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Florida 2000: Learning from History

“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
– George Santayana


By Carolyn Kay, The Other Ragin’ Cajun

The October 2004 issue of Vanity Fair has an almost book-length article that reminds us what happened in Florida during the aftermath of the 2000 election, and talks about problems that are almost certain to occur in the upcoming election.  Vanity Fair doesn’t publish on the Internet, but I felt it’s too important an article not to be available to everyone who cares about democracy.  Someone scanned the pages of the article and posted them in pdf format (Part 1, Part 2—scroll down), but I’ve spent two days reformatting the article from pdf to a web page format, and have posted it here.  It’s extremely important that the text be available to the search engines.

Below are the main points, and the lessons to be learned.

Are you listening, John Kerry?

Synopsis:  Be in the right.  Say you are in the right. Over and over again.  Never give a inch.  When the opposition is wrong, attack.  When the opposition accuses you of wrongdoing, which they will do no matter whether you’re doing wrong or not, attack.  And attack.  And attack.  Get every Democrat who can talk and who can give up arguing over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin to join your attack.  And get them to keep attacking.  Keep fighting no matter how many times you’re knocked down.  Learn to take a licking and come back kicking.  Be the Whack-A-Mole of politics.

The mainstream media won’t like your behavior, but they won’t like you no matter what.  You’ve said you’ll limit media “deregulation,” and they’re out to get you.  Do not care what they think.  Just get them to print your message, even as they disparage it.  A majority of Americans will side with you.

Then, when you’ve won, PROSECUTE THE MEMBERS OF THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION FOR THEIR MANY ILLEGAL ACTIVITIES.  Put the bastards in jail, where they belong.  Clinton didn’t pursue the Iran/Contra investigations when he took office, and look at all the good it did him.  The Republicans are at warwith Democrats, while the Democrats are playing bean bag.

History:  George Bush’s cousin John Ellis called the 2000 election for Bush, giving him legitimacy going into the recounts.

Lesson:  Investigate (before the election, if possible) the backgrounds of network employees who will be reporting on, but especially calling the election, and publicize any possible conflicts of interest as soon as they are known.  Don’t expect the mainstream media, but especially the right-wing media, to be anything like objective in their reporting.

History:  A computer glitch caused a negative 16,000 votes for Gore in Volusia County.  The error wasn’t discovered until Gore was on his way to concede the election.

Lesson:  Don’t give up until you can’t hang on any longer.  And then hang on some more.

P.S.  Don’t trust machines.  Any machines.  Ever.

History:  Many voters, especially African Americans, were intimidated by police roadblocks.  Voting locations were changed without notice.  African Americans were denied provisional ballots when white voters received them.  And those are just a few of the many documented instances of voters in Democratic counties having trouble voting.

Lesson:  Make sure that every potential Democratic voter has phone numbers to call regarding any suspicious activity, but especially if those activities prevent the person from voting.  Make sure there are people to staff the phones and that there is a network of people to handle the problems.  Forcefully.

History:  Palm Beach County had a “butterfly” ballot that fooled a lot of Gore voters into voting for third-party candidate Pat Buchanan.  Buchanan himself said those votes had to be mistakes.

Lesson:  Make sure there are no “butterfly” or “caterpillar” ballots.  Make sure instructions are clear.  From doing computer work, I’m aware that it’s hard to make things foolproof, since fools are so ingenious.  But our Constitution guarantees us the right to vote, whether we’re fools or not.  Test the ballots and the machinery with first-time voters.

Make sure that potential Democratic voters are trained.  Make sure that poll workers are trained.  Make sure that Democratic observers are well trained, and have emergency phone numbers to get help when needed.  Make sure they get that help.

History:  Hundreds of thousands of votes weren’t counted because varying types of machines kicked them out as undervotes or overvotes.

Lesson:  People, not machines, govern our country.  Where there’s a paper trail, insist on manual recounts when the results are suspicious for any reason.  Have a PR campaign and demonstrators ready to call attention to refusals and to demand our right to have our votes counted.  Higher error rates for poor communities denies equal protection, as guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.

History:  Lawyers in Florida wouldn’t help the Gore recount effort because “All the establishment firms knew they couldn’t cross Governor Bush and do business in Florida.”

Lesson:  Have a cadre of lawyers on tap to handle problems on November 2.  According to what I’ve read, the Kerry campaign has this in place, but I don’t know the extent of their plans.  When situations occur again where people refuse to do something for fear of retaliation by a Republican official, publicize the hell out of the refusal and the reason.  And repeat it and repeat it and repeat it.

P.S.  Make sure that the head lawyer is photogenic and fiery.  He or she does not need to be a former secretary of state.  A William Jennings Bryan-type orator is what’s needed.

History:  The Gore recount effort was characterized by “hesitancy and trepidation.”

Lesson:  Decide on a message and stick to it.  Convince everyone on the team and every Democrat that the message is true and must be trumpeted to the nation.  Have everyone who can get on television and into print repeat the message over and over and over.  Have every Democrat with access to the Internet send out emails that contain the message, again and again and again.

History:  James Baker characterized further counting of votes as “mischief.”  He pounced on Gore for requesting recounts in only four counties.

Lesson:  Always insist on a full counting everywhere.  Always take the high road.  Trumpet the fact that you’re taking the high road.  Again and again.  Ramp up the oratory.  And when the opponent takes the low road, say so.  Loudly.  Over and over and over again.

History:  Florida’s Secretary of State, Katherine Harris, had a Republican political operative at her side throughout the recount process, advising her how to make sure George Bush received Florida’s Electoral College votes.  Decision after decision went against a full counting of the votes.

