Finishing the Count
Following George W. Bush's inauguration in 2001, a group of the U.S.'s largest media outlets -- including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, the Associated Press and CNN among others -- formed a consortium to count Florida's votes from the disputed 2000 presidential election. The National Opinion Research Center examined 175,010 votes that had been rejected by machine counters, including those in which no vote was recorded (undervotes) and those in which more than one candidate was recorded (overvotes).
The results, according to the Washington Post, showed that "if the two limited recounts had not been short-circuited -- the first by Florida county and state election officials and the second by the U.S. Supreme Court -- Bush would have held his lead over Gore, with margins ranging from 225 to 493 votes, depending on the standard. But the study also found that whether dimples are counted or amore restrictive standard is used, a statewide tally favored Gore by 60 to 171 votes."
Additionally, the news media reported, the investigation found statistical support for the claim that misleading ballot design, such as instructions to "Vote Every Page" even though presidential candidates were spread across two pages, cost Al Gore the White House. Of the more than 113,000 ballots that were marked for more than one candidate, 75,000 indicated Gore and a minor candidate; 29,000 were for Bush and a minor candidate.
The consortium released the results of its analysis in November of 2001, but much of its impact was lost in the media coverage following the terrorist attacks of September 11.
Both political parties claimed vindication.
Purging the Rolls
In the months after the 2000 election, media reports reported thousands of errors in the Florida Central Voter File, the list created by the Florida state government to purge ineligible voters from the rolls. In 2004, as Governor Jeb Bush and the state government planned to institute a new and "improved" purge list, several media sources, including CNN, sued to view it. Among the findings: of the 48,000 people listed as felons, 22,000 identified themselves as African American and 61 as Hispanic. African Americans have historically skewed toward Democratic candidates in Florida, while Hispanic voters in the state tend toward Republicans.
The state eventually abandoned efforts to use the list, and it was supplanted by aspects of the Federal Help America Vote Act in 2006.
Former Secretary of State James Baker, who helped secure the White House for George W. Bush, joined with former President Jimmy Carter in 2005 to form a commission on election reform at American University (PDF).
The 21 member commission, which included former members of Congress, scholars, and non-partisan leaders, spent 6 months studying electoral problems in the U.S., and ultimately presented 87 reforms to the president and to Congress. The proposals included recommendations for voter identification cards and auditable trails for voting machines. The effort received extensive news coverage.
More recently, the commission has reported that there has been "significant" or "some" progress towards implementing or debating many of the reforms that the Carter-Baker Commission proposed, but that "the future trajectory of reform remains uncertain" as the 2008 election approaches.
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