account?
Our involvement in the next few weeks is essential to assert democratic control over the election process. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance. This article is a collaboration of over a dozen people who have been researching and documenting the truth. It provides a point by point analysis of some key myths. Please read, copy, and forward to friends, relatives and colleagues!
1) Myth: Al Gore has a responsibility to concede the election.
Fact: A 330 vote margin out of 6 million votes cast in Florida is incredibly close! It is roughly equivalent to a 1-vote margin in a city with 40,000 people and 18,000 voters.
It is extremely rare for an election this close NOT to be contested for several weeks until a manual recount can take place, with observers from both sides taking part and inspecting ballots. This kind of detailed recount has not yet taken place.
According to the US Constitution and the Laws of Florida, it is the responsibility of officials in Florida to certify the election results. November 17 is the deadline for absentee ballots sent from overseas to arrive. Since the election is close enough in Florida, Oregon, and New Mexico to be affected by absentee ballots, the results in those states cannot be certified before that date.
2) Myth: the number of "spoiled ballots" in Palm Beach County was typical. In a press briefing televised live on all networks on 11/9/00, Karl Rove of the Bush campaign compared the 14,872 invalidated ballots in the 1996 Presidential race to 19,120 ballots for President that were spoiled in this election.
Fact: the Bush campaign was comparing apples and oranges. There were actually 29,702 invalidated ballots this year in Palm Beach County. This is almost twice the number in 1996. The number 19,120 refers to the ballots that were thrown out for voting for two Presidential candidates. The remaining 10,582 ballots had no choice recorded for President.
According to the Palm Beach County elections office (www.pbcelections.org), voters this year were not confused at all by the rest of the ballot. For example, less than 1% of U.S. Senate votes were invalidated because of multiple punches, compared with over 4% in the Presidential contest.
3) Myth: The Palm beach ballot is definitely illegal due to the presence of punch holes to the left of some of the candidates.
Fact: According to the Secretary of State's office, there is a loophole in Florida law that may allow ballots used for voting machines to deviate from the rules governing paper ballots. This view has been contested by hundreds of Florida voters. The final decision on the legality of the ballot is likely to be made in court, as long as this issue could have an effect on the election.
It is possible that the ballot could be ruled illegal on other grounds, such as the Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act or the Americans With Disabilities Act.
4) Myth: "The more often ballots are recounted, especially by hand, the more likely it is that human errors, like lost ballots and other risks, will be introduced. This frustrates the very reason why we have moved from hand counting to machine counting." -- Former Sec. of State James Baker, speaking on behalf of the Bush campaign at a press briefing televised by all networks on 11/10/00.
Fact: In 1997, George W. Bush signed into law a bill stating that hand recounts were the preferred method in a close election in Texas. The bill, "HB 330", mandated that representatives of all parties be present to prevent fraud.
Laws establishing rights and procedures for hand recounts also exist in Florida (see Title IX, Chapter 102). In fact, the Orlando Sentinel, (orlandosentinel.com) reported that a partial hand count of Presidential ballots this year was ordered by Republicans in Seminole County, where Bush led Gore. This count took place on 11/9 and 11/10, widening Bush's lead by 98 votes. The Bush campaign did not complain about this hand count; nor did it complain about the hand count on 11/11/00 which put Bush slightly ahead of Gore in New Mexico.
There do exist machine voting systems which are fairly accurate, but antiquated punch card systems are notoriously inaccurate. They were outlawed in Massachusetts in 1997 by Secretary of State William Galvin after a Congressional primary that was also "too close to call." The problem is that if the punched-out pieces of cardboard are not completely removed from the punch card, they can obstruct the card reader and the votes will not be counted. A manual recount of such cards can clearly reveal the voter's intentions.
5) Myth: The process is unfair because hand recounts were held only in liberal areas of Florida, where Gore stands to pick up the most votes.
Fact: It is true that a statewide recount would be more fair, and the Bush campaign has every right to request one. According to Florida law, hand recount requests must come from the campaigns, not from the state. To fail to request what is commonly referred to as a "defensive recount" in conservative areas of Florida, they may be making a tactical blunder that will cost them the election.
It is also true that there were voting irregularities in the counties where the Gore campaign requested recounts.
