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Florida 2000 and the potential for a recount repeat

Published: Nov. 2, 2020 at 10:26 AM EST
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - When polls close tomorrow the counting will begin. When we will know who won the presidency is anyone’s guess.

Twenty years ago, the presidential race between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore hung in the balance for 36 days.

In his book The Perfect Tie: The True Story of the 2000 Presidential Election, Claremont McKenna College Political Science Professor Andrew Busch tracked every turn.

“If they won Florida they were going to win the election, and if they lost Florida they were going to lose the election,” he said.

TV networks bungled election night results, a machine recount tightened the race, and ballot inspections started and stopped like a game of red-light green-light. Lawyers for the candidates wrangled over deadlines, confusing ballots, and which votes should count.

On December 12th, the U.S. Supreme Court -- split along conservative and liberal lines -- issued a 5-4 decision halting a statewide recount, effectively settling the race. Florida belonged to Bush, the official margin: 537 votes.

Asked if he could foresee a similar process playing out again this year, 20 years later, “I would never rule out the possibility,” said Busch, “there are many ways that things can go awry."

If razor close results in a state or two could tilt the election, Busch said the chances of long fight may be higher than usual.

Battles over deadlines and how to validate absentee votes are already tying up courts and both campaigns have armies of attorneys ready to deploy.

“The election administrator’s prayer: please let the margins be wide,” said Sec. of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver (D-New Mexico).

Toulouse Oliver leads the National Association of Secretaries of State. She said after the 2000 election, states wrote clearer standards and dumped problematic voting systems, leaving them better equipped to ensure every valid ballot counts.

“There’s no doubt that states are better prepared,” she said. She noted that fights over mail-in ballots represent the new frontier for a potential contested election.

New rules and transparency may help a divided America trust the election’s integrity. But, if election officials misreport results, the press calls a race too early, or politicians cry fraud, voters' fragile faith could break.

In Wash, I’m KM.

Copyright 2020 Gray DC. All rights reserved.

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