Elections in Florida - A Pattern Emerges
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Sat, 16 Dec 100 13:36:20 -0800
Subject: Elections in Florida - A Pattern Emerges
X-Lib-of-Cong-ISSN: 1098-7649 -=[ Fun_People ]=-
Problems In Florida 2000 Vote Echo 1988 Senate Race
December 14, 2000
By CARL BERNSTEIN
The tangled circumstances of presidential election results in three Florida
counties -- including charges by Democrats that thousands of votes went
uncounted in heavily Democratic precincts -- are remarkably parallel to
apparent anomalies in the 1988 race for U.S. Senate between Democrat Kenneth
(Buddy) MacKay and Republican Connie Mack.
On Election Night 1988, the television networks initially projected MacKay
the winner and then retracted their calls. Mack ultimately defeated his
opponent by an official statewide count of 33,000 votes -- less than 0.9
percent of almost 4 million votes cast. Although MacKay opted not to contest
the results in 1988, in an interview with Voter.com on Tuesday he discussed
publicly for the first time the possibility of election fraud in that race.
He also said he was disturbed by similar irregularities in both the 1988
and 2000 elections, including the surprisingly high proportion of ballots
with votes recorded in low-profile contests but not in the MacKay-Mack and
In his comments on Tuesday, MacKay suggested that voting machines may have
been tampered with or malfunctioned in 1988, a possibility first raised
more than a decade ago in journalistic accounts of the race. Many of the
exact same voting machines appear to have been used in both 1988 and this
year in Dade, Palm Beach, and Broward Counties, according to state election
"This is a very difficult personal situation for me," said MacKay, who went
on to serve as Florida's lieutenant governor and governor and now serves
as President Clinton's special envoy to the Americas. "I have not wanted
to get into it, although I'm convinced this thing is susceptible to fraud
in a big way.... It's a damned outragea?|. I was sort of crushed in 1988
that it could happen, and somebody should have changed something since then
so it couldn't happen all over again."
On Monday, Leon County Circuit Court Judge N. Sanders Sauls ruled against
any recounts in Nassau, Dade, and Palm Beach Counties in the 2000 race,
specifically saying that there was no evidence that election fraud had been
committed or that the number of questionable ballots would have overcome
Bush's lead if recounted. (Attorneys for Vice President Gore have appealed
Judge Sauls's decision to the Florida Supreme Court.) MacKay himself
acknowledged that the disparities in both elections might not be the result
of fraud and instead could have resulted from faulty ballot design and the
difficulties that minority and older citizens could experience in trying
to cast their votes.
A member of Senator Mack's staff reached Tuesday night denied any
implication of fraud in 1988 election.
But MacKay does not rule out the possibility of a calculated attempt to
subvert the vote in 1988 or 2000. "What could have happened in 1988, and
we couldn't get to it at the time was that the machines could have been
programmed so that in my big precincts every tenth vote got counted
wronga?|," said MacKay, who added that he attempted to investigate the
possibility of malfunctioning or fraud at the time but got no cooperation
from the manufacturers of the voting machines.
Shortly after the '88 election, analysis by two nonpartisan publications
noted a surprising number of "undervotes" -- ballots in which no votes were
counted for either candidate in the Senate race. "What stunned election
analysts," said a 1989 study in Campaigns & Elections magazine, "was the
large number of voters in four large counties [Dade, Broward, Palm Beach,
and Hillsborough] who, having voted for President simply failed to record
a choice for Senate." (Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, and Hillsborough became
known as the "Fantastic Four" in skeptical journalistic accounts of the
time.) An analysis by The Miami News determined that there was "a drop-off
of more than 200,000 votes in these counties from the presidential to the
senatorial contest, or more than six times Mack's margin of victory."
Studies by both The Miami News and Campaign & Elections magazine concluded
that the overwhelming number of "missing" votes were Democratic.
A comparison of the 1988 Mack-MacKay race and the situation in Florida
today includes other possible parallels:
At 11:30 p.m. on Election Night in 1988, when 70 percent of the vote had
been officially counted, MacKay was projected the winner by all three big
networks. At the time, MacKay held a 1.6 percent lead over Mack. "This was
well above the margin of error," a CBS analyst said later, "so we declared
a winner." Several hours later, the networks withdrew their calls. Several
networks acted similarly in calling the Florida race for Al Gore on November
7. First, around 8 p.m., they reported Gore would be the victor, then around
10 p.m. they withdrew that call, and around 2 a.m. declared Bush the winner.
Shortly thereafter, they concluded the race was too close to call.
"We had the damnedest victory party you've ever seen for about four hours,"
said MacKay of his 1988 race. "And then about 3 o'clock something happened
-- and we still don't know what it was. It was the same equipment, the same
counties -- probably the same damn machines as this November 7."
Following the 1988 election, journalists and other independent investigators
focused attention on the problem of punch-card ballots and resulting chads
that might have prevented votes from being counted in heavily Democratic
precincts. This is exactly the problem Gore's supporters and lawyers claim
might cost him the election.
Traditionally in Florida, four counties -- Dade (Miami), Broward (Fort
Lauderdale), Hillsborough (Tampa) and Palm Beach -- produce the biggest
Democratic margins in statewide elections. In both 1988 and this year,
Democrats have claimed that there are inexplicable anomalies in the vote
totals for those counties.
In the 1988 Senate race, as in this year's presidential race, many more
votes appear to have been cast in at least three of the "Fantastic Four"
counties for some less-important races than for the disputed contests for
U.S. Senate and president.