6) Myth: "Palm Beach County is a Pat Buchanan stronghold and that's why Pat Buchanan received 3407 votes there. According to the Florida Department of State, 16,695 voters in Palm Beach County are registered to the Independent Party, the Reform Party, or the American Reform Party, an increase of 110% since the 1996 presidential election" -- Ari Fleischer of the Bush Campaign, 11/9/00. The 2,000 votes received by the Reform party candidate for Congress indicate that party's strength in Palm Beach County (James Baker on Meet the Press, 11/12/00).
Fact: Of those 16,695 voters, only 337 (2 percent) are in the Reform Party according to Florida state records. The Reform party candidate for Congress, John McGuire, is connected to a more centrist wing of the Reform Party, predating Buchanan's involvement. An analysis of his support indicates that it came largely from reform-minded Ralph Nader voters.
Regarding Buchanan's vote total, the Washington Post reported that his vote percentage in Palm Beach county was four times as high at the polls as in absentee voting. Even Buchanan himself admitted on 11/8/00 on the Today Show that many of his votes actually "belonged to Al Gore." So did his campaign manager, Bay Buchanan.
7) Myth: If Gore (or Bush) ends up winning the popular vote, he really should win the election even if he loses Florida and other states.
Fact: This is not the way the U.S. Constitution is written. The Electoral College decision, imperfect as it may be, is the only one that matters. It may be possible to reform or eliminate the electoral college in the future, so that small states would no longer receive extra electoral votes out of proportion to their population. But until this change is made by Constitutional amendment, the Electoral College is still the law of the land.
8) Myth: The Cook County, Illinois ballot from the home district of Gore campaign chair Bill Daley is just like the "butterfly" ballot used in Palm Beach County (reported by Don Evans, 11/8/00)
Fact: According to the Chicago Daily Herald on 11/10/00, the ballots in Chicago which had "facing pages" were judicial retention questions which only had two punch holes, Yes and No.
9) Myth: The election process in Florida outside of Palm Beach County was fair.
Fact: Actually, thousands of irregularities in over a half-dozen categories have already been reported:
-Ballots ran out in certain precincts according to the LA Times on 11/10/00.
-Carpools of African-American voters were stopped by police, according to the Los Angeles Times (11/10/00). In some cases, officers demanded to see a "taxi license".
-Polls closed with people still in line in Tampa, according to the Associated Press.
-In Osceola County, ballots did not line up properly, possibly causing Gore voters to have their ballots cast for Harry Browne. Also, Hispanic voters were required to produce two forms of ID when only one is required. (source: Associated Press)
-Dozens, and possibly hundreds, of voters in Broward County were unable to vote because the Supervisor of Elections did not have enough staff to verify changes of address.
-Voters were mistakenly removed from voter rolls because their names were similar to those of ex-cons. (source: Mother Jones magazine, http://www.motherjones.com/news_wire/floridavote.html)
-According to Reuters news service (11/8/00), many voters received pencils rather than pens when they voted, in violation of state law.
-According to the Miami Herald, many Haitian-American voters were turned away from precincts where they were voting for the first time (11/10/00)
-According to Feed Magazine (www.feedmag.com), the mayoral candidate whose election in Miami was overturned due to voter fraud, Xavier Suarez, said he was involved in preparing absentee ballots for George W. Bush. (11/9/00, reported at http://www.feedmag.com/templates/daily.php3?a_id=1389)
-According to tompaine.com, CBS's Dan Rather reported a possible computer error in Volusia County, Florida, where James Harris, a Socialist Workers Party candidate, won 9,888 votes. He won 583 in the rest of the state. [11/9/00] County-level results for Florida are available at cnn.com.
-Many African-American first-time voters who registered at motor vehicles offices or in campus voter registration drives did not appear on the voting rolls, according to a hearing conducted by the NAACP and televised on C-SPAN on 11/12/00.
10) Myth: "No evidence of vote fraud, either in the original vote or in the recount, has been presented." -- James Baker, representing the Bush campaign on 11/10/00, in a Florida briefing.
Fact: The election was held just last week, so of course many instances of fraud have not yet been substantiated. Even so, authorities have already uncovered clear evidence of voter fraud involving absentee ballots.
