2000 Presidential Election: “A Perfect Storm” Florida Official Results George W. Bush – 2,912,790 votes Al Gore – 2,912,253 votes Bush wins Florida by 537 votes. Approximately 180,000 ballots in Florida failed to record a vote for president (roughly 3% of ballots cast). Nationally, about 2 million unrecorded votes in the presidential election of 2000.
How Can You Fail to Cast a Vote? Overvote : Selecting too many candidates Undervote : Not selecting any candidates
NORC/Media Consortium Review of Florida Ballots Most unrecorded votes in Florida were overvotes (68%). Half of the undervotes in Florida were failed attempts to vote for a single candidate. Half of the undervotes Florida were “genuine” (blank). Almost 25,000 of the unrecorded votes in Florida could have been counted.
NORC Review: Both Candidates Pursued Losing Recount Strategies Gore only wanted to recount votes in four Democratic-leaning counties, and Gore only wanted a recount to examine undervotes. –If that had happened, Bush still would have won. –A statewide recount of all votes (undervotes and overvotes) potentially would have put Gore over the top. Bush argued that overvotes should be included in a recount. –Overvotes included a slew of uncounted votes for Gore.
What’s Happened Since Florida? Each state and county has asked “Could Florida happen here?” Federal legislation – the Help America Vote Act of 2002 State legislation – Missouri included Research to examine the correlates of unrecorded votes and find out what works and what does not.
Research on Unrecorded Votes Examined election returns from counties in 2000 Examined precinct returns in Florida and Illinois Primarily a cross-sectional analysis Other studies, including multiple elections (Caltech/MIT Voting Project, groups at Maryland, Berkeley, Harvard)
Factors Examined Voting technology Ballot features and design Election features Demographics –Socio-economic disparity in unrecorded votes.
Local Control of Elections Election administration is primarily a matter of local (county) control. This creates a lot of variation in voting methods across the country. –Great for researchers –Headaches for election reformers Voting technology is a prime example
Voting Technology Results Votomatic punch card ballots clearly produce the highest rate of unrecorded votes in contests at the top of the ballot. Newer voting technology that allows voters to discover and correct mistakes reduce the number of unrecorded votes, especially in low-income or minority precincts. –DRE –Precinct-count optical scan
Recommendations If cost and staffing is no object, replace punch card voting systems and adopt ballot features that reduce the number of unrecorded votes. Switching to new voting technology is costly. Making ballot design improvements is relatively inexpensive. Consider uniform voting systems at the state level? A potential concern is the growing use of absentee and mail-in voting.