Democratic Underground

Lest We Forget
May 19, 2001

by Kevin Tavris

The Initial Controversy over the Hand Recounts - Republican Hypocrisy off the Richter Scale

The debate over the hand recounts in Florida started almost immediately on the day after the election (Nov. 8th) and provided some of the most disgusting parades of hypocrisy that I've ever seen, in the form of numerous Republicans making TV appearances to rant and rave about the gall that Al Gore had to request a recount. It was bad enough that they invented every excuse you could imagine to explain why the hand recount should not be done, despite the fact that it was allowed by Florida statute.

What made it so much worse is that in addition to this they tried to cast Gore as a "sore loser" for trying to obtain the recount. They even began to develop and use (in protest marches) big signs which read "Sore Loserman", as a pun on Gore/Lieberman. It still enrages me to even think about this. Their reasons as to why a recount should not be done ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous, and they are worth recalling:

One of the most common was several versions of the allegation that the Gore campaign was trying to obtain "recount after recount after recount, no matter how many times Bush won the election". This was the favorite refrain of James Baker, Bush's primary henchman and campaign chief in the post-election, who is one of the most pompous assholes in the history of the world. Of course the phrase "recount after recount after recount" was meant to convey the impression that Gore was trying to obtain an infinite number of recounts, until he won the election. This impression was apparently facilitated by the fact that the networks had originally called the election for Bush.

But the fact of the matter is that only one full recount was ever completed, and that was the recount that took place automatically, immediately after the initial election returns put Bush ahead with a margin of less than a tenth of a percent of the total vote, without the Gore team having to request it. The hand recount that Gore requested, on the other hand, was never completed.

In the same vein, Baker, and Bush too, as well as a number of others, frequently noted that Bush won the election after each recount. I guess that what they meant by this was that every time a county stopped counting and a new vote total was announced, with Bush still ahead, that was considered to be another election that he won. As time went on, this line of attack became less and less frequent, as it became obvious that not enough people were buying it.

Another line, which I associate with Mary Matelin, was that "These votes weren't meant to be counted by hand, they were meant to be counted by machine because machines are much more accurate," (why didn't someone ask her how she knew this?) After a parade of voting experts made the point that nothing could be further from the truth, this line of attack also slowed to a crawl. The fact of the matter was, as the experts explained it, that in voting areas where punch card ballots are used, the penetration of the stylus through the ballot sometimes fails to dislodge little pieces of cardboard known as "chads". When this happens, the voting machines will fail to count the ballot as a vote if the hanging chad obscures the hole in the ballot. This fact explains why Gore picked up so many additional votes on the machine recount: Many of the hanging chads fell off when they ran through the counting machine the first time, and so they were counted the second time.

But that was not the end of it. An unknown number of ballots that were not counted in the second machine count (i.e., the automatic recount) may still have had hanging chads or have been partially punched through, indicating the intent of the voter to vote for a given candidate. In order to get a better look at what the voter intended, the best way to do this is to look at the ballots with the human eye. This was in fact what Florida law allowed for, as did the law of many other states. The Bush henchmen tried to give the impression that the request for the recount was some sort of radical request, despite the fact that Florida law allowed for it.

When it was pointed out that Bush himself had signed into law in Texas a similar statute, which in fact clearly stated that hand recounts are preferable to machine counts because they are more accurate, this contention was made less often. But it didn't stop completely, because the Bush henchmen and henchwomen were still able to think of all sorts of implausible explanations as to why what the Texas law required was different from what was being requested in Florida.

Then there was the contention that repeated handling of the ballots changed their nature, therefore magically producing additional votes for Gore. To "prove" this point, the Republican "observers" in counties where the votes were being counted actually photographed chads that had fallen onto the floor during the process. I think that they believed that since they actually had photographic evidence of this, a certain number of incredibly stupid people would believe that this was important. But it seems to me that anyone whose IQ is greater than 70 or so should have been able to question what the ballots looked like before the chads fell onto the floor. And I suppose that a certain number of intelligent people who feel that the use of their brain is a great hardship may also have automatically concluded that if a chad falls off of a ballot and onto the floor, that must mean that the chad originated spontaneously from the ballot rather than was created by the voter.

