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Andrew Gumbel Election Fraud and the Myths of American Democracy THE 2000 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION, AND THE BITTER 36-DAY FIGHT that followed over the pivotal state of Florida, opened the eyes of many Americans to a reality they had, up to that point, largely chosen to ignore: that their electoral system was—in at least some parts of the country—decrepit, poorly managed, lacking transparency, or clear procedural rules, and prone to corruption, political manipulation, and outright fraud. The battle for Florida was a highly partisan fight, interpreted in wildly different ways by Republicans and Democrats. Both sides, however, had ample reason to question the integrity of the system. Republicans who believed George W. Bush had won fair and square understood that the ambiguities and mechanical shortcomings of the punch-card ballots used in the bigger urban counties—all those semi­ detached, dimpled, hanging, and pregnant chad much scrutinized and discussed on the cable television news channels—were in and of them­ selves destabilizing, because they gave their opponents an opportunity to challenge the initial results and attem pt to overturn them. Many Republicans also understood that the failure to resolve the dispute by counting votes and agreeing on the totals represented a major embar­ rassment for Florida on the national stage, and for the United States as a whole on the international stage. The poor publicity was almost certainly a big part of the reason why Jeb Bush, then the governor of social research Vol 75 : No 4 : Winter 2008 1109 Florida and the incoming president’s brother, convened a bipartisan blue-ribbon panel within 48 hours of the Supreme Court decision that ended the election and asked the panel to come back as quickly as possi­ ble with recommendations for voting reform. He, like everyone else, wanted to ensure that no future presidential contest would be mired in similar controversy. The Democrats, for their part, came away feeling they had been cheated of a rightful victory. To this day, Al Gore jokes that he “used to be the next president of the United States” (Guggenheim, 2006). They felt, with some justification, that the state authorities were stacked against them because the governor was the Republican candidate’s brother and the secretary of state, responsible for overseeing the elec­ tion and guaranteeing its fairness, was co-chair of his state election campaign. They could point to multiple problems, either technical or political, that worked against them: the disproportionate number of undervotes (ballots registering no choice for president, often because of mechanical failure) in poorer, Democrat-leaning neighborhoods and in counties where maintenance of the punch-card machines was particularly shoddy; the poor design of the notorious “butterfly ballot” in Palm Beach County, which prompted several hundred Gore support­ ers to vote for the Reform Party candidate, Pat Buchanan, by mistake and prompted several thousand more to double-mark and thus spoil their ballots; the overindulgent acceptance of late-arriving overseas military ballots that, according to a subsequent analysis by the New York Times, gave Bush 680 net votes he should not have received (Barstow and Van Natta, 2001); the failure of 18 Republican-run counties to carry out machine recounts the day after the election, suppressing 130 net Gore votes in Lake County alone (Damron, Campbell, and Roy, 2000); and, most damagingly, the disenfranchisement of unknown thousands of African-American voters—a group favoring Gore by a 9-1 margin overall—who were wrongly turned away from the polls because their names appeared on an error-riddled voter purge list ostensibly meant to weed out former convicted felons. It did not help that Florida, at the time, had no system of provisional voting, whereby citizens could 1110 social research cast a ballot first and verify their eligibility later. In one county, which ended up dropping the list, a stunning 95 percent of the names on the “purge list” were not convicted felons at all (Sancho, 2004). Most coun­ ties conducted no such audit, however, so we will never know exactly how many votes were lost because qualified citizens were unable to cast them. It became apparent, as the fight reached its bitter conclusion in the courts, that the problem...


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