Lesson:  Never assume that any Republican official will ever act in the interests of the majority of voters.  Allow yourself to be surprised, if it does happen somehow.  If an official is being especially obstructionist, have investigators find out what’s going on behind the scenes and publicize any conflicts of interest.  Again and again.

History:  The Florida legislature’s Republican House Speaker, Tom Feeney, threatened to have the legislature make certain that the Bush electors were chosen.

Lesson:  State legislatures are specified by the Constitution as the bodies that decide how their states’ electors are chosen.  However, the 1887 law 3 U.S.C. § 5 “requires states to apply state laws that were enacted ‘prior to’ election day when resolving controversies relating to the appointment of electors.” (American Bar Association)  Don’t let any state legislature change its mind about how its electors are chosen after November 2.  Shout it from the highest rooftops, and don’t stop shouting.

History:  When the Miami-Dade recount started finding more and more votes for Gore, a riot staged by Republican operatives intimidated the canvassing board into stopping the counting.

Thanks to for documenting
this un-American, anti-democratic action.

Click here for the names and positions
of these operatives— at the time.
Many of them have since been promoted.

Lesson:  I’m not a lawyer, but I believe it’s against the law (surely in every state) to interfere with elections.  Take legal action to stop intimidating tactics against election officials.  Shout loud and long that you are doing the right thing, and that those who interfere are obstructing the will of the voters.

History:  The Bush team made a mockery of the recounts that did take place.

Lesson:  Mock back.  Make loud fun of anyone who tries to circumvent legitimate recounts.  Publicize.  Demonstrate.  Yell and scream.  Why are they trying to stop the democratic process?  Why do they make it silly to determine voters’ intent?  How dare they make fun of American voters’ inability to decipher confusing ballots and confusing instructions?  Voting is our most sacred right, and who are they to trivialize it?

History:  The Democrats folded when accused of trying to stop members of the military from voting absentee.  The Bush team promoted a complete lack of standards when accepting absentee ballots in Bush counties, while insisting on the strictest interpretation of standards when accepting absentee ballots in Gore counties.

Lesson:  The letter that caused the accusation was perfectly legitimate.  Scream out when you’re being treated unfairly.  Scream out the hypocrisy by the other side.

History:  The conservative members of the U.S. Supreme Court went against every principle they had every espoused and disgraced themselves to put George Bush in the White House, by stopping the legal counting of votes.

Lesson:  David Boies was entirely the wrong kind of person to argue Bush v. Gore to the Supreme Court.  He’s very smart, and he addressed many of the issues well, but what was needed was an orator, one who would accuse the Supreme Court of going against their principles by even accepting the case.  They should have been shamed into doing the right thing.  But even if they had still had the gall to vote as they actually did, Americans would know you think it’s grossly unfair—HOW DARE THEY CHOOSE THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITES STATES ??? !!!

History:  Several of the justices had conflicts of interest in deciding for Bush in Bush v. Gore.

Lesson:  Publicize, publicize, publicize.  Yell, scream, and holler.  Arrange demonstrations.

History:  The consortium of newspapers that paid for a study of all of the uncounted Florida ballots announced in November of 2001 that George Bush would have won the election if only undervotes were counted.  Buried way down deep in the articles was the apparently (to them) unimportant fact that if all the overvotes had been counted, AL GORE WON FLORIDA’S ELECTORAL VOTES.  The wrong guy was in the White House.

An election correction

Nov 15th 2001
From The Economist print edition

In the issues of December 16th 2000 to November 10th 2001, we may have given the impression that George Bush had been legally and duly elected president of the United States. We now understand that this may have been incorrect, and that the election result is still too close to call. The Economist apologises for any inconvenience.

Lesson:  The mainstream media are against you.  You’ve already said that you’ll keep them from owning as many outlets as they want to.  They’ll do everything they can to keep you from getting into office.  You can’t make them any more against you by calling them on their bias.  Call them on it.  Loudly.  And long.  Arrange more demonstrations.

History:  At least 20,000 voters, a high percentage of them African-Americans (who are likely Democratic voters), were stripped from the voter rolls because their name was like the name of a felon or ex-felon.  Al Gore didn’t allow Jesse Jackson to arrange demonstrations.

Lesson:  Greg Palast had this story before the Supreme Court decided the election, but no American media would carry it.  Have a staff of paid and volunteer researchers ready to cull all stories of wrongdoing.  Publicize them all as quickly as possible and again and again.  Shame the U.S. media into covering election theft.

History:  The Jeb Bush administration tried to pull the same voter purge trick prior to the upcoming election, but was prevented when newspapers demanded to see the lists and found that they were riddled with the same kinds of errors.

Lesson:  Sunshine is the best disinfectant.  Publicize, publicize, publicize.

History:  Very few of the 20,000 people erroneously purged in 2000 have been added back to the voter rolls.

Lesson:  When Republicans start accusing Democrats of voter frauds, as they surely will do, whether Democrats are guilty or not, scream and holler and arrange demonstrations against the officials who are really perpetrating voter fraud.  When Republicans holler about wrongdoing on the other side, chances are it is they who are doing wrong.

History:  Voting machines bought by Florida counties since 2000 have proven to be unreliable and don’t provide the ability to determine the intent of individual voters in a recount because they provide no audit trail.

Lesson:  NEVER TRUST A MACHINE.  NOT EVER.  The safest way to ensure that votes are counted properly is to count them manually from paper ballots, as Canada does.  So why are we spending tens of millions of dollars on machines that are unreliable.

The lesson for the campaign is to question machines everywhere.  To take the high road, be prepared to question results in areas where you’re ahead.  It’s never wrong to do the right thing.  Dig out and expose every conflict of interest in the purchase of these machines.


Read and/or listen to an interview of Jeffrey Toobin about his book, Too Close to Call Click here and then scroll down.

Series page


Last changed: December 13, 2009