Well, who knows what the Republicans were thinking? They simply realized that if they could get people to believe that hand counting of votes was a flawed process, they would be willing to disgrace themselves by saying anything that came to mind, no matter how stupid. When they were finally challenged to explain how it was that these chads that ended up on the floor originated in the first place, these assholes claimed that it happened from mere handling of the ballots. Even the blowhard Chris Matthews of MSNBC wouldn't totally buy this, and I heard him at least once say in response that he didn't see how that could happen (and noted that he couldn't do it himself), and he even asked the asshole to show him. When a lame excuse was given for not being able to do this, he quickly dropped the matter, since his main mode of operation is to stab people in the back (Democrats) when they're not around and able to defend themselves, rather than confront them directly.

Another rationale for trying to stop the recount was that it was requested by the Gore team, and therefore taking place, only in selected Democratic counties. That might have been a valid argument, except that on numerous occasions the Bush team had refused to request such a recount in Republican counties. He missed the original deadline, which gave him 72 hours to make the request after the initial votes had been counted. Then, a week or so later, in an attempt to come up with a reasonable solution to the legal squabbles, Gore, in a public appearance, offered to have every county in the state recounted. And Bush refused a third time when the case was presented before the Florida Supreme Court. The real reason why Bush did not request that Republican counties perform hand recounts was - obviously to me - that he felt he had a better chance of winning the election by stopping the Democratic County recounts than by allowing a recount of the entire state.

Another excuse was that it would take too long, so that the recount would not be finished by Inauguration Day, or by the time that the Electoral College was supposed to vote. There might have been some believability to this originally. However, the individual canvassing boards made it clear that it would not take anywhere near as long as the Republicans would have us believe, and later events were to prove this beyond any doubt. So these were some of the most common and outlandish excuses that the Bush team used for their efforts to do anything in their power to stop the recount from proceeding.

There were other excuses as well, and I should mention a couple of the more plausible, for the sake of completeness. One was that a hand recount could allow for cheating, whereas machines don't cheat. That could be theoretically possible, I suppose, but the fact that "observers" from both sides were on the scene at all times made that argument considerably less powerful. (Of course that didn't prevent a flood of allegations from Republicans that cheating was in fact occurring.)

Another theoretically plausible argument for not doing the hand count was that there was a big question as to how to know what standard to use for counting the ballots. The Florida statute merely said that "the clear intent of the voter" should be ascertained. Nobody quite knew precisely how that should be done, and many of the canvassing boards sought legal input into this question and had a great deal of trouble in deciding upon the appropriate standard. The Bush team point of view on this (surprise, surprise!) was that since there was no well defined standard it would be unfair to count these votes at all, because that would "dilute" other votes cast in Florida. I will come back to this all important point later.

Gore Camp Arguments to the Florida Supreme Court to Extend the Certification Deadline

The main Gore argument was, as noted earlier, that the Florida law required that counties be given the opportunity to hand count votes in a close election. Given that, the part of the law that specified a deadline for certifying the returns did not make sense because it did not leave enough time to count the votes. The Bush team had no real counter argument to that (in my opinion), other than to reiterate that the law specified a deadline. The great majority of the bullshit arguments that they made on TV for public consumption they omitted from their argument to the Court, since they realized that each of these Justices had some brains.

They basically had three arguments to make in addition to the one about the deadline:

1. The count was unfair because only selected Democratic counties were chosen by the Gore team.

2. The law specified that the count should take place only when there was a demonstrated problem with the machine count.

3. The count was unfair because the standards for counting votes varied between one county and another, and there were no uniformly agreed upon standards. As such, it violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution by applying different standards to different voters.

The Gore team had excellent answers to all of these:

1. In response to the fact that the Gore team had requested only that selected counties be counted, the Court asked the Gore team if they would have any objections to Republican Counties being counted as well. The answer was that there would be no objections. The Court then asked the Bush team if they would like to do that, and the answer was no, they would not.

2. The Gore team noted that there were in fact problems with the punch card machines, as demonstrated statistically that counties that used them had five times the undervote rate as counties that used other voting methods. Furthermore, the very fact that the first machine recount resulted in many additional Gore votes, and that the hand counting so far in every disputed county resulted in many additional Gore votes was further indication to this effect (I don't know if the actual mechanism for this problem came out at this time.)

