Too close to call
Sixteen years later: On Nov. 7, 2000, the election that changed the way we vote
What you may remember
Palm Beach County’s “butterfly ballot.” Votomatic punch-card machines. Race too close to call between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore. Florida recount. Undervotes and overvotes. Dimpled, pregnant and hanging chads. Bush by 537 votes in the recount. U.S. Supreme Court hands Bush the presidency.
What actually happened on this date
Florida was must-see TV the night of Nov. 7, 2000, with the presidential race so close that the state’s 25 electoral votes would send either candidate achingly close to the 270 needed to win. By 8 p.m., all the networks and The Associated Press had projected Gore as the winner in Florida based on exit polling, with NBC calling it first at 7:48 p.m. Less than two hours later, it was back to “too close to call.”
And it wasn’t until 3:45 a.m., Nov. 8, with 99.9 percent of the precincts counted and Bush holding a mere 569-vote lead out of nearly 6 million votes cast, that it became crystal clear: There would be a recount.
What happened next
Thirty-five days of recounts, rallies, lawsuits and suspense that didn’t end until Dec. 12, 2000, when the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, reversed a Florida Supreme Court ruling authorizing manual recounts of the state’s disputed ballots. That effectively ended Gore’s quest for the presidency. He gave a concession speech the next day, and it was over.
Bush became the 43rd U.S. president.
Bush won Florida by 537 votes (2,912,790 to Gore’s 2,919,253).
Bush won the presidency with 271 electoral votes to Gore’s 267.
Gore won the national popular vote by 543,895 votes (50,999,897 to Bush’s 50,456,002).
Those pesky chads
Votomatic punch-card machine
The Votomatic was the state-of-the-art voting machine when Palm Beach County became the second county in Florida to start using it in 1978. After its role in the 2000 election meltdown, it was replaced in time for the 2002 election by touch-screen machines, which in turn were replaced by optical scan machines in 2008.
Palm Beach County auctioned 519 Votomatics on Ebay for $182,100 in 2001.
A two-page ballot design actually was meant to help elderly voters read the ballot. With 10 presidential candidates and their running mates whose names had to be on the 2000 ballot, Palm Beach County Elections Supervisor Theresa LePore aimed to make the type bigger by spreading the names over two pages with the punch holes between the two pages.
But many voters said the design was confusing, causing them to inadvertently vote for conservative Pat Buchanan instead of Al Gore or to spoil their ballots by double-marking them.
Now: Both the Smithsonian and the Florida Historic Capitol Museum have a Votomatic machine with a butterfly ballot, although the Smithsonian’s is not on display.
Canvassing boards across Florida spent weeks examining punch cards for “hanging chads” and other hints of a voter’s intent.
Now: Some 6 million ballot cards are in storage in a climate-controlled area in the state archives building in Tallahassee; one is on display at the Bush presidential library near Dallas.
The main players
Now 70. U.S. president from 2001-2009. He now splits time between a home in the Dallas area and his ranch in Crawford, Texas. His presidential library at Southern Methodist University, near Dallas, was dedicated in 2013. He's the author of two books, including a biography of his father, former U.S. President George H.W. Bush.
Now 68. Chair, Climate Reality Project, a non-profit devoted to climate change. Gore is the co-founder and chair of an investment management firm and senior partner of a venture capital firm. He also is on the board of Apple Inc. He was the recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. Gore, the author of five books, lives in Nashville. He and his wife Tipper separated in 2010.
The canvassing board
The three-member canvassing board visually inspected Palm Beach County’s 462,657 ballots during the recount.
Palm Beach County Elections Supervisor in 2000. Democrat. Voted out of office in 2004. Development director for Cardinal Newman High School in West Palm Beach for five years. Now: Consultant for elections software company for military and overseas voters. Member of several Palm Beach County non-profit boards.
Comment: “No good deed goes unpunished."
Palm Beach County Commissioner in 2000. Democrat. Left commission for unsuccessful run for U.S. Congress in 2002. Now: On county’s Health Care District board; term-limited in 2016.
Comment: “Yeah, the Republicans stole it. They were really obstructionists in our count.”
Palm Beach County judge who handled small-claims suits and misdemeanors in 2000. Democrat appointed by a Republican governor. Elevated to Circuit Court and assigned to divorce cases at Delray Beach Courthouse in 2005. Now: Oversees felony cases at main courthouse in West Palm Beach since 2011.
Comment: “The one thing I keep thinking is we’ve come a long way with voter accuracy, but we still have a big problem with voter turnout.”
The bit players
In 2000, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s Secretary of State who oversaw state recounts. Invalidated Palm Beach County’s final recount tally because it was submitted two hours after her deadline. Published book about her experiences. A Republican, she served two terms in the U.S. House; lost U.S. Senate bid in 2006. Now: Managing director of investment relations for Sarasota-based venture capital firm Seven Holdings and involved in area philanthropies.
In 2000, Palm Beach County circuit judge assigned to rule on lawsuits from voters claiming they were entitled to a revote in the election. He ruled against the revote, and his decision was upheld by Florida Supreme Court. He has been registered to vote with no party affiliation since he was appointed to the circuit bench in 1996. Appointed by Gov. Charlie Crist to 4th District Court of Appeal in 2008 and to Florida Supreme Court in 2009.