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The Florida election recount of 2000 was a period of vote re-counting that occurred following the unclear results of the 2000 United States presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore, specifically the Florida results. The Florida vote was ultimately settled in favor of George W. Bush, by a margin of only 537 votes out of almost 6 million cast, when the U.S. Supreme Court, with its final ruling on Bush v. Gore, stopped a recount that had been proposed by the all-Democrat Florida Supreme Court. The outcome resulted in Bush gaining a majority of votes in the Electoral College, winning the overall presidential election.
The National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, sponsored by a consortium of major U.S. news organizations, conducted a comprehensive review of all ballots uncounted (by machine) in the Florida 2000 presidential election, both undervotes and overvotes, with the main research aim being to report how different ballot layouts correlate with voter mistakes.
The media companies involved were:
Although the NORC study was not primarily intended as a determination of which candidate "really won", analysis of the results, given the hand counting of machine-uncountable ballots due to various types of voter error, indicated that they would lead to differing results, reported in the newspapers which funded the recount, such as The Miami Herald (The Miami Herald Report: Democracy Held Hostage) or the Washington Post.
The recount covered 175,037 of the approximately 6,000,000 ballots cast in the election. In principle these were the ballots that were recorded with no vote or multiple votes in the machine counts. However, since the machines were not designed to separate ballots as such when originally counted, the identification of these ballots can only be approximate; the totals do not match.
NORC reported "exceptional" circumstances in three counties. In Volusia county, the ballots presented as overvotes and undervotes "bore no relation" to the number reported in the machine count. In Orange County, county officials recounted all ballots separate from the NORC process. In Broward County, officials did not attempt to produce the ballots reported as undervotes or overvotes by the machine count; instead, they presented the ballots that remained as undervotes or overvotes after the official county recount, which had given Gore a net 567 additional votes, and which had been conducted under loose standards, including counting as legal votes ballots with "dimpled" chad. The Broward and Volusia recount results (567 and 98 net Gore votes respectively) were thus locked in under all NORC scenarios.
The media reported the results of the study during the week after November 12, 2001. The results of the study showed that had the limited county by county recounts requested by the Gore team been completed, Bush would still have been the winner of the election. However, the study also showed that the result of a statewide recount of all disputed ballots could have been different. The study was unable to review the ballots in Broward and Volusia that were counted as legal votes during the manual recounts thus analysis included those figures that were obtained using very loose standards in its calculations. Since these recounts resulted in a sizable net gain for Gore (665 net Gore votes) they have no bearing on the assessment that Bush would likely have won the recounts requested by Gore and ordered by the Florida Supreme Court. They do, however, play a major role in the assessment that Gore could have won a recount of the entire state if overvotes were taken into account. Without these votes Gore would have lost a recount of the entire state even with all overvotes added in. Unless 495 or more of those votes were actual votes then Gore still would have lost. Note these figures also do not take into account a dispute over 500 absentee ballots that Bush requested to be added to the certified totals. If found to be legal votes that would put Gore totally out of reach regardless of any manual recount standard.[clarification needed]
The Florida Supreme Court had ordered "counting of the legal votes contained within the undervotes in all counties where the undervote has not been subjected to a manual tabulation." The U.S. Supreme Court overruled the Florida Supreme Court and stopped their recount via an unsigned "per curiam" opinion in Bush v. Gore, with three Justices (Rehnquist joined by Scalia and Thomas) concurring in a separate opinion. Four Justices (Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer) each wrote their own opinion with various combinations of the other three joining.
The media recount study found that under the system of limited recounts in selected counties as was requested by the Gore campaign, the only way that Gore would have won was by using counting methods that were never requested by any party, including "overvotes" — ballots containing more than one vote for an office. While some of these ballots recorded votes for two separate candidates, a significant number (20 percent in Lake County, for example) were cases of a voter voting for a candidate and then also writing in that same candidate's name on the write-in line.
The New York Times did its own analysis of how mistaken overvotes might have been caused by confusing ballot designs. It found that the butterfly ballot in heavily Democratic Palm Beach County may have cost Gore a net 6286 votes, and the two page ballot in 57% Bush Duval County may have cost him a net 1999 votes, each of which would have made the difference by itself. The rest of the media consortium did not consider these because there could be no clear determination of a voter's intent. Separate analyses suggest that confusion over the butterfly ballots may have cost a Gore victory by perhaps a few thousand votes.
|Candidate outcomes based on potential non-absentee recounts in Florida presidential election 2000|
(outcome of NORC study)
|Review of all ballots statewide (estimated by reviewing ballots rejected by voting machines)|
|•||Including dimples, optical marks, or overvotes||Gore by 171|
|•||Fully punched chad and limited marks on optical ballots||Gore by 115|
|•||Any dimples or optical mark||Gore by 107|
|•||One corner of chad detached or optical mark||Gore by 60|
|Review of limited sets of ballots (initiated but not completed)|
|•||Gore request for recounts of all ballots in Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, and Volusia counties||Bush by 225|
|•||Florida Supreme Court of all undervotes statewide||Bush by 430|
|•||Florida Supreme Court as being implemented by the counties, some of whom refused and some counted overvotes as well as undervotes||Bush by 493|
|Unofficial recount totals|
|•||Incomplete result when the Supreme Court stayed the recount (December 9, 2000)||Bush by 154|
|Certified Result (official final count)|
|•||Recounts included from Volusia and Broward only||Bush by 537|