If it appears that the 2018 midterm elections in Florida are chaotic, it’s nothing compared to what transpired in 2000, when the US presidency hung in the balance for weeks as Florida election officials recounted millions of ballots statewide before finding themselves in the middle of a court battle that ended with George W. Bush winning the presidency over Al Gore.
Here are four things you may have forgotten about the 2000 Florida recount.
Thousands of people in a heavily Democratic part of Florida voted for Pat Buchanan
In Democratic-leaning Palm Beach County, ultra-conservative third-party candidate Patrick Buchanan won 3,407 votes, more than triple what he had received in any other Florida county. Democratic officials pointed to the design of the now infamous “butterfly” ballot, where candidates were listed on two pages, and voters were required to punch a hole for their desired candidate in a center column. The problem was that while Bush was listed first and Gore second on the left side, punching the second hole on the ballot meant casting a vote for Buchanan, who was listed first on the right side.
A Florida election official said at the time that the Palm Beach County ballot was put on two pages to allow for larger text, in an effort to help the County’s population more easily read the names. But the design confused some voters.
Buchanan himself acknowledged the extra votes he received in Palm Beach County were likely meant for Gore.
Gore conceded the election, then called Bush to rescind the concession. Sound familiar?
On election night, the major television news networks got their Florida election calls disasterously wrong: NBC called the state for Gore at 7:50 p.m., followed by its rivals. CNN then retracted its projection just before 10 p.m., quickly followed by the other networks, according to an Associated Press roundup the following day.
At 2:16 a.m., Fox News called Florida for Bush, followed by NBC, CBS, CNN, and ABC.
The Associated Press at that point said it was too close to call. By 4 a.m., the networks had reversed themsevles yet again, retracting the call for Bush.
But the confusion wasn’t limited to the media.
Gore had arrived to the location where he was to deliver his concession speech early Wednesday morning when he was stopped by an aide from taking the stage, according to Vanity Fair.
He had already called Bush to offer his concession. But the race was tightening.
When Gore called Bush for a second time, the magazine reported in a 2004 deep dive into the election and recount, Bush was incredulous.
“Circumstances have changed dramatically since I first called you,” Gore told Bush, according to Vanity Fair. “The state of Florida is too close to call.”
“Are you saying what I think you’re saying?” Bush asked. “Let me make sure I understand. You’re calling back to retract your concession?”
“You don’t have to be snippy about it,” said Gore.
An all-too-similar incident is playing out again today. After initially conceding the governor’s race to Republican Ron DeSantis, Democrat Andrew Gillum has since withdrawn his concession.
Scuffles broke out at one Miami Dade recount location
In the chaos surrounding the day-to-day logistics of recounting thousands of disputed ballots, protests at one point turned violent. When election officials at a Miami Dade County recount location decided to move to a different floor, which restricted media access, throngs of Republican protesters reacted angrily. According to the New York Times:
“Several angry Republicans, many of whom had acted as observers during the recount, surrounded the local Democratic Party chief, Joe Geller, in the lobby of the building and accused him of slipping a ballot in his back pocket in the tabulation room. Soon, about a dozen sheriff’s deputies surrounded Mr. Geller, as the crowd, which had quickly grown to more than 100 people, yelled ‘cuff him’ and ‘busted.’ Mr. Geller, as it turned out, did not have an actual ballot in his pocket but rather a sample voter card which board of elections officials said he had asked for to demonstrate how ballots were being counted. As the deputies hastily led him to safety, the crowd surged forward, knocking two television cameramen to the ground and nearly trampling them. In another altercation, several Republican demonstrators shoved Luis Rosero, a Democratic spokesman as he was conducting a news conference. ‘I was punched twice in the back and kicked once,’ Mr. Rosero said. ‘Everyone needs to calm down and relax. I think we’ve hit a new low point here.’”
The protesters were accused of being paid Republican staffers, and the incident was dubbed the “Brooks Brothers riot.” And one name allegedly behind it might sound familiar today: Time magazine reported that Roger Stone,the former Trump campaign advisor who at the time was a GOP operative, was an organizer.
The presidency was ulitmately decided by 537 votes
The Florida recount finally came to a close with a Supreme Court decision on Dec. 12, 2000, more than a month after millions of Americans went to the polls on Election Day.
The court ruled 5 to 4 to stop recounting disputed ballots in Florida because a constitutionally acceptable recount could not be completed before a midnight deadline.
Justice Stevens, in his dissenting opinion, wrote ominously:
“Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year’s Presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the nation’s confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law.’’
The halting of the recount meant that the final tally stood at 2,912,790 votes for Bush and 2,912,253 votes for Gore: a difference of 537 votes.