In Pensacola, Florida, Bush supporter Todd Vinson never received the absentee ballot he requested. According to the Associated Press on 11/9/00, it was determined after an investigation that this ballot was received by a third party, filled out with a forged signature, and then sent in. Assistant State Attorney Russell Edgar, when asked if other absentee ballots might had been intercepted, said, "I agree there may well be many more than just this one."
Much media attention on the issue of voter fraud has been focused on Wisconsin where cigarettes were offered to homeless people who were casting absentee ballots, presumably for Gore. The Gore campaign claims the cigarettes were not used to "buy" votes. The London Times has reported a suspected pro-Bush vote fraud operation in Miami involving over thousands of ballots (11/13/00).
11) Myth: It is highly unusual for judges to intervene after an election. Since the designer of a disputed ballot in Florida is a member of the party contesting the election, a legal challenge is impossible.
Fact: The most fundamental right of a democratic society is the the right to vote, and to have one's vote correctly counted. The legal system exists to ensure that people's rights are not violated. Whether the person committing a violation is a Democrat or a Republican does not affect how that violation should be treated.
Elections are ultimately struggles for political power so it should not be surprising that disputes are often resolved in court. Of course judges can be biased. That is why they must explain their decisions and why bad arguments can be overturned on appeal.
The Florida Supreme Court ruled in 1998, in connection with a disputed Volusia County election, that if there is "substantial noncompliance" with election laws and a "reasonable doubt" about whether election results "expressed the will of the voters" then a judge must "void the contested election, even in the absence of fraud or intentional wrongdoing." (source: Wall St. Journal, 10/10/00). The Journal indicated that there was little legal precedent for revoting in just one area where an election occured. It would be more likely for a court to order a new election or to overturn the result.
These issues have arisen in other states as well. In a Massachusetts Democratic primary in 1996 for the US House, the election was so close after recounts that a judge had to make the final decision after examining some of the ballots that were incompletely punched, to determine the intention of the voter. The law clearly dictated that it was the will of the voter that mattered, and the candidate who was behind, William Delahunt, went on to win the final election. Call the Capitol Switchboard if you have any doubts at 202-225-3121.
12) Myth: Richard Nixon's party in 1960 did the honorable thing in not contesting the results of the election.
Fact: According to a column in the Los Angeles Times, 11/10/00, "on Nov. 11, three days after the election, Thruston B. Morton, a Kentucky senator and the Republican Party's national chairman, launched bids for recounts or investigations in not just Illinois and Texas but also Delaware, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, Pennsylvania and South Carolina. A few days later, Robert H. Finch and Leonard W. Hall, two Nixon intimates, sent agents to conduct what they called "field checks" in eight of those 11 battlegrounds. In New Jersey, local Republicans obtained court orders for recounts; Texans brought suit in federal court. Illinois witnessed the most vigorous crusade. Nixon aide Peter Flanigan encouraged the creation of a Chicago-area Nixon Recount Committee. As late as Nov. 23, Republican National Committee general counsel H. Meade Alcorn Jr. was still predicting Nixon would take Illinois." Recounts continued into December, but did not succeed in overturning the result of the election.
13) Myth: "Governor Bush is still the winner, subject only to counting the overseas ballots, which traditionally have favored the Republican candidates" -- James Baker, Press Briefing, 11/10/00
Fact: The number of yet-to-be-counted overseas military ballots is likely to be in the range of 500 to 2000, based on the 1996 election in which there were 2,300 oversees absentee ballots overall, with roughly 60% of them coming from people enlisted in the military. According to CNN [11/10/00], the military overseas ballots that arrived before the election were already counted.
The biggest difference from 1996 is that Clinton -- who avoided the draft -- was running against Dole, a decorated military veteran.
In 2000 George W. Bush -- who avoided service in Vietnam and actually lost flying privileges in the Texas Air National Guard -- is running against Al Gore, a veteran who served in Vietnam.
It is just as possible that Gore will gain a few hundred votes from veterans as the other way around. It is also possible that the Gore ticket will pick up votes from Democratic diplomatic appointees, or temporary residents and dual citizens of Israel.
Rich Cowan was the founder of the Center for Campus Organizing from 1991 to 1996 and is currently the chair of the Organizers' Collaborative. For more information on these myths, click here.