Down & Dirty: The Plot to Steal the Presidencyby Jake Tapper
Acclaimed journalist, Jake Tapper explains what actually happened, who got away with what and how both sides, Democrats and Republicans, plotted to steal the presidency in 2000.
- Little, Brown and Company
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"Do you get the feeling that Florida might be important in this election?"
At 5:55 a.m. in Tampa, Florida, on Election Day 2000, Vice President Al Gore makes a run for the Florida Bakery.
It's his third stop of the dayhe's already headlined a South Beach, Miami, midnight rally alongside Robert DeNiro and Stevie Wonder, as well as made a visit to a Tampa hospital. At the bakery, Gore meets up with his running mate, Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn.
The Sunshine State is so critical to his victory, Gore earlier in the year had thought about picking Florida's Democratic senator, Bob Graham, as his running mate. Instead he went with Lieberman, who has demographic pluses as well: an Orthodox Jew is a big hit in southern Florida.
The two are offered small Cuban coffees in teeny plastic sample cups. "L'chaim," Gore says to Lieberman.
"That's good. That feels like eight hours of sleep," Gore says, downing his coffee. He's been going for more than thirty hours now.
"What do you recommend instead of doughnuts?" He asks the woman behind the counter what a nice Cuban pastry would be.
Too little too late. Ever since April, when the Clinton administration sent Immigration and Naturalization Service officers to seize Elián González at gunpoint from the bungalow of his Miami relatives in Little Havana, Gore's been struggling for Cuban-Americans to give him a chance. And in this tight, tight race in Florida he needs their support. Any way he can get it.
The woman behind the counter recommends guava and cream cheese.
"We'll get some of those instead of doughnuts," Goresays. Gore gives her a $20 bill for the $14.45 check. "Keep that as a tip," he says. "Gracias." At 6:10 a.m., Gore's motorcade arrives at the local Democratic HQ, in a small cement building in a Cuban section of Tampa. Lieberman with his hound-dog mug and subtle, bubbly glee jumps onstage.
"Do you get the feeling that Florida might be important in this election?" Lieberman jokes. "The dawn is rising on Election Day, right here in Tampa Bay."
"This is the last official stop of Campaign 2000," Gore adds. "It's not an accident that it's here in Tampa. It's not an accident that it's in west-central Florida, because Florida may very well be the state that decides the out-come of this election."
He tells the crowd about his South Beach rally. "Just before I went out to make the speech, somebody had one of the cable television networks on, and it was reporting news at the top of the hour, and it was a roundup of the campaign activities. And it said, At this hour, George W. Bush is asleep, and Al Gore is preparing to speak to twenty-five thousand people in Florida.' " The crowd goes wild.
A napping Dubya was not exceptional, especially after a campaign day as busy as was Monday, spent flipping the political bird to Gore and President Clinton, swooping in on his campaign plane to stump in their respective home states of Tennessee and Arkansas. Bush finished up his campaigning Monday night with an airport rally in Austin, and then it would be bedtime. Bush likes sleep. He hits the sack by 9:30 p.m. He carried a down pillow nicknamed "pilly" with him on the campaign trail.
"Well, it's almost 5:30 a.m. Texas time, and George W. Bush is STILL asleep and I'm still speaking to people HERE IN FLORIDA!!" Gore says. The crowd again goes wild.
Soon enough, Gore and Lieberman leave the Tampa rally, head to the airport, and fly to Tennessee to watch the returns. Now it's in the hands of the people.
People like Theresa LePore.
LePore, elections supervisor for Palm Beach County, has been awake for three full hours. At 2:30 a.m. she eased herself out of bed. She was at work by 3:45 a.m. Voters start calling her to make sure they know the proper place to vote at around 4:30 a.m. or so. LePore feels like crap; she has a sinus infection; she didn't get home the previous night until around 10 p.m.; she hasn't really slept. But she's jazzed.
LePore loves elections. Lives for them. Says elections are in her blood. At the age of eight, she helped her Republican dad lick envelopes for his favorite candidates. In the summer of 1971, at the age of sixteen when most girls in her school had their sights set on less lofty pursuits LePore walked into the Palm Beach County elections office and took a job as a part-time typist, making $1.75 an hour, under good ol' boy elections supervisor Horace Beasley, aka Mr. B. She wasn't even old enough to vote.
LePore's now worked at the elections office for twenty-eight years. Originally she had registered to vote as a Republican, like her dad, a disabled Korean War veteran who never told her just how he injured his left arm. But he never really was about partisan politics, and in 1979 LePore reregistered as an independent. When a third-party formally registered as "Independent," she changed her registration to "no party."
LePore earned her associate degree from Palm Beach Junior College and even attended Florida Atlantic University for a spell. But she never got her bachelor's. She really wasn't all that interested in pursuing an education; she's not even a political junkie. She'd found what she wanted to do. And she'd found a mentor in Jackie Winchester, the Palm Beach County supervisor of elections, appointed to the position after Mr. B died in office in 1973. Winchester was first elected to the post in 1974, and not long afterward, Winchester handpicked LePore to be her chief deputy.
When Winchester announced her retirement in January 1996, it was only natural that LePore would take her place. Soon after Winchester told her of her plans, in the fall of 1995, LePore registered as a Democrat and ran. LePore won by 25,000 votes, and in 2000 she has the best kind of reelection match: she's running unopposed. So she's not even on the ballot.
