The Boston Globe

Friday , October 31, 2003



3.5 StarsUnprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election


By Ty Burr, Globe Staff
Boston Globe
Published: 10/31/2003

[Unprecedented] presents a convincing case that the wrong man took Florida and the country.

Is it possible to not take sides in this matter? Can you be a Democrat and think justice was done in Florida, or can you be a Republican and believe there were more than a few chads left hanging in the wind? Probably not. But that only underscores the fact that the voting and subsequent recounts may have been deeply compromised, as parties partial to, if not related to, George W. Bush had their hands all over the state's elective machinery.

The 50-minute ''Unprecedented'' gets its most damning evidence out of the way at the start by focusing on the notorious ''felon purge list'' that kept tens of thousands of mostly Democratic Floridians from voting on Election Day. The film shows how then-state secretary of state (and co-chairman of the Florida Bush campaign) Katherine Harris took an 1868 law designed to keep black ex-prisoners from the polls and spent $4 million to retool it into an absurdly vague computerized list of supposed former criminals. We see e-mails from a Republican Party counsel urging the computer company collating the list to adopt the vaguest parameters so more false positives would come up. A typical result was the Rev. Willie Whiting, who found himself on the list -- and wasn't able to vote -- because he had once been a juror. The filmmakers bring on Florida Division of Elections director Clayton Roberts to defend the list, but he bolts the interview.

"Unprecedented" also digs deep into the recount, faulting both Gore (who asked for tallies in four key counties when he should have demanded the whole state) and the Republican Party, which apparently paid to send key staffers to Miami to riot outside the recount room: The film freeze-frames the news footage and names names. The US Supreme Court decision halting the recount is also found to smell funny, as two Justices (Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas) had conflicts of interest that should have sent them scampering into recusal.