Jesurgislac’s Journal

September 24, 2008

Paying attention: why Florida 2000 still matters

In November 2000, the Presidential election had come down to the 25 electoral votes in Florida. Gore had won the popular vote, and, by exit polls proven reliable in every country in the world, he’d won Florida.

By December 2000, the courts – not the voters – had decided to hand Florida’s electoral votes to Bush.

Many Americans are under the strong (yet incorrect) impression that Bush “won Florida”. They are incorrect about this – but hardly to be blamed: no US news services ever clearly and unambiguously reported, at any time after the courts had awarded the White House to Bush, that – if all the votes had been counted, which they never were officially – a majority of Florida’s voters had voted for Gore. (This does not count the voters who were intimidated away from the polls nor the voters who were illegally removed from the electoral rolls prior to the election, which I was reading about in the UK news and hearing about on the BBC in November 2000 – along with the news that an attempted recount had been halted by Republican party operatives from another state who showed up to violently protest the recount.)

If all the votes had been counted, according to Florida electoral law in November 2000 – count the ballot if the voter’s intent is clear – Gore had won. (There’s an interesting interview in Research in Review that makes the point that Gore won by tens of thousands, not by a close count of a few hundred, with the author of The Battle for Florida: An Annotated Compendium of Materials from the 2000 Presidential Election.)

Julian Pecquet: 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?

Lance deHaven-Smith: It’s an embarrassing outcome for George Bush because it showed that Gore had gotten more votes. Everybody had thought that the chads were where all the bad ballots were, but it turned out that the ones that were the most decisive were write-in ballots where people would check Gore and write Gore in, and the machine kicked those out. 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. 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 it, while Bush’s name was marked on only 17,000. –Research in Review Magazine, Florida State University, Fall/Winter 2005

What if Al Gore had decided to fight that decision? He didn’t – thinking (I believe) that he would stir up a partisan furore that would last far longer than his own term in office if he won the right to have the votes counted: that if he bowed out, this left the next Democrat to run for President with a better chance to win. Gore, better than most, knew by the end of a year in which Bush and his campaign had lied without ceasing, which had been largely ignored by the US mainstream media in favour of presenting Gore as a chronic fabulist, how successful Republican spin could be. If this was Gore’s thinking, presuming that he had no reason to know how bad a Bush administration could get, he was thinking like a decent man. The problem was, he was up against shamelessly indecent people. But it’s not true to say that “he couldn’t have known”. The one thing Gore can fairly say he could not know is that, given clear warning of an al-Qaeda attack planned in September 2001, involving hijacked airplanes, the Bush administration who were warned would cease to travel on commercial flights and Bush would go on vacation.

In December 2000, Teresa Nielsen Hayden wrote on Usenet (via):

From: t… (T Nielsen Hayden)
Newsgroups: rec.arts.sf.fandom
Subject: Re: “irreparable harm”
Date: 13 Dec 2000 05:37:28 GMT

I’ve been calling this an attempted coup since a few days after the election. Hell, I’ve been calling it that since the days of the hoked-up impeachment case against Clinton. No more. Now it’s a successful coup. There are only two real reasons to choose GWB as a candidate. One is his insubstantiality: it’s hard to argue against what isn’t there. The other is his passivity: he won’t get in the way. I will assume that there’s a pending agenda. The people who funded this campaign spent their money for a reason. We’ll shortly be finding out about it in more detail.

The Republicans’ use of fraud and force has been shocking. Let’s go beyond that shock for the moment. What’s truly troubling is that their tactics have been so blatant — for example, the organized mob attack on the vote counting operation in Miami by a gang of out-of-state Republican operatives, including known staff members employed by highly placed officials. They didn’t bother to conduct that as a covert operation. They didn’t even hide the cashflow that paid for it.

Such an approach is not sustainable long-term under our present system of law and government. But there’s no use in seizing power just long enough to get inaugurated if all you do is spend the next four years pinned down in a hopeless tangle of legal actions and political countermeasures. Therefore, we have to assume that they are planning to consolidate their power shortly after Bush is inaugurated.

If you’re not following me: This is the equivalent of that moment in the plot where the guy who’s being held captive by the bad guys realizes they’re planning to kill him because they’re letting him see their faces and hear their names spoken. They’re not worried about the consequences.

The Republicans are not worried about the consequences of their blatant abuses. The logical conclusion is that once they’ve consolidated their power, things are going to get a lot worse.

How much worse? Bad enough that staffers employed by the ruling party don’t anticipate having to worry about being identified as participants in an illegal attack on election workers who were then engaged in counting votes. It doesn’t worry them that they crossed state lines to participate in it, engaged in conspiracy to commit various crimes, and for all I know are vulnerable under the RICO statutes as well. That means they don’t expect that those who would normally oppose them are going to be in any position to do so effectively.

This is bad.


Slartibartfast, a resident in Florida and like myself a regular on Obsidian Wings, has consistently declined to consider any evidence for Bush losing the election in Slarti’s home state: he commented recently “I’d just like to advise you that this particular Republicans-stole-the-election is a meme that Jesurgislac has been flogging for literally years, now.”