But LePore's job this time was a little tougher than it had been in the past. Historically, Florida had been a tough place for third-party candidates. To get on a ballot, third-party candidates had to secure the signatures of 3 percent of all voters in the district on a petition. Democratic and Republican candidates had a much easier time, enjoying the option of either securing the signatures of 3 percent of just local members of their party or paying a qualifying fee. But in 1998, Libertarians launched a campaign to level the playing field, proposing Amendment 11 to the state constitution, "grant(ing) equal ballot access for independent and minor parties" by allowing members of those parties to pay the ballot-access fee instead of getting signatures. On that Election Day the same day that Jesse "The Body" Ventura was elected governor of Minnesota as a Reform Party candidate Amendment 11 passed overwhelmingly, with 64 percent of the vote. As a result, instead of the most restrictive ballot-access requirements in the country, Florida now had one of the loosest. LePore had no fewer than ten presidential candidates, and ten vice presidential candidates, to put on her ballot.
In September, LePore went to voting systems manager Tony Enos, thirty-six, and asked for help. Enos was, like her, an experienced elections board employee he'd been there for eighteen years, since he was eighteen. He soon gave her three ballot options.
One of them was a one-pager, as they'd always done in the past. But the twenty names meant that the type was really small. This troubled LePore. She remembered the 1988 Senate race, when Republican Connie Mack defeated Democratic representative Buddy MacKay by just 33,000 votes. During the recount, Democrats complained that 54,000 ballots didn't register a vote for Senate a full 17 percent. A closer inspection of these undervotes, as they were called, brought blame on the ballot design. Since the Senate race had been on the same page as the presidential race a lot of names on one page the race, written in small letters at the bottom of the first page of the ballot, had apparently escaped some voters' notice. Winchester and her equals in Hillsborough, Broward, and Miami-Dade Counties came under some heavy criticism for the 170,000 total undervotes in their four counties.
That experience, combined with her work for a federal task force dedicated to making it easier for the blind, disabled, and sight-impaired to vote, made LePore sensitive to the needs of voters who didn't have the best vision. There had been numerous complaints from older voters after all the
referenda and initiatives appeared on the 1998 ballot in 10-point type. This time, the names, she decided, would be better spread out over two pages. Like a butterfly. They called it a "facing-page ballot."
Enos had two designs with that option. One listed five candidate tickets on the left page, all huddled near the top of the page, with the other five pairs on the right page, near the bottom. But LePore didn't like this design. She wanted the list of candidates in essentially the same location on each page, with the holes to punch staggered between pages.
So it came down to Enos's third option. Bush and Cheney listed first on the left page, with their hole first in the middle; Reform ticket Pat Buchanan and Ezola Foster first on the right page, their hole second in the middle; Gore and Lieberman listed second on the left page, with their hole third in the middle, and so on.
In Miami-Dade County, the voting machines are being set up at two of the most Democratic precincts in the county, two places where Gore's gonna win big.
Precinct 255, Lillie C. Evans Elementary School, is located at 1895 NW 75th Street. Its voters are 89.8 percent Democratic, 95 percent African-American.
Precinct 535, Dunbar Elementary School, is at 505 NW 20th Street. Its registered voters are 88.48 percent Democratic, 93.25 percent black. Before the voting machines leave the elections warehouse, they're tested to make sure that they're functioning properly. The ten machines at Dunbar and the ten at Evans had both been deemed to be working fine. But at Evans Elementary on Tuesday morning, poll worker Larry Williams does a test ballot, and a punch he attempts for Gore doesn't register at all. Seven of the ten machines at Evans miss punches when tested. No one ever tells precinct clerk Donna Rogers. When Rogers is asked about the problems her precinct experiences today, she'll say that no voter complained to her, no poll worker told her about anything wrong, how was she to know. She'll say that the Miami Herald and I are the only ones including the elections commission to tell her that there were undervotes in her precinct, so as far as she's concerned, it's all hearsay.
But it's true. By the end of the day, 113 out of the 868 ballots cast at Evans Elementary School will not register a vote for president. This is a precinct that Gore will win with 98.81 percent to Bush's .66 percent of the votes that register.
Six of the ten machines at Dunbar miss punches as well in their morning tests. At Dunbar Elementary, 105 out of the 820 ballots won't register a vote for president. This is a precinct that Gore will win with 98.74 percent of the vote to Bush's 1.12 percent.
These rates of discarded ballots roughly 13 percent for both precincts will be the highest rate of unread ballots in the county.
Liz Hyman, thirty-four, sits outside the Delray Beach Gore HQ. She's a lawyer at Akin Gump in Washington, D.C., but she's also worked for the Justice Department, Gore's office, and for the U.S. trade representative for the Clinton administration, and she's taken some vacation time to help volunteer with the Gore campaign. A friend has a house in Palm Beach, so that just happened to be where she chose to do her volunteering.
Since 7 a.m., Hyman's been sitting at a table outside the building where she's trying to snag volunteers for various "Get Out the Vote" activities. She keeps hearing something weird about the ballot. Volunteers who have voted already complain that it's difficult to understand; many are upset. Word gets out: it's a problem elsewhere in the county, too. Conspiracy theories start cropping up: it makes it look like you're voting for Buchanan; maybe someone tampered with it!
At around 8 a.m., Hyman busts out her cell phone and calls her dad, Lester Hyman, another D.C. attorney. "You're not going to believe what's going on down here," she says. It's something that maybe people at Gore HQ in Nashville should know about. At the Justice Department, Hyman was once deputy to Ron Klain, a hotshot Democratic attorney and Gore guy. Maybe call him?
