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How third parties messed up the 2000 Flori-duh election

Lars Gesing, CU News Corps Assistant Director

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Logo final_highIn our Anecdotal Evidence column, movers and shakers share personal stories of how intriguing (and often odd) campaigning in their respective swing state can be.

Aubrey Jewett – Political Scientist, University of Central Florida

Aubrey Jewitt with a voting punch card from the 2000 presidential election

Aubrey Jewett with a voting punchcard ballot from the 2000 presidential election. Photo: Lars Gesing/CU News Corps

“Florida changed it’s constitution in 1998 in an attempt to be more fair to minor political parties. Our voters approved a proposal to make ballot access equal for all parties. Before that, minor parties had to jump through a lot more hoops, and it tended to keep them off the ballot. But when we leveled the playing field, one of the unforeseen consequences was that we had 10 presidential nominees on the general election ballot in Florida that year, including the Green Party with Ralph Nader and the Reform Party, which Pat Buchanan ran for.

“Our election supervisors in each of Florida’s 67 counties had to figure out how to list the candidates on the ballot. They came up with several innovative ways to do that. Most of our big, urban counties had a punch-card system, which was considered to be high-tech when it was adopted in the late 60s and early 70s but by 2000 was very low tech, cumbersome and created a lot of problems.

“Several supervisors of elections across the state began to list the candidates for president on one page and continued on the next page. Corrine Brown was running for re-election to Congress that year. She ran ads, ‘Vote for Gore, vote for Brown,’ tying the Democratic ticket together. Well, wouldn’t you know… Al Gore was listed on the first page in Duval County. But when you turned the page, there was another candidate running for president whose last name was Browne (Libertarian Harry Browne). So Duval County had a very high number of invalidated ballots from over-voting, which happens when you have more than one vote for a presidential candidate on a ballot. In Duval County, they had something like 20,000 such votes, and many of them voted for Gore on the front page and for Browne (!) on the second page.

“We had another example of creative placement in Palm Beach County. That was what was known as the butterfly ballot. Standard procedure says you should list all candidates on one page, from top to bottom. But in Palm Beach, the supervisor of elections thought, ‘I’ve got a lot of seniors and they may have vision problems. If I list all 10 candidates on one side, it is going to be awfully small font.’ What she came up with was she alternated lines between the left and the right side. Thousands of people then either punched for two candidates or at least thought they were voting for Al Gore. Instead they accidentally voted for Pat Buchanan.

“It all came about because of an attempt to be fair to third parties.”

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Explanatory multimedia reporting from CU Boulder journalism students
How third parties messed up the 2000 Flori-duh election