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Context of 'November 14, 2000: Florida County Begins Manual Recount'

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Hundreds of thousands of voters in Miami-Dade County go to the polls to cast their votes for president. Two of its precincts, 255 and 535, are over 88 percent Democrat and over 90 percent African-American. The 20 punch-card machines designated for the two precincts were tested beforehand and certified as working properly, but in the hours before the polls open, a worker at Precinct 255 does a test and finds that seven of the 10 machines do not accept punch-card votes for president. Precinct clerk Donna Rogers will later claim that no one tells her of the problems with the machines, but by the end of the day, 113 of the 868 ballots cast do not register a vote for president. Of the votes that do register in the precinct, over 99 percent of them go to Democrat Al Gore. At Precinct 535, six of the 10 machines fail to register votes for president during test runs. Of the 820 ballots cast in this precinct, 105 do not register a vote for president. Gore wins over 98 percent of this precinct’s votes. The 13 percent “discarded ballot,” or “undervote,” rate for these two precincts is by far the largest in Miami-Dade. (Tapper 3/2001) A later attempt to hand-count the ballots in question is forcibly prevented by an orchestrated “riot” by conservative activists and political aides at the Miami-Dade elections office (see 9:00 a.m. and after, November 22, 2000).

An example of a ballot with so-called ‘hanging chads,’ ‘chads’ punched partially through the ballot but still ‘hanging’ on to the back of the ballot. Punch-card voting machines often do not read these as votes.An example of a ballot with so-called ‘hanging chads,’ ‘chads’ punched partially through the ballot but still ‘hanging’ on to the back of the ballot. Punch-card voting machines often do not read these as votes. [Source: Authentic History]The presidential campaign team of Vice President Al Gore asks for a hand count of presidential ballots in four Florida counties, as allowed under Florida Election Code 102.166. Gore’s recount request covers four Florida Democratic strongholds: Palm Beach, Miami-Dade, Broward, and Volusia. Between them, the four counties recorded about 1.8 million votes cast. All four counties seem to have serious issues surrounding their vote totals (see November 7, 2000 and Mid-Morning, November 8, 2000).
Florida Has No Legal Provision for Statewide Recounts This Early - The Gore decision to ask for the specific recounts in four counties is necessary, as Florida state law has no provision for a statewide recount request at this stage: a candidate has 72 hours after an election to request manual recounts on a county-by-county basis, and such requests must be based on perceived errors. Otherwise the candidate must wait until the election is formally certified and then make a request for a statewide recount—a request the Gore team felt certain would be refused by Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who is also the co-chair for the Florida Bush campaign (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000 and After).
Accusations of 'Cherry-Picking' - However, the Bush team uses the Gore request of “selective recounts” to launch a press narrative that Gore wants to “cherry-pick” counties for recounts that he thinks will give him an advantage, regardless of Gore’s claims that he wants “all votes counted.” As Vanity Fair will observe in 2004: “Proper as this was by Florida election law, the Democrats’ strategy gave [Bush lawyer James] Baker the sound bite he’d been seeking: Gore was just cherry-picking Democratic strongholds. It was a charge the Bush team wielded to devastating effect in the media, stunning the Gore team, which thought its strategy would be viewed as modest and fair.” The Gore campaign, shocked by what it perceives as the patent unfairness of the Bush response and by the media’s apparent acceptance of it, responds poorly, giving the Bush campaign the opportunity to set the narrative. (Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004; Leip 2008)
Bush Threatens More Recounts - The Bush campaign threatens to demand recounts in Wisconsin, Iowa, and New Mexico if Gore does not withdraw his challenges in Florida. (Authentic History 7/31/2011)
Swapping Accusations - Former Republican Party chairman Haley Barbour accuses the Democrats of “trying to to take the election of the president out of the election process, which is controlled by voters, and put it in the court process, which is controlled by lawyers.” Former Representative Bill Paxon (R-FL) accuses the Gore campaign of using “legal action to undermine this vote. They know that their chances to win are slim to none.” Bush campaign chairman Donald Evans says, “Vice President Gore’s campaign didn’t like the outcome of Election Day, and it seems they’re worried that they won’t like the official recount result either.” Gore’s campaign chairman William Daley says of the Bush campaign, “I believe that their actions to try to presumptively crown themselves the victors, to try to put in place a transition (see November 9, 2000), run the risk of dividing the American people and creating a sense of confusion.” Gore spokesman Chris Kehane tells a CNN audience: “This is a nation of laws, we ought to respect our laws. But we think that our victory is going to be sweet. We think we have won the popular vote. That’s pretty clear. And we believe we are going to win the popular vote within the state of Florida and thereby win the electoral vote as well.” Gore himself “pledge[s]” to honor the results of the election should the recounts show that Bush is the legitimate winner, saying that the recount “must be resolved in a way that satisfied the public and honors the office of the presidency.” (National Journal 11/9/2000; Berke 11/9/2000)

Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, the co-chair of Florida’s Bush campaign team (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000 and After), announces she is refusing requests to extend the 5:00 p.m. November 14 deadline for certifying election results (see 5:00 p.m. November 9, 2000) in the interest of what she calls “the public’s right to clarity and finality.” This is her prerogative as secretary of state under Florida Election Code 102.112, though she has the option to extend the deadline. Absentee ballots, by law, can be counted through November 17. Neither Palm Beach nor Miami-Dade Counties have even decided to start recounts yet (see November 7, 2000 and November 10, 2000), and Broward County has not finished the recount it began. Volusia County, also attempting to finish manually recounting all of its ballots (see November 11-12, 2000), sues to extend the November 14 deadline. Lawyers for the Gore campaign join Volusia in the suit, while Bush lawyers file briefs opposing the suit. (Salon 11/13/2000; Whitman et al. 12/13/2000; Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004; Leip 2008) In light of Harris’s decision, Broward will choose to abandon its recount (see Evening, November 13, 2000); Palm Beach will decide to delay the recount until it can receive clarification (see 8:20 a.m. November 14, 2000), and resume the recounting shortly thereafter (see 4:30 p.m. November 14, 2000). Miami-Dade, in contrast, will begin recounting (see November 14, 2000). Later in the day, Harris issues what she considers a legal opinion concerning the recounts, but her opinion conflicts with a decision issued by Florida’s attorney general. (Whitman et al. 12/13/2000) Harris says that no manual recounts should take place unless the voting machines are broken. Judge Terry Lewis finds that opinion not backed by any state law and overrules her opinion. (Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004) Harris has drawn criticism for her apparent partisanship before now. Warren Christopher, a lead advisor for the Gore campaign, calls Harris’s decision “arbitrary and unreasonable.” Representative Peter Deutsch (D-FL) calls her decision “bizarre,” adding, “I honestly think what’s going on is a strategic decision by the Bush campaign to hurt the litigation efforts.” Representative Robert Wexler (D-FL) says: “The only reason to certify the elections at 5 p.m. tomorrow is a partisan one. If she does what she says she’s going to do—certify the elections at 5 p.m. tomorrow—she will have proven her critics correct; she will have proven that she is an emissary of the Bush campaign who is willing to steal an election.” (Salon 11/13/2000)

The Miami-Dade County canvassing board unanimously votes to begin manually recounting its election ballots in three precincts (see November 7, 2000), complying with a request from the Gore campaign (see November 9, 2000). (Leip 2008) The recount is of sample ballots only. (Whitman et al. 12/13/2000)

Contradicting her previous statement that she would comply with a judicial order to consider the post-election recount tallies from several counties (see Evening, November 14, 2000), Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, the co-chair of Florida’s Bush campaign team (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000 and After), asks the Florida Supreme Court to force Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties to end their manual recounts (see November 14, 2000, 3:40 p.m. November 15, 2000, and 4:30 p.m. November 14, 2000) “pending resolution as to whether any basis exists to modify the certified results” after the November 14, 2000 deadline. Harris argues that manual recounts threaten “the integrity of the ballots.” Harris previously imposed a November 14 deadline for all ballots to be counted and results certified (see 9:00 a.m. November 13, 2000). Palm Beach County officials ask the Florida Supreme Court to decide if they can manually recount their ballots. At 5:00 p.m., the Court rejects Harris’s request to stop the recounts. (Dickenson 11/19/2000; Whitman et al. 12/13/2000; Leip 2008) A judge has already ruled that Harris can refuse to consider recount results submitted after her deadline (see Afternoon, November 14, 2000). A Gore campaign spokesman later says that considering the obstacles Harris has placed in the way of the hand recounts, the situation is analogous to a policeman forcing a motorist to pull over, then blaming him for the traffic piling up behind him. Bush spokeswoman Karen Hughes counters with the accusation that the counties still engaged in recounts are “no longer counting ballots; they are ‘reinventing’ them.” And James Baker, the head of the Bush “quick response” recount team, accuses the manual recounters of “subjective” attempts to “divine the intent of the voter.” Such recounts, Baker says, present “tremendous opportunities for human error and… mischief.” Both Hughes’s and Baker’s remarks are apparently intended to imply deliberate falsification of vote tallies, and echo similar charges made by Rush Limbaugh and other conservative media figures. Gore officials note that George W. Bush has picked up 418 votes in manual recounts in six counties: Franklin, Hamilton, Seminole, Washington, Taylor, and Lafayette. The Bush campaign, the Gore officials say, was eager to have those votes added in with the totals. Baker’s counterpart on the Gore team, Warren Christopher, says the fact that “Republicans have hand counted in many of the counties themselves” (see November 19, 2000) belies Republican charges that “we have picked out a certain few counties.” The Bush campaign has also picked up 143 votes from recounting in Volusia County. (Dickenson 11/19/2000; Consortium News 11/27/2000)

Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, the co-chair of Florida’s Bush campaign team (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000 and After), announces that she will not consider any further submissions of recounted election ballots from any Florida counties (see Evening, November 14, 2000). She has already accepted submissions from three counties still conducting recounts (see November 14, 2000, 3:40 p.m. November 15, 2000, and 4:30 p.m. November 14, 2000), and has received written explanations from three counties—Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach—explaining why they need additional time to complete their recounts. Palm Beach explained that it had found serious discrepancies between the results of its machine and sample manual recounts. Broward told of a large voter turnout and accompanying logistical problems. Miami-Dade said it had reason to believe that a manual recount would provide significant differences in its results (see November 7, 2000). Harris announces that she finds all three counties’ explanations insufficient and will not include their recount tallies in her final election numbers. (Whitman et al. 12/13/2000; Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004; Leip 2008)

Lawyers for the Bush presidential campaign (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000) submit written arguments to the US Federal Appeals Court in Atlanta demanding that Florida immediately halt all recounts (see 8:00 a.m. November 15, 2000 and 12:00 p.m., November 15, 2000), calling manual recounts “unconstitutional.” Three Florida counties are still engaged in manual recounts (see November 14, 2000, 3:40 p.m. November 15, 2000, and 4:30 p.m. November 14, 2000). Democrats file papers with the same court opposing the Republican motion. (Whitman et al. 12/13/2000; Leip 2008)


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