Klain's on his way to work that morning when he gets the call. Lester Hyman doesn't really understand the problem something about people accidentally voting for Buchanan? but says Liz is upset.
Klain knows that Liz does not upset easily. When he arrives, he goes into the "boiler room," where Gore's main on-the-ground political adviser, Michael Whouley, is working away. Klain gives Whouley Liz's name and number, vouches for her credibility.
Seconds later, Liz Hyman's cell phone rings. It's Joe Sandler, general counsel of the Democratic National Committee.
"I hear there's a problem with the ballot?" he asks.
There is a problem with Palm Beach County's butterfly ballot. People are confused. Many are angry. At a Greenacres condominium clubhouse John Lazet, sixty-six, votes the right way after a proctor gives him a second ballot. But he decides to take matters into his own hands.
He calls the supervisor's office but finds the man who answers the phone less than sympathetic. So he and two buddies drive to LePore's office. There they find her outside in the middle of a TV interview. Lazet starts verbally coming at her, but that quickly ends when LePore says that she doesn't have time to talk to him. She thinks it's just a few cranky old men. Nothing to worry about.
Assistant poll clerk Ethel Brownstein, seventy-one, arrives at the Lucerne Point Club from her home in Lake Worth at around 5:45 a.m. By seven, there's already a long line of voters, mostly seniors. She starts directing traffic: "You go here, you go here, you go here."
At around 8 a.m., a woman comes to Brownstein and tells her she's having a problem.
"I put this thing in, but it doesn't go in," she says.
Brownstein enters the voting booth to see what she's talking about. The
rectangular ballot has gone in straight, in the slot underneath the ballot,
but for some reason the stylus to punch the hole isn't going through.
"I want to vote for Mr. Gore," she says.
Brownstein looks at the ballot. "This is confusing," she thinks. Gore is listed second, but his is the third hole. And for a lot of these voters, who are elderly, who don't see so well, who are used to having the second hole correspond to the second name, well, they might not really understand how to vote correctly, Brownstein realizes.
"The first hole is Bush, the second is Buchanan, and the third is Gore," Brownstein says. Worried about crossing the line between assistance and instruction, Brownstein quickly hustles out of the booth. But she thinks, "You know, something's wrong here. People don't know how to punch these things." She starts saying to voters, "Please be careful. The first hole is Bush, the second is Buchanan, the third is Gore." Repeatedly she warns people, "Be careful."
Not everyone hears her or even with her advice can figure it out. Others just shrug off her warnings altogether; they've been voting since Truman, they don't need directions. The complaints start flooding in from the crowd: that the stylus didn't work properly, that they voted for the wrong person, that since there were two holes next to Gore and Lieberman's box they punched both holes. A couple women come to her in tears, afraid that they voted for Buchanan, knowing that it's too late since their ballots have been put into the box.
Brownstein's husband, George, seventy-six, is going through a similar ordeal at the Masonic Temple, precinct 121-D, where he's serving as a poll clerk. People are having problems, but when he tries to phone the elections office, he can't get through.
"This is unreal," he thinks.
At precinct 154-G in Bethesda Health City, assistant clerk Bert Gluck, seventy-six, is also seeing the meltdown. From inside the polling stations, voters are oohing and aahing, confused, punching more than one hole, griping that on some of the ballots the arrows don't line up with any holes.
He cautions voters, don't turn in your ballot if you've punched more than one hole! Forty-nine voters take him up on the offer, turning in to him their double-punched ballots, which otherwise would have been voided.
At 10:30 a.m. in Nashville, Gore spokesman Douglas Hattaway and Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Jenny Backus have already heard about the butterfly ballot problems. In their first briefing of the day, Hattaway and Backus tell reporters to caution Palm Beach County voters to look carefully at their ballot. At 11:24 a.m., Bobby Brochin, counsel for the DNC in Florida, faxes LePore a letter from his Miami office. The Democrats aren't entirely sure what the problem is, just that there is one. "Apparently certain presidential ballots being utilized in several precincts in Palm Beach County are quite confusing," Brochin writes. "They contain two pages listing all of the presidential candidates, which may cause electors to vote twice in the presidential race. You should immediately instruct all deputy supervisors and other officials at these precincts that they should advise all electors (and post a written advisory) that the ballot for
the presidential race is two pages long, and that electors should only vote for one presidential candidate."
LePore doesn't respond to Brochin's fax.
In Tallahassee, Anita Davis, past president of the local branch of the NAACP, is running around, going precinct to precinct. She returns from District 1 polling centers, jubilant. Turnout is way high.
After Gov. Jeb Bush formally introduced his "One Florida" initiative in March which would effectively end affirmative action in the state local NAACP activists were rejuvenated, launching their "We'll remember in November" voter registration/revenge drive. Today, November 7, black voters do indeed seem to be remembering. Davis's first trip out was at around 9 a.m., to one precinct where hundreds had already voted.
The overall numbers bear out her enthusiasm. Just under sixty thousand African-Americans registered to vote between February and October, a 7 percent increase. White registration grew by about half that. And while black voters constitute 934,261 of the Florida electorate, compared to 6,564,813 whites and Latinos, today, state black turnout is so high the highest ever that black voters will constitute 16 percent of the total turnout. In 1996, that number was just 10 percent.
