A vote-by-vote review of untallied ballots in the 2000 Florida presidential election indicates George W. Bush would have narrowly prevailed in the partial recounts sought by Al Gore, but Gore might have reversed the outcome -- by the barest of margins -- had he pursued and gained a complete statewide recount.
Bush won Florida, and thus the White House, by 537 votes out of more than 6 million cast. But questions about the uncounted votes lingered.
A year after that cliffhanger conclusion, a media-sponsored review of the more than 175,000 disputed ballots underscored that the prize of the presidency came down to an almost unimaginably small number of votes.
The new data, compiled by The Associated Press and seven other news organizations, also suggested that Gore followed a legal strategy after Election Day that would have led to his defeat even if it had not been rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court. Gore sought a recount of a relatively small portion of the state's disputed ballots while the review indicates his only chance lay in a course he advocated publicly but did not pursue in court -- a full statewide recount of all Florida's untallied votes.
"We are a nation of laws and the presidential election of 2000 is over," Gore said Sunday. "Right now, our country faces a great challenge as we seek to successfully combat terrorism. I fully support President Bush's efforts to achieve that goal."
Voters move on
Said Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer: "The election was settled a year ago, President Bush won and the voters have long since moved on."
The news organizations set out to examine as many as possible of the ballots set aside as either undervotes or overvotes. Undervotes involved about 62,000 ballots where voting machines were unable to detect a choice for presidential candidate, while about 113,000 overvotes were read by machines as containing more than one choice.
Since the legal wrangling focused on how votes were defined, the media-sponsored review did, too, calculating results under different standards -- for example, whether to count as votes "hanging chads" on punch-card ballots or ballots marked with an "X" instead of the required filled-in oval on optical scan ballots.