PRESIDENT GORE….As a matter of policy, I think that pining over the results of the 2000 election is pretty counterproductive. But hey ? sometimes you just can’t help yourself. Here’s an interview with Lance deHaven-Smith, a professor at Florida State University who recently published The Battle for Florida:
One of the most interesting points you make in the book is that the focus on undervotes (ballots containing no vote for president) ? the hanging, dimpled and otherwise pregnant chads ? was misplaced. Instead, you explain that a study by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, which looked at all the ballots that were initially rejected on election night 2000, revealed a surprise: most of these uncounted votes were in fact discarded because they were over-votes, instances of two votes for president on one ballot. What do you think the NORC study tells us about the election?
LdHS: There were 175,000 votes overall that were so-called ?spoiled ballots.? About two-thirds of the spoiled ballots were over-votes….And nobody looked at this, not even the Florida Supreme Court in the last decision it made requiring a statewide recount. Nobody had thought about it except Judge Terry Lewis, who was overseeing the statewide recount when it was halted by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The write-in over-votes have really not gotten much attention. Those votes are not ambiguous. When you see Gore picked and then Gore written in, there?s not a question in your mind who this person was voting for. When you go through those, they?re unambiguous: Bush got some of those votes, but they were overwhelmingly for Gore. 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, while Bush?s name was marked on only 17,000.
For your research, you merged this set of data with detailed profiles of Florida?s electoral precincts. What did you find?
LdHS: 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.
So you 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. But because of the way the vote-counting machines work, this had the opposite effect: the machines threw out their ballots.