Today in the Sunshine State, 93 percent of black voters will go for the vice president.* Little of this seems attributable to Gore, whose consultants reportedly kept blacks out of photographs with the veep during the campaign, so as to keep him from seeming too liberal. (In September, Gore was pulled from directly addressing the National Baptist Convention for fear of scaring away the soccer moms and blue-collar dads and other white swing voters the campaign lusted after so unattractively.1) No, but blacks are turning out in record numbers today, in Leon and Duval and Gadsden and Miami-Dade and elsewhere, not so much for Gore, but against Bush.
And not just Bush and his Bob Jones University visiting, Confederate flag waving, itchy-death-row-trigger-finger-wiggling, South Carolina racist pandering cracker Texas ass. But also his brother Jeb whom many NAACP officials call "Jeb Crow" as well as Poppy Bush, whose aides bragged in 1988 that they would make black murderer Willie Horton seem like Gov. Mike Dukakis's running mate when it was all said and done.
Which is not to say that the African-American community doesn't have issues with Dubya. In the second presidential debate, Bush defended his opposition to a hate crimes bill, saying that it wasn't needed, since all of the killers of his fellow Texan James Byrd, Jr., had been sentenced to death. But not all three had been put to death. One had been given a life sentence. And while the mainstream press ignored that fact, giving Bush a bye on this as they did on so much else, black radio hosts sure as hell noticed. So did the NAACP, which ran a TV ad against Bush, featuring Byrd's niece, Renee Mullins, saying that when Bush refused to support the hate crimes bill that bore her uncle's name, it felt like he'd been killed all over again. Incendiary stuff, stuff that whites decried as over the line, but it had an impact in the right neighborhoods.
And it goes beyond the descendants of the late Connecticut senator Prescott Bush. Despite its reputation in the Northeast as a somewhat anomalous Southern state, Florida has a fairly ugly racial history.
This isn't just ancient history, the 1889 Florida poll tax, the 1920 Ococee County murders and arson and other retaliations against blacks who had dared to try to vote, the 1951 Christmas Day murder of the NAACP's Harry T. Moore, who launched a Brevard County registration drive. No, it's more recent than that in the minds of much of Florida's black community. For Godsakes, post-Reconstruction, no black Floridian had been elected to the U.S. House until 1992. 2
When Davis, sixty-four, moved down to Tallahassee from Buffalo in 1979 her son had been recruited to play football for FSU, and she was eager to get away from Buffalo's winters Leon County didn't have one countywide black elected official. Not one. Post-Reconstruction, after all, the first black ever elected to the Tallahassee city commission was James Ford, and that hadn't been until 1971. Writing before the primary that year, the Tallahassee Democrat had described Ford, the Leon High School vice principal, as a "mature Negro....We are impressed that he may be the best-qualified Negro ever to offer for public office in Tallahassee. We would expect him to serve, if elected, as a proper representative of his racial minority without antagonistic attitudes toward the majority that might result in more frustration and discord than genuine advancement."
The name "Tallahassee" comes from a Creek word for "old town," and for African-Americans that was true, and it wasn't good.
But Davis and others like her had worked hard, and things had changed. The U.S. Justice Department sued the city of Tallahassee in 1974 for engaging "in a pattern or practice of discrimination based on race in hiring." In 1975, the District Court for the Northern District of Florida ordered Tallahassee to "hire, assign, promote, transfer, and dismiss employees without regard to race or color."3 Davis herself served for ten years as NAACP branch president, worked on the 1980s lawsuits that ended the at-large election system that kept blacks without a representative on the county commission or the school board. The first African-American county commissioner was finally elected in 1986, and not long after that came the first black member of the school board.
So when whites fretted that blacks in Tallahassee, or Florida, wanted "special rights," when they acted as if society was so far beyond institutional racism there was no longer any need for institutional remedies, Davis wondered just what planet they lived on. It was just 1990 that a black school board member had been first elected in a regular election. 1990!
At 11:30 a.m., Davis starts getting phone calls from friends right here in District 1. There's a Florida Highway Patrol road stop right near a black voting district, she's told, a checkpoint on Woodville Highway and Oak Ridge Road, a black area of town, just one mile from Woodville First Baptist Church, a polling place where a third of the voters are black.
Davis calls the FHP.
Yes, they have people doing some spot-checking, she's told. Nothing odd. Nothing illegal. Just normal procedure. Turns out that in September, the FHP was $1 million in the hole in its gasoline budget, so in October it started conducting checkpoints, which don't require cops to be driving around and burning fuel so much. They've done thirty-one of these so far, asking motorists to show their licenses and insurance information.
But this seems strange. "It's odd for them to be out there on Election Day," Davis thinks. "It just doesn't smell right." And why in a black neighborhood? Davis has seen too much to come to any other conclusion: "It's a method to keep people from the polls," she thinks.*
And that's not all. In the early afternoon, Davis's grandson, Jamarr Lyles, twenty, a student at Florida A&M, is getting ready to go to his job at Subway. Lyles worked hard to register his friends at the polls, and he's disappointed, he tells his grandmother. A bunch of them have called him, having been turned away at the polls, told that their names aren't there. He's bummed. All that hard work, and for what? Something is going wrong or, depending on what you want, right in Leon County.
At the Orange Bowl in Miami, Cuban-American activist Armando Gutierrez, who served as the spokesman for Elián González's Miami relatives, is getting his revenge.
