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Bookbeat: October 2004

Hanging Chads: The Inside Story of the 2000 Presidential Recount in Florida

Hanging Chads: The Inside Story of the 2000 Presidential Recount in Floridaby Julian Pleasants, Department of History
(Palgrave Macmillan, 2004)
Available through Amazon

The Democratic and Republican parties that bitterly fought over the 2000 presidential election outcome in Florida are gearing up for a similar confrontation again in November, according to UF History Professor Julian Pleasants who is the author of a new book on the subject.

“It’s difficult to imagine that we would go through a similar experience four years later, but I can assure you that both sides are prepared for that,” says Pleasants, director of the Proctor Oral History Program who wrote Hanging Chads: The Inside Story of the 2000 Presidential Recount in Florida published in September. “They already have their legal teams in place and briefs prepared. If, for example, voting machines break down in Palm Beach County, they are ready to argue that citizens were denied the right to vote.”

Although the elimination of punch-card machines will prevent any controversy this time over dimpled and hanging chads—incompletely punched holes in ballots largely responsible for Florida’s November 2000 presidential recount—the absence of paper records with the new touch-screen voting machines in some Florida counties raises the possibility of a different set of problems.

“Advocates of touch screens claim they are accurate and you don’t need a paper trail, but all of us who have worked with computers know that computers malfunction,” Pleasants says.
For the book, Pleasants interviewed 42 key players in the election recount in an attempt to understand their decision-making processes in what he describes as “the most controversial, tumultuous, and in many ways, significant presidential election in American history.” Among his interviewees were a state Supreme Court justice, election supervisors, and judges and lawyers, including the heads of both legal teams, Dexter Douglass for Democratic candidate Al Gore and Barry Richard for Republican President George W. Bush.

A significant majority of these players agreed the Republicans won the recount because they were better organized, had more money and fought more vigorously. The interviews revealed that Gore, to his disadvantage, made many of his own legal decisions, rather than relying on his Florida attorneys, while Bush did not exert any influence.

In his interview, Richard said the Bush team gave him complete authority to plan and carry out the legal strategy. Richard indicated he talked on the phone with Bush only twice during the 36-day period that elapsed between the election and the US Supreme Court decision awarding Bush the election. Those conversations were to congratulate Richard or acquire additional information, and Bush never offered any legal advice.

“The Bush campaign hired the lawyers and let them do their job on the assumption that Florida lawyers knew more about election law than they did,” Pleasants says. “Gore micromanaged the process, and in doing that, went against the advice of his Florida lawyers. Had he listened to them, the argument is that he might have won.”

The most critical piece of advice Gore ignored was initially limiting his recount request to four counties, Pleasants says. Judges and lawyers from both sides agreed if Gore had called a statewide recount at the beginning of the 36-day period, there would have been sufficient time to finish it.
Pleasants says the interviews confirmed what he has read in numerous books: It will probably never be known who won the election. “The one thing I think we can say—and some of the Republicans I interviewed agreed with this—is that more people intended to vote for Al Gore in Florida than intended to vote for George W. Bush.”

The only two people who refused Pleasants’ requests for interviews for the book were Al Cardenas, chairman of the state Republican Party, and former Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who certified the 2000 presidential vote and was later elected to Congress. Pleasants did interview her political adviser, Mac Stipanovich, and others who worked for her during the election.

Some of the recollections Pleasants describes in the book are humorous, even bizarre, reflecting the extraordinary nature of an event in which legal decisions that normally take months were done in days, and in front of a media circus with the whole world watching.

For example, Craig Waters, the Florida Supreme Court’s public information officer, told of a collection of “run-of-the mill kooks” showing up at the courthouse, including a woman whose pet skunk performed back flips, and a group of people dressed in aluminum foil with satellite dishes strapped to their backs who were trying to channel energy toward the court.

George McGovern, a former US senator and 1972 Democratic presidential candidate, said he has read the book and strongly recommends it. “This is the most carefully researched and valuable book yet written on the Florida election of 2000,” he says. “It is a must-read book on a vital and controversial chapter of our political history.”

—Cathy Keen,
UF News and Public Affairs

Readings in World Christian History Volume I:
Earliest Christianity to 1453

Readings in World Christian History Volume I:Earliest Christianity to 1453by John Coakley and Andrea Sterk, Department of History
(Orbis Books, 2004)
Available through Amazon

This companion to History of the World Christian Movement explores how varied and multi-cultural Christian origins and history really are. Through the advice of many scholars of Christian origins the selections here include texts that show students how Christianity developed and was lived in Asia, Africa and the Mediterranean. These texts show Christian life beyond the confines of Byzantine and Western Christendom as Christians enter the Mongol and Chinese courts, struggle to cope with Islam, and continue to live in places such as Ethiopia and Egypt. Designed for the classroom, this book highlights the variety of Christianities that grew out of the Palestinian Jesus Movement of the first century.


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