Review shows ballot recount favors Bush

GOP would have won in many scenarios, according to study

April 04, 2001|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

MIAMI - President Bush's victory in Florida, which gave him the White House, almost certainly would have endured even if a manual ballot recount stopped by the U.S. Supreme Court had been allowed to go forward.

In fact, a comprehensive review of 64,248 ballots in all 67 Florida counties by the Miami Herald; its parent company, Knight Ridder; and USA Today found that the 537-vote margin of Bush, a Republican, would have increased to 1,665 votes under the counting standards advocated by supporters of Democrat Al Gore.

The newspapers' recount project was conducted by the public accounting firm BDO Seidman LLP. It was designed to answer a question asked by many Americans and certain to be examined by historians:

What would have happened if the U.S. Supreme Court had not halted the sweeping manual recount of undervotes - ballots without presidential votes that could be detected by the counting machines - that was ordered by the Florida Supreme Court on Dec. 8, a month after the presidential election?

The answer under almost all scenarios: Bush still would have won.

However, Bush's lead in the bitter 2000 election would have vanished if the recount had been conducted under the severely restrictive standards that some Republicans advocated.

The examination of ballots also provides ammunition for Gore supporters who contend that more Floridians voted for their man and he should have been awarded Florida's 25 electoral votes and the White House.

But for Gore to have won, two improbable things would had to have happened.

First, there would had to have been a statewide manual recount of all undervotes in all counties, which wasn't what the Florida Supreme Court ordered.

Then, election authorities across the state would had to have used a very liberal standard for judging a voter's intent - essentially counting every mark, dimple, pinprick or hanging chad.

The standard used most widely in recounts around the United States is tighter and would not have given Gore the election.

The Florida Supreme Court ordered a statewide manual recount, but excluded Broward, Palm Beach and Volusia counties and 139 precincts in Miami-Dade, where manual recounts had been conducted.

This portion of the newspapers' project examined only the state's undervotes.

The Herald, Knight Ridder, USA Today and several other Florida newspapers also are fully reviewing at least 110,000 overvotes - ballots for which machines recorded votes for more than one presidential candidate.

That project should be concluded within a month. Its results will not affect the conclusions of the undercount review, because the Florida Supreme Court excluded overvotes from the statewide manual recount.

Here's what the ballot review found in the counties that were included in the state court-ordered recount:

Standard: Every dimple, pinprick or hanging chad on a punch-card ballot is considered a valid vote, the most generous standard.

Result: Bush would have won by 1,665 votes.

Standard: Dimples were counted as presidential votes only on ballots that had dimples in other races, suggesting a fault with either the machine or the voter's ability to use it.

Result: Bush would have won by 884 votes.

Standard: A vote was counted only when a punch-card chad was detached by at least two corners, perhaps the most common standard applied nationally.

Result: Bush would have won by 363 votes.

Standard: A vote was counted only when a hole was cleanly punched, the most restrictive standard.

Result: Gore would have won by 3 votes.

Caveat: Gore's advantage - 0.00005 percent of the 5.9 million votes cast by Floridians - would have been so tiny that it still would have left the outcome in question. In addition, it is produced by a highly unlikely scenario.

The review found that the result would have been different if every canvassing board in every county had examined every undervote, a situation that no election or court authority had ordered.

Gore had called for such a statewide manual recount if Bush would agree, but Bush rejected the idea and there was no mechanism in place to conduct one.

Here's what the review found in all Florida counties, including those that were not part of the court-ordered recount:

Standard: Every dimple, pinprick or hanging chad on a punch-card ballot is considered a valid vote, the most inclusive standard.

Result: Gore would have won by 393 votes.

Standard: Dimples were counted as presidential votes only on ballots that had dimples in other races, suggesting a fault with either the machine or the voter's ability to use it.

Result: Gore would have won by 299 votes.

Standard: A vote was counted only when a punch-card chad was detached by at least two corners, perhaps the most common standard applied nationally.

Result: Bush would have won by 351 votes.

Standard: A vote was counted only when a hole was cleanly punched, the most restrictive standard.

Result: Bush would have won by 416 votes.

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