Just as Davis has been activated to seek vengeance against Jeb by defeating his brother in the presidential election, Gutierrez has been motivated to seek vengeance against Al Gore because of the actions of his president, Bill Clinton, and Attorney General Janet Reno for what they did to little Elián. Gutierrez usually makes his money working on campaigns for local judges and smaller ballot issues like one today on off-street parking. But the main cause today for both him and his poll workers is the defeat of Al Gore.
Though Gore attempted to distance himself from the Clinton administration's position that Elián should be returned to his father, who still lives in Cuba, Gutierrez didn't buy it for one minute. The day before Election Day, Gutierrez even held a press conference at Elián's Little Havana home with the boy's two great-uncles, telling the Cuban-American community to come and vote for Bush. "It's important to remind people that this is how you get even at the polls," Gutierrez would say.
Today he has two precincts to watch, both at the Orange Bowl. Voters keep coming up to him, saying, "We're here because of Elián," or even "I voted for Elián," meaning Bush. Things are going well, Gutierrez thinks. Some voting snafus are garden-variety bureaucratic incompetence. Others are perhaps rooted in something else.
In November 1997, incumbent Miami mayor Joe Carollo was narrowly beaten by Xavier Suarez, mayor from '86 until '93. After losing that runoff, Carollo sued for fraud. A handwriting expert Carollo hired cast doubt over the legitimacy of about a fifth of the five thousand absentee ballots cast in the election. In March 1998, the Third District Court of Appeals threw out all five thousand of the absentee ballots, ruling that the "absentee ballot is a privilege," not a right. Carollo was installed as mayor.
In the wake of the embarrassing election, in 1998, the Florida legislature passed a state voter-fraud law, creating an ineligible-voter list as part of the central voter file, and requiring all sixty-seven counties to purge their voter registries of ineligible voters, including felons. In 1998, the state became the only one in the nation to hire a private firm to complete the task of accumulating the names of ineligible voters, signing a $4 million contract with DBT Online, since merged into ChoicePoint.
Early in the year, ChoicePoint sent its latest list of eight thousand exfelons to the state. Linda Howell, the elections supervisor of Madison County, on the Georgia line, knew immediately that something was wrong with the list. Her name was on it. Linda Howell might be plenty of things, but a felon wasn't one of them. The husband of Duval County elections supervisor John Stafford's press officer was on the list, too. He also was not a felon. That was enough: neither Madison nor Duval County used ChoicePoint's information.
As the ChoicePoint lists were examined, it became clear that this wasn't a case of a name or two accidentally being included. It turned out that only thirty-four voters actually belonged on Leon County's felon list. But Choice-Point had provided elections supervisor Ion Sancho with more than seven hundred names. Over the summer, ChoicePoint admitted its error, blaming the mistake on erroneous data that listed thousands who had been convicted of misdemeanors as felons. But by then, confusion had set in.
Sancho repeatedly complained to state division of elections director Clay Roberts, a Jeb Bush appointee who endorsed Jeb's brother for president. But Roberts didn't seem to care. "It's not that bad," Sancho remembers Roberts telling him. "Improvements have been made. It keeps getting better. We're working to solve the problems." By Election Day 2000, Sancho has been complaining about this list for two years, but Secretary of State Katherine Harris and Roberts have paid his and his colleagues' concerns little attention.
ChoicePoint, those looking for conspiracies in the coming days will point out, bought one of its bum lists from a company in Texas, and its founder was a major GOP donor. That Harris, Roberts, and Jeb Bush did little from November 1998 to November 2000 to allay the fears of elections supervisors who were concerned about ChoicePoint's shoddy lists with a roughly 85 percent accuracy rate will fuel anger as well. And today, ChoicePoint's incompetence will have a double-edged impact. Because its information is so frequently wrong, some counties ignored the list altogether, and hundreds of felons are able to vote. But because its information is so frequently wrong, some counties disenfranchised legitimate voters. In Hillsborough County, for instance, 54 percent of the voters on the ChoicePoint list were African-American, despite the fact that blacks are only 11 percent of the county's voting population.4 Now, a cynic might argue that if it were individual voters named Hilton Mayberry IV being confused with a felon of the same name as opposed to Miguel Dominguez or Ronnie Jefferson then maybe Clay Roberts and Katherine Harris would have been quicker to respond to the problem. A cynic might argue that Florida is a state that has pockets of poverty and despair that recall nothing so much as Civil War documentaries. And such a cynic might further point out that Jeb Bush's biggest and boldest race-related initiative has been to end affirmative action, and thus it would be almost silly to expect him to care about this.
At around 6 p.m. in Tallahassee, Willie Whiting, Jr., fifty, a pastor in the House of Prayer Church, goes with his wife, son, and daughter to St. John's United Methodist Church to vote. But Whiting's name isn't on the voter rolls.
"You have been purged from our system," he's told by one of the white poll workers.
What? That can't be true, he says. Double-check. The poll worker calls the Leon County elections office. The database has Whiting listed as a convicted felon.
This shocks Whiting. But unlike most who get caught in a similar situation, Whiting isn't going to walk away, scratching his head. "Do I need to call my lawyer?" he asks. Eventually the mistake is cleared up, and Whiting is allowed to vote.
In January of 2000, protesting Jeb's executive order repealing affirmative-action programs for state contracts and university admissions, African-American protesters, led by Sen. Kendrick Meek, D-Miami, and Rep. Tony Hill, D-Jacksonville, staged a twenty-five-hour sit-in in the office of Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan. Jeb instructed aides to "kick their asses out." (Jeb later claimed that he had been talking about reporters.)
