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2000 Presidential Election Revisited

October 22nd, 2007

clintonnolongerworst.jpgThis article by Jamie Sue Austin highlights some of the problems with “voting irregularities” during the 2000 presidential election. Although this essay seems to have been written before the 2004 election, some of these same issues resurfaced, but the reports were mostly centered around the state of Ohio rather than Florida.


The 2000 Presidential election brought with it a scandal not seen since 1876. There were countless accusations of voter disenfranchisement, police intimidation, and an arduous recount complete with court proceedings. Thousands of people packed into the polls on November 7th, 2000. Many would be turned away because their names were on the “scrub list” given by the company ChoicePoint to Florida officials (Palast 22). Florida hires a private company to clean voter registration roles of ineligible voters. It is the only state to do so. The list was supposed to be composed of past felons, but included many people with similar names, most of whom had never committed a crime.

Still others would not make it to the polls at all. Road blocks were put up in some communities that prevented voters from getting to their designated polling place. Police harassed people as they traveled to the polling areas. Then there were the votes themselves to consider. Almost 90,000 voters were disenfranchised by the “scrub list”. This by itself is a significant number, but not nearly as impressive as the 179,855 ballots that Florida’s official did not count at all. (Palast 13, 62.)

That’s right. 179,855 ballots were not counted. These spoiled ballots far outweighed the 537 vote difference that elected our President but were largely ignored. Exactly how do 179,855 ballots go bad? It didn’t have so much to do with the voters themselves but the machines that were used. Some machines were programmed to spit out incorrect ballots so that voters could correct them. Some were set so that these ballots were eaten by the machine, never to be counted. Sometimes the mistakes were as simple as both writing in the name for the candidate and punching the hole for his name on the same ballot. In areas that vote primarily Democratic machines were set to eat incorrect ballots, while machines set to reject them were stationed mostly in areas that vote Republican (Palast 64.)

The problem wasn’t just a Floridian one. In a press release by Congressman John Conyers from 2001 it was revealed that voter disenfranchisement was rampant in the 2000 election.

• […]At least 1,276,916 voters in 31 states and the District of Columbia had their votes discarded with no vote for President […]
• […]In 19 states the Secretary of State or other appropriate election official indicated that they kept no statewide record of uncounted ballots.
• […]Eligible voters in at least 25 states went to the polls and found their names were illegally purged from the rolls or were not timely added.
• Disabled voters in at least 18 states reported inaccessible polling stations and confusing ballots […]
• […] In at least 18 states, voters reported serous instances of election-related police misconduct or misconduct by other officials. (Conyers)

Votes were not counted, counted incorrectly, or were not cast because of police intimidation. Still the election was so close it warranted a recount. Long before it was finished, Bush was determined to be the winner. Twenty counties never did the mandatory machine recount as required by state election law and many other recounts were stopped midway when the Supreme Court decided that the recount procedure in process was unconstitutional because it was not being carried out statewide and to ban further recounts using other procedures. With this seemingly simple ruling the Supreme Court, not the people, elected our current president.

Little was being said while all of this was going on. Not much was in the news, and few reports were being generated. For in-depth coverage of the U.S. elections, citizens of this country had to turn to the U.K.’s BBC broadcasts. There was little in the way of public outcry and the nation as a whole seemed less concerned with putting into office the person who was rightfully elected as they were with getting back to their regularly scheduled TV programs. Slowly it set in. An election in the United States, the home of Democracy, had been stolen. Something had to be done.

In 2002 Congress passed the “Help America Vote Act” which addressed only part of the problems facing voters. Since 2001 states have introduced 3,643 pieces of election reform legislation, passing only 492 of them with 205 bills still pending (NCSL.) Several organizations formed to campaign for voters’ rights and are actively lobbying Congress to pass legislation that makes voting more accessible for all individuals. There is a growing uncertainty regarding the 2004 elections. People are worried that there will be a repeat of events even though changes are in progress.

Perhaps the biggest things to hit the polls in 2004 will be the much debated electronic voting machines. The current administration wants the new electronic systems in place, but does not want a verifiable paper trail. This is of great to concern to millions of skeptical Americans like myself who do not want a repeat of the 2000 election debacle. I don’t know much about the current voting machines. No one does because the source code is a closely guarded secret. However, just like any other computer, voting systems can (and will) be hacked. Results shown on the screen may not be the same ones recorded by the computers internal processors. Results could be tampered with in such a way as to throw the 2004 election and without a paper trail there would be no way of knowing the truth.

The Campaign for Verifiable Voting recently reviewed the paperless voting machines in Maryland found that the machines were unfit to be used in an election. “The paperless electronic voting system of Maryland has been reviewed formally three times. Each time the reports produced alarming findings of potential manipulation of the election or unintentional inaccurate voting” (CFVV). Furthermore an article in the August issue of The Nation states, “According to Dr. David Dill, professor of computer science at Stanford, all elections conducted on DREs (electronic paperless voting machines) ‘are open to question.’ Challenging those who belittle the danger of fraud, Dill says that with trillions of dollars at stake in the battle for control of congress and the presidency, potential attackers who might seek to fix elections include ‘hackers, candidates, zealots, foreign governments and criminal organizations,’ and ‘local officials can’t stop it.’”(Dugger 12)

Currently House Bill 53 addresses the issue and requires a paper trail for all votes, saying in part “that any voting system that does not use a document ballot produce a paper record of a voter’s ballot choices and provide the voter with an opportunity to inspect the paper record; requiring that the paper records be preserved at the polling place in a manner similar to document ballots so that the paper records may later be used in a manual recount if necessary; establishing a Task Force to Study Voting System Verification.” This bill is still pending.

It is every American’s right to vote and have that vote counted correctly. This election year we as Americans need to demand accountability in the form of a verifiable paper trail, keep an eagle eye out for fraud and abuse in the system, and do our best to help push the laws and legislation that will lead to democracy for all.

Works Cited:

BILL INFO-2004 Regular Session-HB. 10 Aug. 2004. . 13 Aug. 2004. .

Duggar, Ronnie. “How They Could Steal the Election This Time.” The Nation. 16 Aug. 2004: 11-24.

Election Ref. 24 Mar. 2003. Campaign for Verifiable Voting in Maryland. 13 Aug. 2004. .

House Commitee on Judiciary. How to make Over one Million Votes Disapper: Electoral sleight of hand in the 2000 Presidential Election. Washington: GPO, 2001.

Palast, Greg. The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. New York, NY: Penguin Group, 2003.

You can’t trust Maryland’s Paperless Voting Machines. 10 Feb. 2004. Campaign for Verifiable Voting in Maryland. 13 Aug. 2004. .



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