By FORD FESSENDEN
AND JOHN M. BRODER (NYT) 2527 words
Contrary to what many partisans of former Vice President Al Gore have
charged, the United States Supreme Court did not award an election to Mr.
Bush that otherwise would have been won by Mr. Gore. A close examination of
the ballots found that Mr. Bush would have retained a slender margin over Mr.
Gore if the
Even under the strategy that Mr. Gore pursued at the beginning of the
But the consortium, looking at a broader group of rejected ballots than those covered in the court decisions, 175,010 in all, found that Mr. Gore might have won if the courts had ordered a full statewide recount of all the rejected ballots. This also assumes that county canvassing boards would have reached the same conclusions about the disputed ballots that the consortium's independent observers did. The findings indicate that Mr. Gore might have eked out a victory if he had pursued in court a course like the one he publicly advocated when he called on the state to ''count all the votes.''
In addition, the review found statistical support for the complaints of
many voters, particularly elderly Democrats in
More than 113,000 voters cast ballots for two or more presidential candidates. Of those, 75,000 chose Mr. Gore and a minor candidate; 29,000 chose Mr. Bush and a minor candidate. Because there was no clear indication of what the voters intended, those numbers were not included in the consortium's final tabulations.
Thus the most thorough examination of
The study, conducted over the last 10 months by a consortium of eight news
organizations assisted by professional statisticians, examined numerous
hypothetical ways of recounting the
For example, if Florida's 67 counties had carried out the hand recount of
disputed ballots ordered by the Florida court on Dec. 8, applying the
standards that election officials said they would have used, Mr. Bush would
have emerged the victor by 493 votes.
But the consortium's study shows that Mr. Bush would have won even if the justices had not stepped in (and had further legal challenges not again changed the trajectory of the battle), answering one of the abiding mysteries of the Florida vote.
Even so, the media ballot review, carried out under rigorous rules far removed from the chaos and partisan heat of the post-election dispute, is unlikely to end the argument over the outcome of the 2000 presidential election. The race was so close that it is possible to get different results simply by applying different hypothetical vote-counting methods to the thousands of uncounted ballots. And in every case, the ballot review produced a result that was even closer than the official count -- a margin of perhaps four or five thousandths of one percent out of about six million ballots cast for president.
The consortium examined 175,010 ballots that vote-counting machines had rejected last November. Those included so-called undervotes, or ballots on which the machines could not discern a preference for president, and overvotes, those on which voters marked more than one candidate.
The examination then sought to judge what might have been considered a legal vote under various conditions -- from the strictest interpretation (a clearly punched hole) to the most liberal (a small indentation, or dimple, that indicated the voter was trying to punch a hole in the card). But even under the most inclusive standards, the review found that at most, 24,619 ballots could have been interpreted as legal votes.
The numbers reveal the flaws in Mr. Gore's post-election tactics and, in retrospect, why the Bush strategy of resisting county-by-county recounts was ultimately successful.
In a finding rich with irony, the results show that even if Mr. Gore had
succeeded in his effort to force recounts of undervotes in the four
Democratic counties, Miami-Dade, Broward,
Another complicating factor in the effort to untangle the result is the
overseas absentee ballots that arrived after Election Day. A New York Times
investigation earlier this year showed that 680 of the late-arriving ballots
did not meet
A statistical analysis conducted for The Times determined that if all counties had followed state law in reviewing the absentee ballots, Mr. Gore would have picked up as many as 290 additional votes, enough to tip the election in Mr. Gore's favor in some of the situations studied in the statewide ballot review.
But Mr. Gore chose not to challenge these ballots because many were from members of the military overseas, and Mr. Gore did not want to be accused of seeking to invalidate votes of men and women in uniform.
Democrats invested heavily in get-out-the-vote programs across
The majority of those ballots were spoiled because multiple choices were made for president, often, apparently, because voters were confused by the ballots. All were invalidated by county election officials and were excluded from the consortium count because there was no clear proof of voter intent, unless there were other clear signs of the voter's choice, like a matching name on the line for a write-in candidate.
The media consortium included The Times, The Wall Street Journal, The
Tribune Company, The Washington Post, The Associated Press, The St.
Petersburg Times, The Palm Beach Post and CNN. The group hired the
The data produced by the ballot review allows scrutiny of the disputed
The difficulty of perceiving dimples or detached chads can be measured by the number of coders who saw them, but most of the ballot counts here are based on what a simple majority -- two out of three coders -- recorded.
The different standards mostly involved competing notions of what expresses voter intent on a punch card. The 29,974 ballots using optical scanning equipment were mostly interpreted using a single standard -- any unambiguous mark, whether a circle or a scribble or an X, on or near the candidate name was considered evidence of voter intent.
If all the ballots had been reviewed under any of seven single standards, and combined with the results of an examination of overvotes, Mr. Gore would have won, by a very narrow margin. For example, using the most permissive ''dimpled chad'' standard, nearly 25,000 additional votes would have been reaped, yielding 644 net new votes for Mr. Gore and giving him a 107-vote victory margin.
But the dimple standard was also the subject of the most disagreement
among coders, and Mr. Bush fought the use of this standard in recounts in
Using the most restrictive standard -- the fully punched ballot card --
5,252 new votes would have been added to the
All the other combinations likewise produced additional votes for Mr. Gore, giving him a slight margin over Mr. Bush, when at least two of the three coders agreed.
While these are fascinating findings, they do not represent a real-world situation. There was no set of circumstances in the fevered days after the election that would have produced a hand recount of all 175,000 overvotes and undervotes.
The Florida Supreme Court urged a statewide recount and ordered the state's 67 counties to begin a manual re-examination of the undervotes in a ruling issued Dec. 8 that left Mr. Gore and his allies elated.
The court ultimately adopted her view, although extending it to all counties, including those using ballots marked by pen and read by optical scanning. Many counties immediately began the effort, applying different standards and, in some cases, including overvotes.
But what if the recounts had gone forward, as Mr. Gore and his lawyers had demanded?
The consortium asked all 67 counties what standard they would have used and what ballots they would have manually recounted. Combining that information with the detailed ballot examination found that Mr. Bush would have won the election, by 493 votes if two of the three coders agreed on what was on the ballot; by 389 counting only those ballots on which all three agreed.
The Florida Legislature earlier this year banned punch-card ballots statewide, directing counties to find a more reliable method. Many counties will use paper ballots scanned by computers at voting places that can give voters a second chance if their choices fail to register. In counties that use that technology, just 1 in 200 ballots had uncountable presidential votes, compared with 1 in 25 in punch-card counties.
Others will invest in computerized touch-screen machines that work like automated teller machines.
Kirk Wolter, who supervised the ballot review for the
The review produced databases to study this election from a historical perspective, said Mr. Wolter, the research center's senior vice president for statistics and methodology, adding, ''I hope in turn this can lead to voting reform and better ways of doing this in future elections.''