3. With regard to standards, the Florida statute said plainly that the ballots shall be evaluated to determine the clear intent of the voter. True, that statement could and was in fact interpreted in different ways. But that is what the statute said, and it was up to the individual counties to decide how to interpret it. With regard to the issue of equal protection - how could that even be an issue? It was obvious that different voting methods were used in different counties. So how could different ways of evaluating the votes make protection less equal? (I don't know if the Gore team said this, but in fact, although there was no way to make this protection absolutely equal, due to the different voting methods, at least hand counting the undercounted ballots made the protection more equal than it would be without the hand counting.)

What Should Be the Standard for Hand Counting the Ballots?

At this point, so as to make clear why I felt that the Leon County trial should have made the case for the Gore team, even though this point seems to have been totally lost in the shuffle, I will include below a copy of part of the letter that I sent to all the Democratic Congressmen and Al Gore:

"The primary question that needed to be answered (and still should be) was: What do the undercounted ballots mean with respect to voter intention? If this question could be fully answered, that would provide the rationale for what the appropriate standard should be. A large part of the answer to this question was provided in the data presented at the Leon County trial by the Gore team statistician.

I believe that a good starting point for understanding this issue is consideration of a frequent Republican criticism of the vote counting process that was underway in mid-November: That only selected strongly Democratic counties were hand counting votes (Let's ignore for the moment the fact that the Bush team repeatedly refused to request that the same be done in Republican counties.) The Bush team and other Republicans were perfectly correct in assuming that counties with a high percentage of Gore votes in the counted ballots were likely to likewise turn up a comparatively high percentage of votes for Gore in the undercounted ballots. But nobody ever seems to have asked why this was so.

These same Republicans repeatedly attempted to lead people to believe that various degrees of indentation on the ballots that did not register as votes on the machine count did not mean anything. These Republicans and numerous TV commentators repeatedly ridiculed the idea of counting these ballots as votes. What they tried to make us believe was that these indentations were merely accidental markings (with numerous implausable explanations as to how such accidental markings could have occurred). But if it was true that these markings were accidental, then the place on the ballot where they occurred would have been random, and there would have been likely to be just as many Bush as Gore votes on these ballots. Furthermore, there would have been no relationship between the percentage of undervotes going to a given candidate and the percentage of votes that that candidate received from the machine count."

In fact, the Bush team's fears that reviewing undercounted votes in heavily Democratic counties would lead to gains for Gore were borne out by results in the three counties where this occurred. But not only that: as presented at the Leon County trial, the undercounted votes in the two counties where the count was complete (Palm Beach and Broward) went for Gore and Bush in almost the exact same proportion as the machine counted votes -- thus refuting the Bush team claim that the identations on the ballots represented mere accidents, rather than voter intent.

But this conclusion was not clearly and correctly stated at the trial. Following a long and intense cross-examination, when the Gore statistician was asked if the undercount could represent simply voters who had no intention to vote for president, he replied that, although he believed that not to be the case, he could not support that belief from the data that he had. That was the wrong answer. In fact, the data that he himself had presented clearly and strongly implied that the undercount did not represent merely accidental marks on the ballot. If that were the case, there would be no plausible way to explain why the percentage of undercount and machine counted votes for both candidates was so similar.

Next, let's consider the question of what the precise standard for counting the votes should be. Not having seen all of the relevant data, I can't answer that question with certainty. But the fact that two counties using very different standards for counting the ballots both came up with results that very closely resembled the machine counted votes should tell us something: It may very well be that any observable indentation on the ballot in a place where a presidential candidate is indicated, if that is the only mark on that ballot for a presidential candidate, indicates the intention of the voter to vote for that candidate.

If that was the case, then any standard which involves a mark of some sort over a presidential candidate would help to garner additional votes for president, in proportion to the number of voters who intended to vote for the respective candidates. The more liberal the standard, the more such ballots would be counted as votes, and therefore the closer the final count would come to the true intent of the voters. The more narrow the standard, the less such ballots would be counted, and therefore the final count would come further away from the true intent of the voters.

But even this standard would come closer to demonstrating the true intent of the voters than if no hand count was done at all. In view of this, I don't see how any possible reading of the equal protection clause of our Constitution could have been violated by such a standard.

So how do we know precisely what standard should have been (or should be) used? I don't precisely know the answer to that question, but it seems obvious to me, based upon the above explanation, that both Palm Beach County and Broward County were using appropriate standards (in that they both resulted in a vote count closer to the voters' intent than would be the case if no hand recount were performed). However, Broward County's standards were more appropriate than Palm Beach County's, since their standard added a greater percentage of valid votes to the total.

