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Commentary and opinion on current civic, political, and religious events and issues.

Past Issue
27 November 2000

Northern City Journal
(ISSN 1528-9575)
Vol. 1, No. 46

Minneapolis, Minnesota

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Why Didn't Gore Demand a Statewide Recount in Florida?

by Jerome F. Winzig

The central enduring question of the 2000 presidential election -- one that will linger long after the dust settles on this election -- is simply this: Why didn't Vice President Al Gore demand a statewide recount of the presidential vote in the state of Florida? Regardless of the outcome of this election, the answer to that question is a key indicator of the true content of Al Gore's character and the integrity of the Democratic party.

Before answering that question, another question needs to be asked: How did election returns in Florida even become a county-by-county issue? The answer lies in heavily-Democratic Palm Beach County, where the Democratic National Committee admittedly had its telemarketing firm call thousands of Democratic voters on November 7, before the polls had even closed, to suggest that they might have voted for the wrong person because the Democratic-designed ballot was confusing. The seeds of doubt were sown.

Then the Democratic Party made a huge issue of the fact that perhaps 3-7% of the ballots in four largely-Democratic counties had been invalidated because voters had either voted for two presidential candidates or had failed to vote for any candidate. They failed to point out that this is a common occurrence in almost all elections across the country. While this fact was well known to politicians and political operatives, most citizens were unaware of it.

Roger Kersh, a professor of political science Syracuse University's Maxwell School, says, "It's a dirty little secret of American democracy. It would be hard to say we've never had an election without miscounted, invalid, or otherwise irregular ballots."

Gore and his supporters took advantage of this ignorance on the part of the electorate. They said that the 29,702 uncounted ballots in Palm Beach county indicated there was something horribly amiss. The resulting outrage was then used to demand hand recounts in that county and three other heavily-Democratic counties.

What was not so widely reported was that, in the state of Florida, more than 180,000 ballots were discarded statewide, nearly 3 percent of the total. Gore did not request a recount for heavily-Republican Duval county, even though its reject rate was 32 percent higher than Palm Beach's.

There was intense focus on the punch card ballots in those three heavily-Democratic counties of Palm Beach, Miami-Dade, and Broward. Even though the Democrats said the machines used to count the ballots were unreliable, they did not request a recount for the other 24 punch-card counties, 20 of which went for Bush.

There was also intense focus on one heavily-Democratic county that used ballots that were optically scanned. But while Gore requested a recount in Volusia county, he did not request recounts in the other 38 optical scanner counties, 20 of which also went for Bush.

If the manual recounts requested by Gore in four counties are allowed, then 37 percent of all the Gore ballots in the state of Florida -- over one million ballots -- will have been manually recounted, while only 24 percent of the Bush ballots will have been manually recounted -- just 700,000. Furthermore, Gore's ballots will have been recounted at a rate that is 54 percent greater than Bush's ballots.

The reason why Gore requested manual recounts in just four counties rather clear. It gives Gore an unfair statistical advantage. Manual recounts tend to increase the number of ballots counted. If, in an extremely close race, the ballots of one candidate are manually recounted significantly more than the other candidate's ballots, statistics alone virtually guarantee that the candidate whose ballots are counted most will gain the most votes, thereby producing an artificial and unwarranted victory.

Contrary to what Gore has said, this selective recounting does not "make certain that every vote counts and that every vote is counted -- fairly and accurately."

No matter what the result of this election, Gore and the Democratic party will be judged harshly by historians for this statistical sleight-of-hand. The judgment will be even more severe if he wins on this basis.

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