Pastor Whiting cannot escape the feeling that somehow, in some way, Jeb and others are today just trying to kick his ass out of the voting rolls.
Other problems voters have today are less conspiratorial in nature. But they do, for whatever reason, seem to impact black voters more so than whites.
Quiounia Williams is eighteen. It's her first election, and she's excited. She enters the voting booth at First Timothy Baptist Church, on Biscayne Road in Jacksonville, and puts the card inside the slot. But she's never done this before, and no one's shown her how to do it, and for some reason the card won't go down. It doesn't sit still. Every time she punches a hole, the card moves.
She leaves the booth.
"I couldn't put the card all the way down," she tells a poll worker.
"Well," says the worker, "what actually happened?"
"When I pushed down, every time I got ready to punch a hole, it would move again."
"Don't worry about it, baby," the poll worker, an African-American woman, says, handing her an "I voted!" sticker, telling her to put the card in the box.
The elections office in Duval County, surrounding Jacksonville, is suffering its own distinct chaos. Despite having decided not to use ChoicePoint's scrub list, Duval County is having some serious problems, particularly in its predominantly African-American precincts. Just last weekend, Stafford made sure that 170,000 copies of a sample ballot were inserted into the Sunday editions of the Florida Times-Union. "Step 4 Vote all pages," it read. But on the Duval ballot, the ten presidential candidates are spread over two pages. Stafford realized that the sample ballot's instructions were incorrect and could result in overvotes disqualifying the ballot. So today the official ballot has different instructions. "Step 4 Vote appropriate pages," it reads.
Ernest Lewis, for one, is confused. It's his first time voting. Whether it's because he remembers the instructions from the sample ballot, or whether it's because he's new at this and he just figured you vote on every page, Lewis votes on both presidential pages and voids his ballot in the process. More than twenty thousand voters in Duval County will do this today.
Some Florida counties have systems in place that notify voters immediately if their ballot is invalid, but only 26 percent of black voters live in these counties as opposed to 34 percent of white voters. That means by sheer numbers white voters have an advantage.5
In the cotton belt's Gadsden County on the Georgia line, union officials hustled all June to register two thousand African-American voters, many of them seniors who had never voted before. But today in Gadsden polling booths, many seem to be making up for lost opportunities by picking more than one candidate for president. Some are voting for all ten presidential candidates, then penning Gore's name on the writein line. The ballot directions don't exactly help. "Vote for ONE," it says above the race for Senate. "Vote for Group," it says above the presidential contest.
From the Ochlockonee River to the Apalachicola, more than 2,000 of the 16,812 ballots cast in Gadsden today two-thirds of which are going to Gore will be thrown out. It's a full 12.33 percent of all ballots cast, the highest percentage in the state.6 It's just another uncomfortable superlative for Gadsden the state's third-poorest, and only majority-black, county, the only county in Florida that went for Walter Mondale over President Ronald Reagan in 1984. Here 94 percent of the students at Chattahoochee High School read below the minimum standard, the county's schools rank last in the state in reading for fourth, eighth, and tenth grades, and the school district's graduation rate 46 percent is the lowest in Florida.
The pattern is not unique to Gadsden, however. In Miami-Dade County, predominantly black precincts will register an undervote rate of 10 percent, while areas with few blacks have an undervote rate of 3 percent.7 Some black neighborhoods in largely black Liberty City and Overtown will register overvote rates of 10 percent, while the countywide rate will be just 2.7 percent.8 Undervotes and overvotes will result in 23 percent of the ballots cast that's almost one out of every four ballots by voters in largely black Palm Beach County areas like Belle Glade, Pahokee, and South Bay being chucked.9
By noon in Palm Beach County, WPEC-TV is reporting the story of the butterfly ballot, explaining the problem a hell of a lot better than the Democrats are. Joan Joseph, a Gore coordinator for the north end of the county, instructs her phone-bank supervisor to urge voters not only to hit the polls but to be wary of the ballot's confusing design.
They're getting other weird reports, too. In precinct 162-G, the almost entirely Jewish retirement community called Lakes of Delray, Pat Buchanan who has defended accused Nazis, called Hitler "a great man," argued that the United States fought the wrong side in World War II, and accused Holocaust survivors of having delusions of martyrdom is racking up surprising support.
Sylvia Robb, wife of Lakes of Delray community president Arthur Robb, is just one of forty-seven voters who punches hole no. 2, thinking it's for Gore. By the end of the day, no precinct in Palm Beach County will show more votes for Buchanan than this one.
At 2:57 p.m., Brochin faxes his letter to LePore again, since he never heard from her the first time.
By 3 p.m. in Nashville, Whouley decides to switch the phone-script on the paid phone bank calls. Their telemarketing company, TeleQuest, is called in Texas. The Dems want them to make seventy-four thousand calls in Palm Beach. TeleQuest says they can't get anywhere near that number, but the company does make a change. "Some voters have encountered a problem today with punch-card ballots in Palm Beach County," the new TeleQuest script reads. "These voters have said that they believe that they accidentally punched the wrong hole for the incorrect candidate." To voters who had yet to vote, instructions were given: "punch number 5 for Gore-Lieberman," and "do not punch any other number, as you might end up voting for someone else by mistake.
"If you have already voted and think you may have punched the wrong hole for the incorrect candidate, you should return to the polls and request that the election officials write down your name so that this problem can be fixed."
