The great Florida recount is under way. The results are trickling in–and, while they seem to boost the contention of Gore diehards (we really got more votes), this news is unlikely to have much of an impact on politics as-is, especially since the information is coming from a variety of diffuse sources and can be debated by those who don’t desire a clear and definitive post-election accounting.
Actually, it is not a recount that is happening; call it an inspection. There are no official reviews being conducted. But in counties across the state, different news organizations inspecting various sets of ballots. These outfits are then free to classify and evaluate the ballots in manner they wish. They can report whatever results they see fit to publicize. They can state the number of ballots that had missing chads, or dimpled chads. They can add up ballots that would have or could have been counted for either Bush or Gore–or they can let the public do the math. The Miami Herald (with USA Today), the Palm Beach Post and the Orlando Sentinel have been busy surveying ballots. And a big-media consortium–the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, AP and others–is set to start its own statewide assessment. In addition, news organizations and academics have conducted computer analyses of ballot data to determine if votes for Gore or Bush were lost due to technology problems.
It will be hard to derive a single bottom-line from all this–to state that a recount would definitely have granted Gore (or Bush) a victory of X number of votes. There will be arguments over standards. I spent three days in Miami studying one-third of the 10,600 undervote ballots in that county. My review–using tight standards–projected a Gore gain of only fifteen or so votes. (See “In the Field of Chads,” January 29.) The Palm Beach Post‘s inspection–which utilized looser standards–uncovered more votes for both Bush and Gore, with Bush picking up six votes. And there will be disagreement over what votes should be considered when tallying the true outcome. For instance, as I found during that review–and as Anthony Salvanto, a faculty fellow at University of California at Irvine discovered by scrutinizing ballot data–in Miami-Dade, Gore outscored Bush by 300 among ballots where voters, for inexplicable reasons, had punched out the chad one spot below the chad for either Bush or Gore. Should such votes be counted?
Even as questions like that go unanswered, new numbers have started emerging. The Palm Beach Post examined one group of 4,513 undervotes in its home county. These are ballots that the county’s canvassing board looked at in November and decided that no vote had been cast, with Democratic and Republican observers disagreeing. The newspaper concluded that Gore beat Bush 2500 to 1818 among these voters. The 682 difference here surpasses Bush’s 537-vote margin of victory. (This would be in addition to the 174-vote gain Gore acquired during the county’s hand recount–a gain which was not accepted by Secretary of State Katherine Harris, for it was submitted several hours after the deadline.)
Sounds like a big boost for Gore. But…not so fast. The ballots reviewed were only those undervotes disputed by the observers during the post-election hand recount. Since the Democrats were arguing for the counting of dimpled ballots and the Republicans were not, Republicans did not object as often when the canvassing board ruled a ballot a no-vote. Consequently, this group of ballots, the newspaper acknowledged, “carried a heavy Democratic tilt.” The Palm Beach Post is continuing to examine another 4,600 undervotes in the county plus 19,235 overvotes–ballots that contain more than one vote for a presidential candidate.