Further analysis could shed a great deal more light on this subject, thereby either confirming or contradicting my above noted opinions. In particular, results from other counties could be analyzed, to see whether or not the undercounts from those counties went for the respective presidential candidates in the same proportion as the machine counted votes, as they did in Palm Beach and Broward Counties. And the same analysis could be done at the precinct level.

Furthermore, results could be analyzed utilizing different standards for counting the votes. If all standards resulted in similar percentages for the undercounts as for the machine counts, that would provide further powerful evidence that any of these standards are appropriate, but that the most liberal standard used in the analysis is the most appropriate.

And finally, I should note that it is possible that the issue is more complex than it would seem from the above discussion. It may be, for example, that even if the indentations represent the intent of the voter, the proportions of votes for the various candidates may nevertheless not be the same as those found in the machine counts. This could occur if some portions of the ballot were more likely than others to present a problem in punching the stylus through the card. I am not familiar enough with the mechanics of the voting procedure to know how likely this possibility is. However, this hypothesis could certainly be tested if need be.

Thoughts on the Hijacking of the Presidential Election by the Five U.S. Supreme Scumbuckets

The dissents of the other four justices by and large reflected my views. In the first place, it was said that it did not make sense to say that differences in standards for counting ballots meant unequal protection under the amendment. By this reasoning, the whole election, in all 50 states would have to be ruled unconstitutional, since there were a myriad of voting methods in all states. Furthermore, given the differences in voting methods in Florida, and that the purpose of hand counting the ballots was to remedy the unfairness that resulted from this, how could the U.S. Court decide that this was unconstitutional?

This reasoning made perfect sense, and as far as I (and millions of other Americans) was concerned, this in itself is demonstrative logical proof that the five Supreme Court Justices who came up with this ruling did so only because of their own personal preference. In my mind this is one of the worst abuses of power in American history, probably the worst Supreme Court decision since the Dred Scott decision almost a century and a half ago.

Enough said about that. Another issue with regard to this decision is that the Justices took it upon themselves to decide what the deadline date for counting the ballots would be. There was no reason that they couldn't have allowed it to go until the 18th, as provided for in our constitution. The only problem would have been that if the electors were not chosen before the 12th, that meant that they could be challenged by Congress. It seems to me that that would be a decision that the Florida Supreme Court should rightfully make. But no, these scumbags knew whom they wanted to win this election, and they weren't going to allow for any loopholes.

Then, to pile hypocrisy upon hypocrisy, they said that they wanted to make it clear that this decision of theirs applied only to this one very specific case and should not be taken to set a precedent. Justice Paul Stevens said it all (almost) in his dissent. He said:

"We will never know for sure who really won this election. But it is evident who the losers are - the American people, who have thus been given reason to lose all confidence in the judge as the arbiter of justice in our system of government."

Of course my statement would have been far less polite and civil. I would have added that they should be tried for treason, or at the very least impeached. But just think of what Justice Stevens was saying to his fellow colleagues, whom he will be confined to spending the rest of his life working with: essentially he was telling them and the whole country that their decision was not just wrong but morally corrupt.

Some Final Words on Hypocrisy

I will now finish this with a word on hypocrisy. Not having lived through Hitler's time nor Stalin's time, I think that I am on safe ground in saying that I have never seen so much hypocrisy in my life as I saw in the two months before and the several weeks after the election, on the part of Republicans in this country. It is truly a sad state of affairs. And to make matters worse, they frequently accused Gore of hypocrisy. The fact of the matter, however, is that they truly don't even know what the word means.

Just as an evil person in incapable of ascertaining the fact that he or she is evil, the same can be said about hypocrisy. The proof that Republicans don't know the meaning of the word can be found in their repeated pre-election accusations against Gore to the effect that he was a hypocrite. These accusations were based on the fact that he criticized the entertainment industry while still accepting campaign contributions from them. Presumably they felt that their candidate, George W. Bush, who received much larger contributions from big moneyed interests than Gore or any of the other candidates, was not acting hypocritically in doing so. And presumably their reasoning was that Bush, rather than criticizing his contributors, planned to reward them using his power of the Presidency if he was elected.

That would not be hypocritical, whereas if campaign contributions are accepted without the promise of favors in return, that is hypocritical. Enough said. I can't explain it any more than that. If you don't understand what I'm trying to say, my guess is that you're a Republican - or some other kind of hypocrite.

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