Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election is the riveting story about the battle for the Presidency in Florida and the undermining of democracy in America.
From the moment the polls opened, it was painfully clear that something was wrong. While the media seized on the controversy surrounding the poorly designed "Butterfly Ballot", much larger civil rights abuses were overlooked.
Focusing on events leading up to election day and the attempt to count legally cast votes in the days that followed, Unprecedented examines a suspicious pattern of irregularities, injustices and voter purges—all in a state governed by the winning candidate's brother.
One of the first indications that something was wrong came early on election day. Thousands of African-Americans who had voted in previous elections discovered that their names were missing from the voter rolls. Investigators later uncovered irrefutable evidence that exposed an elaborate strategy where thousands of Democratic voters were purged from the rolls. These voters were disproportionately African-American.
The evidence shows that Governor Jeb Bush, Secretary of State, Katherine Harris, and other Republican state officials ordered the manipulation of a list of former felons to include thousands of legitimate voters who had no criminal history. In Florida, ex-felony offenders lose their right to vote for life. But the manipulation of this list denied thousands of legitimate voters their franchise. In an election that was determined by 537 votes, these purged voters would have reversed the outcome.
The drama of the 2000 Presidential Election had other chapters too. The day after the election, a startling picture emerged. George W. Bush was ahead by a razor-thin margin. But a disquieting number of ballots, 175,000, went unread by the ballot-counting machines. The standard procedure in such situations is to conduct a manual recount. However, no complete recount was ever conducted. Instead, there was a 36-day battle in the courts, the streets and the mass media surrounding these unread ballots. The Bush campaign was determined to stop any recount, while the Gore campaign petitioned for manual recounts in only four heavily Democratic counties.
In one of these counties, Miami-Dade, Republican staffers from around the country staged an unruly protest. That protest intimidated election officials and they abandoned the recount. Meanwhile, a remarkable courtroom drama played out. Attorneys for Al Gore appealed to the Florida Supreme Court, which eventually ordered a manual recount of the state’s undervotes; votes in which the machines interpreted the voters intent as having cast a vote for no presidential candidate. In turn, the Bush team went directly to the federal courts to halt this effort. Their aim was to have this case heard before the United States Supreme Court.
In the end, the U.S. Supreme Court overruled the Florida Court, halting the recount and casting doubt on the outcome of the 2000 Presidential Election.
A year later, a consortium of U.S. media organizations published the results of an exhaustive study of all of Florida’s unread ballots. The consortium concluded that had all these ballots been counted and the discernable votes been tallied, Al Gore would be the 43rd President of the United States.
Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election is a cautionary tale, warning us that we must insist our elections be conducted in a manner above reproach, that all legitimate voters may exercise their franchise, and all legal votes must be counted. Anything less undermines our faith in democracy.