Around that time in Palm Beach, the butterfly-ballot cacophony gets cranked up when outspoken Gore-backing talk-radio host Randi Rhodes tells listeners to WJNO-radio 1290 on your a.m. dial that she had the same problem.
"I got scared I voted for Pat Buchanan," she says on the air. "I almost said, I think I voted for a Nazi.' When you vote for something as important as leader of the free world, I think there should be spaces between the names. We have a lot of people with my problem, who are going to vote today and didn't bring their little magnifiers from the Walgreens. They're not going to be able to decide that there's Al Gore on this side and Pat Buchanan on the other side....I had to check three times to make sure I didn't vote for a Fascist."
In retirement condos from Jupiter to Boca Raton, Rhodes's fans start wondering if they voted correctly.
Many of these seniors are deeply upset. Harold Blue, eighty-seven, enlisted in the cavalry right after Pearl Harbor, landing in Normandy at D day plus two, remaining in Europe long enough to carry out the cease-fire orders at the end of war, establishing contact with the Russians. Blue and his wife are legally blind, so at the polling station in a Greenacres public school, he requests help.
"Number one is Republican, number two is Democrat," the poll worker advises him. Later, Blue will realize that he punched the wrong hole. He fought for democratic principles in France, he thinks. But this sure as hell wasn't a democratic election.
At the elections office, Democratic officeholders like state representative Lois Frankel, state senator Ron Klein, and U.S. representative Robert Wexler come in and start complaining about the "widespread problem" of the butterfly ballot.
LePore has a real sick feeling in her stomach. "Oh, shit," she finally thinks.
Calls are coming in from people complaining because they had a problem voting. Poll workers and voters are calling and complaining that the phones have been busy, because of all the other calls. Harangued by the Democratic officials, LePore finally agrees to write an advisory about the ballot, though she tells the Democrats that she doesn't have the support staff to get it to every precinct, that they'll have to distribute it. They print out 531 copies:
ATTENTION ALL POLL WORKERS. PLEASE REMIND ALL VOTERS COMING IN THAT THEY ARE TO VOTE ONLY FOR ONE (1) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE AND THAT THEY ARE TO PUNCH THE HOLE NEXT TO THE ARROW NEXT TO THE NUMBER NEXT TO THE CANDIDATE THAT THEY WISH TO VOTE FOR.
At around 4 p.m., Judge Charles Burton chairman of the Palm Beach County canvassing board sits in the conference room with LePore and the third member of the board, Democratic county commissioner Carol Roberts.
An elections office employee brings Burton over a ballot.
"Vote for Gore," she instructs him. Burton had voted the week before, via absentee ballot.
Burton looks at the ballot, sees the clear arrow from the Gore-Lieberman ticket to the third hole, punches the hole, bang.
"What's the problem?" he asks.
"Well, people are getting confused," she says.
"I don't really see it," says Burton, a low-key guy. "But, well, OK."
Roberts, a strong partisan Democrat, says, "You know they're starting to say this ballot was illegal. You may need to get your own lawyer," she advises LePore.
The phone lines are all jammed. LePore learns that Democratic voters are being hepped up, told by a phone bank to call her to complain if they think they may have screwed up the ballot. The lines are being blocked from voters at the polls right now, she thinks.
LePore asks Burton what he thinks. Was the ballot illegal? He gets a book of election law, reads the statute. It's clearly OK. The section of law the Democrats are referring to 101.151 (3) (a) applies only to paper ballots, not ones for punch-card voting.
"I don't really think it's illegal," he tells LePore. "But whatever."
It's not "whatever" for LePore. She feels like her world is crashing down around her.
At 5:30 p.m., Lieberman calls Rhodes in a previously arranged "Get Out the Vote" interview.
"You've got a very confusing ballot in Florida, have you heard?" Rhodes asks Lieberman.
"I just heard as I was listening and waiting to come on," Lieberman says, "and that's the first I heard about it."
"We have a serious problem," Rhodes says. "And in fact, for those who found the ballot confusing, we have an attorney at one of our big law firms" asking us to "please file an affidavit." The Democrats have already set up a phone number and retained an attorney to hear voters' complaints. "I'm not sure if I voted for you and Al Gore, or Pat Buchanan and Ezola
Foster," Rhodes adds.
"Wow!" Lieberman responds. "Now, there's a big difference. You've got to be careful. The affidavit idea is very important. Because if the election is close, there's going to be contests all over America."
At that moment, Mitchell Berger is preparing for such an event.
Berger has known Al Gore since the early 1980s, when he was helping his dad's flailing mall development/management business in Chattanooga and Gore was a young congressman. Berger was interested in environmental issues, new economy issues, things that few politicians were discussing except for young Congressman Gore. They further bonded after Berger moved to Florida where he built a successful law practice with offices in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Tallahassee and Gore ran for president in 1988 with few other contacts in the Sunshine State.
Berger's respect for Gore knows no bounds. If you give Berger a minute, he'll spend five telling you how Gore's 1988 presidential run paved the way for Clinton's successful bid four years later. How New Democrat Gore was distancing himself from Jesse Jackson during the 1988 New York primary, thus allowing Clinton to do the same to rapper Sister Souljah four years later. He thinks that one of the most unreported stories about Al Gore is how Gore essentially ran the country while Clinton was stuck in the impeachment quagmire but had to keep such a fact quiet for the country's sake. And Berger has disdain for the reporters who covered the Clinton administration so aggressively, necessitating his giving Gore advice during some of the veep's own fundraising scandals.