In the 1988 race, 11 state constitutional referenda were at the bottom of
the ballot. Yet in Hillsborough, even the referendum item that had the
lowest participation rate -- "Amendment Number 3: Assessment Of High Water
Recharge Lands" -- still recorded 10 percent more votes than did the
Mack-MacKay Senate contest, near the top of the ballot. And in eight of
Florida's 67 counties, a total of 175,000 more votes were recorded for the
secretary of state election than the U.S. Senate race.
Similarly, in Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties this year, fewer votes
were officially counted for president in these heavily Democratic counties
than for some lower-level races. In Dade County, for example, 10,750 ballots
showed no choice for president in machine counts. Democrats claim that hand
examination of those ballots would show that a disproportionate number had
been cast for Gore and would be sufficient to win the election and thus
The Miami News investigation of the '88 election found that the "drop-off"
in Senate votes in heavily Democratic black and retiree areas was more than
twice as high than in Republican-dominated suburban areas. In Dade County,
the News also concluded, one fifth of all black voters failed to cast valid
votes for president. Of those, 75 percent were ruled invalid because two
presidential choices were punched.
Lawyers for Vice President Gore maintain that almost exactly the same
situation appears to have occurred heavily black areas of Dade, Palm Beach,
and Broward Counties.
In 1988 and 2000, controversy has centered around ballots cast on so-called
"Votomatic" and "Datavote" machines, which require the voter to press a
stylus through a punch-card ballot. These machines, according to MacKay
and voting experts, appear to be especially susceptible to the possibility
of tampering, fraud, or error in counting the punched ballots. The machines
count ballots through the use of a computer code set at the time of
manufacture and distribution, but which is supposedly unknown to election
officials who operate the machines on election night.
"If an investigator had the source codes," MacKay continued, "he could find
out if somebody screwed around with the machines. But we couldn't get access
to the codes, nor could the county [election] supervisors, because they'd
signed agreements that say the company doesn't have to show them the damn
source codes. What I'm saying is that 12 years later, this is happening
all over again."
At the time of the controversial 1988 election victory of Senator Mack,
Campaigns and Elections magazine wrote, "How large a threat does
computerized voting error and/or fraud pose to the integrity of the
electoral process? To date, a court has yet to rule that an election was
"stolen" by a computer. But there is increasing concern that deficiencies
in computerized voting systems already have had an impact on some close
races." Here the magazine cited the Mack-MacKay race, adding: "And there
is a widespread consensus that few jurisdictions have the technical or
administrative controls to catch or thwart accidental or intentional
subversion of the voting public's will."
The magazine's report paid particular note to the problem of source codes,
observing that "without access to those codes, public officials have no
way of auditing programs to ensure votes have been counted correctly." The
article added that Texas was one of the few states that in the late 1980s
had altered their election laws to require that vendor source codes be
placed in escrow with a state agency.
"Because they lack an unalterable electronic audit trail which would leave
a record of any tampering," it noted, "these [Votomatic and Datavote]
systems would not easily yield evidence of fraud. The task is made
especially difficult by many of the older programs still in widespread use,
which use overly complex language that can make ferreting out a Trojan
horse a pale probability."
On Tuesday night, a member of Senator Mack's staff said, "There are
similarities between the two races: This  race was a close race;
Senator Mack went to sleep looking like he had lost. The next morning it
looked close, and then with the absentee ballots and knowing the traditional
history [of state voting patterns] he was sure he'd won.
"At that point, Buddy MacKay had a decision to make: Is there fraud,
illegality? There was none of that. It took Buddy MacKay a few days [to
concede]. He asked one county to recount, another county said it didn't
want to move forward with one, and he decided he didn't want to move forward
with any [further challenge]. Al Gore chose another path.
"There is similarity, but obviously there's no fraud, and I don't think
Buddy MacKay ever said there was fraud, and many people thought he did the
right thing by conceding. Either there was fraud or there wasn't, there
was illegality or there wasn't, and he chose to concede the race, and that
MacKay said on Tuesday that he had gone years without publicly discussing
the 1988 race -- and had never publicly raised the possibility of fraud --
"because Connie Mack has been a good senator, and he's a friend." No one
associated with MacKay contacted Voter.com to discuss the 1988 and 2000
elections in Florida. Rather, MacKay was contacted at his White House office
by Voter.com and proceeded to answer an interviewer's questions.
The MacKay campaign petitioned for a hand recount in all of the so-called
"Fantastic Four" counties, but only Palm Beach agreed to any such
examination -- of 10 precincts. When the hand-count of those precincts
differed from the computer/machine count by only three votes, MacKay
MacKay's 1988 campaign manager, Gregg Farmer, said Tuesday night that MacKay
had always believed "in his heart of hearts" that he lost the Senate race
because of fraud. "But a?| I'm instinctively a little skeptical," he said.
"The results are unquestionably strange [in both elections] by any
circumstances. But actual fraud -- I doubt it." Farmer, now director of
government and community relations for Nortel Networks in Washington,
believes that both Gore and MacKay were denied many thousands of votes in
heavily Democratic precincts because of poor ballot and/or Votomatic
"I think it's eerie," Farmer said. "On this past election night, as I
watched it unfold, I had this unbelievable feeling of deja vu, with the
networks calling, then uncalling it -- and now... these other similarities.
One lesson is that, over the next two years, we've got to have some sort
of higher standard in the voting equipment and counting used. My biggest
concern is that in 12 years nothing has changed: same voting machines, same
sloppy ballot design, same impact on the results and on people's confidence
in the system."
Carl Bernstein is Executive Vice President and Executive Editor of Voter.com.
Stacy Atlas contributed to the preparation of this report.
(c) 2000 Voter.com. All rights reserved
© 2000 Peter Langston