Aside from the mixed metaphor (I have never flogged a meme, and do not begin to know how one would start) Slartibartfast is correct: in mild shock at how many electoral laws that Jeb Bush appeared to have broken in order to get his brother appointed President, without any penalty applied to either Jeb or George, I wrote in an exchange of letters with an American friend in early January, that the only positive thing that occurred to me about the situation was that George W. Bush’s status as President was so shaky that he shouldn’t be able to get much done and so shouldn’t be able to do much harm. (It was on 22nd January 2001, when Bush reinstated the global gag rule, that I began to wonder if I’d been right.)

In October 2001, we got the results of the Florida election – at least, those of us living outside the US did – and it is in fact from that point on – nearly 7 years now – that this issue became a hot topic for me that has never cooled. Bush lost the election: got into the White House: and even when the worst terrorist attack in US history on US soil happened on his watch*, the US media declined to trumpet the incontrovertible fact that Bush had lost and Gore had won.

(*It’s possible that, had the votes been counted and President Gore been allowed to take office as the voters wanted, al-Qaeda would still have succeeded – suicide terrorists are the hardest kind to defend against: but it’s certain that Al Gore would not have reacted so indifferently to the news that the attack was going to happen. Bush said “All right. You’ve covered your ass, now” – and did nothing. )

Just over three thousand people died in the WTC, the Pentagon, and four airplanes. In the retaliatory attack on Afghanistan, probably over fifteen thousand people were killed by the US. (The media count was over three thousand: we know from comparable media/statistical counts in Iraq that the media is likely to report less than a fifth of the deaths that actually occur.) In the war on Iraq, over a million people have been killed. Those judges who awarded the Presidency to George W. Bush didn’t know that by rewarding a dishonest election they would ultimately cause the deaths of so many people, but they knew – if they were honest – that democratic elections are decided by counting the votes, not by an appeal to the courts for an excuse to quit counting once the candidate you favour is ahead by a few hundred.

The use of electronic voting machines without a paper trail in the following elections has ensured only one thing: it has become impossible to prove with the same clear-cut accuracy who won, and who lost. All we know is that the data consistently reports that Republican candidates get 6% votes in their favour above what electoral polls say they should get. (6%, incidentally, is the margin by which Sarah Palin won the gubernational election in Alaska, after polls consistently reported a very close race between herself and the Democratic candidate.)

Slartibartfast may wonder why this is still a hot topic for me nearly eight years after the democratic disaster in Florida. Well; because it hasn’t gone away. The electronic voting machines that can readily be hacked, are still in use. Faulty exit polls, not faulty results, are blamed for the difference. The media narrative, accepted by many Americans, both Democratic and Republican, is that Al Gore lost in 2000. This doesn’t matter in the sense that we can ever have back the world we might have had if the US had had an honest election in 2000: it matters because, as Teresa Nielsen Haden noted presciently in December 2000, this kind of blatant dishonesty promises rulers who do not ever intend to relinquish power.

There’s been enough domestic clues for anyone to notice this, you’d think: the obstruction of investigation into September 11; the betrayal of a covert CIA agent by someone at the highest level of the Bush administration; the protection given by Bush to Cheney’s Chief of Staff, who successfully obstructed the investigation into the betrayal of that covert agent, to ensure that he spent not a day in jail for his obstruction; the illegal wiretapping of US citizens, begun in early 2001, which was stepped down only when it was clear that Ashcroft would not agree to approve it, and replaced by a program also – eventually – declared illegal: the replacement of Ashcroft by Gonzales, an Attorney-General who appeared to regard himself as the President’s personal defense lawyer: the firing of 13 US Attorneys, Bush appointees, for being more loyal to the judicial system than to George W. Bush; the criminal harassment of demonstrators at the RNC in 2004 and 2008… and the illegal detention and torture of more than one US citizen. That’s just the domestic side of the Bush administration’s crimes, and I’m not even sure I’ve remembered it all.

I think that Barack Obama can win in November 2008: I hope he does. Whether he can win by the margin he will need to overcome vote-rigging and whatever other illegal techniques are used against him, is another question. If he doesn’t, I don’t see the mainstream media in the US doing anything other than proclaim that McCain won. Nor do I suppose that there will be any kind of effective public protest. Indeed, I suspect that, just as for eight years Americans have clung to the idea that they still live in a democratic country, it will take years or decades before there’s any general acceptance that the US public is no longer permitted to install the government of their choice.

You can’t say “the US will be in real trouble if McCain wins”: the US has been in real trouble for 8 years. Even if McCain survives to the next election, which apparently seems unlikely, things can only get worse.

I hate to sound pessimistic and unsympathetic. But the fact is, though I love a few Americans, am fond of many more, and do not actively dislike more than a few dozen of them, I am rather more concerned about what the next eight years will do to the rest of the world, than I am about Americans who let their democracy slip away from them, unnoticed, without protest at its going.


1 Comment »

  1. […] Why Florida 2000 Still Matters. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Florida could again muddle race for White […]

    Pingback by Eight years before Florida 2000… and after « Jesurgislac’s Journal — October 2, 2008 @ 10:20 am | Reply

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