In frequent contact with Brochin and Palm Beach County Democratic chieftain Monte Friedkin, Berger's alarmed. He tells Brochin and lawyers in his firm, mainly Leonard Samuels, to get ready to litigate. He doesn't know who's going to litigate, he doesn't know how, but he wants to be prepared.
At 7 p.m., Berger's at the Miami airport, on the phone with Gore attorneys Joe Sandler and Lynn Utrecht and Gore's chief of staff, Charles Burson. He's getting ready to hop onto a 7:15 Southwest Airlines flight to Nashville, hopefully for the Gore celebration, but he's not so sure that he should go.
"Should I stay in Florida?" he asks the Gore attorneys. "'Cause there's a lot of bad things that went on here today." Some in Nashville were under the impression that Berger was ready to file a lawsuit against the butterfly ballot at that very moment.
Come to Nashville, Sandler says. There's nothing you can do. The polls are about to close. And hopefully everything will be the way it's supposed to be.
So Berger gets on the plane.
1. Tamala Edwards, "O Brother, Where Art Thou?," Salon.com, Dec. 19, 2000.
2. Maxine Jones, "The African-American Experience in Twentieth-Century Florida," essay in The New History of Florida, Michael Gannon, ed. (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1996).
3. Glenda Alice Rabby, The Pain and the Promise: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Tallahassee, Florida (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1999).
4. Gregory Palast, "Florida's Disappeared Voters': Disfranchised by the GOP," The Nation, February 5, 2001.
5. John Mintz and Dan Keating, "Minority Undercount Rate Higher," Washington Post, Dec. 3, 2000.
6. Paul Brinkley-Rogers, "County Had Highest Rate of Invalid Ballots," Miami Herald, Dec. 3, 2000.
7. Mintz and Keating.
8. Frances Robles and Geoff Dougherty, "Ballot Errors Rate High in Some Black Precincts," Miami Herald, Nov. 15, 2000.
9. William Cooper, Jr., and Alexandra Clifton, "Glades Blacks' Ballots Tossed More Than Average," Palm Beach Post, Nov. 18, 2000.
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This book must be all right because the author has such little respect for the major players in the Florida revote. It is almost non-partician, in that sense. The problem here is that he takes a story spun to him by a member of the Gore camp about the Bushies plot to steal the election using illegal votes. No credible news service reported this because it was made up! In spite of any evidence, by anyone, the author would like you to beleive that this probably happened. Don't get me wrong, I did enjoy this book, however, if you are only going to read one book on this subject, pass this one up and buy 'Deadlock' by the Washington Post staff!
Like many newsies, I was obsessed with this election. Even though I was rooting for Bush, I felt that Gore might have been shafted based on what I heard from the media. In fact, the author set me straight. Thanks for a level-headed account of the premier political brawl of our lifetime! I especially loved the reaction of the Yale statistician when he was shown to be a phoney.
Being a Florida resident and a news junkie, I've read several books that recount (no pun intended) the 2000 presidential election and all that went on before, during and after. Jake Tapper's book is the best account of what went on. This book is the most informative, most objective, and seemingly the most factual of the bunch that I've read. I also read Dershowitz's Roger Simon's, Bill Sammon's, Vincent Bugliosi's and Bush v. Gore by Bill Kristol and E.J. Dionne. Those are all fine books which were good reads, but 'Down and Dirty' is the best of the bunch.
This book had me laughing and angry at the same time. This author is witty and quick. I have wanted to know for some time the details of election night. He gives detailed accounts of the moods of many diffrent players November 7th, 2000. I had not known where former Predident Clinton stood on election night until I read this book. Very interesting read. This book makes 'Deadlock' by the political staff at the Washington Post look like they never left their desks at 1150 15th st N.W. DC and just cut and pasted from old WP stories.
I bought this when I noticed that liberal reviewers like Garry Wills (NYT) and conservative reviewers like Rich Lowry (National Review) both bregrudgingly admitted that Tapper made valid points. I also bought it because I noticed that Tapper annoyed Wills and Lowry for not agreeing with either of their respective takes on what happened! A book that left either one of these ideologues satisfied would not be an accurate portrayal of what really happened. As Tapper makes clear, both sides engaged in dirty tricks in an attempt to steal the election. I was a Gore supporter but it is hard to feel good about the guy after reading what Tapper reveals. And if you are a Bush zealot, then this will be tough for you because Tapper exposes a lot of lying and even a plot to cheat after election day. But I think most Americans found both candidates lacking, and this is the book for them. Tapper tells it like it is and even if you think you know what really happened in Florida, you will be surprised how much was not reported--including some major stuff. Of all the election books out there already, I think this is the best.
This book could have been an absolute masterpiece. Unfortunately, the book is too long. The manuscript contains a fair amount of minutiae and at times makes it seem like it is just rambling on without an end in sight (ironically sort of like the Florida vote in 2000). The author also peppers his narrative with a fair amount of profanities and it makes me wonder if I'm getting my information from a reputable journalism professional or someone I'm talking to in the locker-room. With all that being said, however, the author does an absolutely wonderful job of not taking a side as to who is right and who is wrong - he correctly demonstrates that each side was willing to go to great lengths to have their candidate declared the winner. This book would have been absolutely wonderful to read if the author could have cut out some of the excruciating detail and the obscenities. However, I would still recommend it to read for the information.