Why the Popular Vote Mattered - And Still Does |
If three or four conscientious Republican electors had known before December 18, the day the Electoral College met, that the margin of Al Gore's victory in the popular vote was greater than John F. Kennedy's in 1960 and Richard Nixon's in 1968, would it have made a difference? Would some electors have switched their vote to support Gore, the people's choice for President of the United States?
That's a question that has haunted me for the last six months. To understand why, it's important to remember that during the weeks leading up to November 7, polls indicated that Bush might win a majority of votes nationwide, but not be able to seize enough states to claim an electoral victory. Reports surfaced verifying that Bush planned to vigorously challenge the election results if this occurred. [source: http://www.nydailynews.com/2000-11-01/News_and_Views/Beyond_the_City/a-86769.asp ]
Reversal of Fortune
However, in the early morning hours of November 8, it was candidate Gore who took the lead in the nationwide popular count. This intrigued me. What if Gore won the popular race but couldn't gather enough electoral votes to assume the Presidency? Would he mount a challenge as Bush had planned to do? How would the press cover it? This final question drove my research for the next several weeks, especially after watching live coverage of various network anchors grow oddly sullen when Gore pulled ahead in the popular vote. It was as if their horse had come up lame.
The news of Gore's lead soon became buried in media coverage of the events transpiring in Florida. News organizations stopped updating their popular vote figures around the week before Thanksgiving, artificially freezing Gore's margin of victory at about 300,000 votes. At the time, I had no reason to doubt that these numbers were accurate. Yet I also believed there was a good chance the popular vote could play a role in resolving the disputed election; I wanted to know precisely what the most recent numbers were. So I began to check the Web sites of the election offices of all fifty states and the District of Columbia. If the online totals were unofficial or outdated, I called the state office that handled elections and asked. Perhaps eager to avoid the appearance of impropriety in the wake of Florida, most officials were more than happy to share their numbers with me.
When I began adding those numbers, I discovered the media weren't doing their jobs.
Big States, Big Gore Votes
The two states that would come to affect the popular vote margin most significantly were the two most populous: California and New York. Their effect on the race however went beyond population. California and New York had both gone overwhelmingly for Al Gore on election night. Both states also had a high number of absentee voters; California alone had over 2.7 million ballots sent in by mail, nearly 25% of all votes cast. California kept their voting information updated on a daily basis, so it was easy to track by going to the well-organized site of the California Secretary of State. [http://vote2000.ss.ca.gov/] ] At the same time the media stopped updating their numbers, just before Thanksgiving, California's updates pushed Gore past the 400,000 vote margin of victory -- with more to come.
I had heard that New York would be counting at least 300,000 ballots after Election Day, so I called the New York State Board of Elections in late November to ask how the counting process was going. They weren't going to share specifics with the public at that point, but they did note that votes were still being counted and that the number was probably closer to 400,000 ballots outstanding. When New York finally released their official results on the morning of December 11, it easily pushed Gore over the half-million mark nationwide.
For anyone paying attention, this outcome wouldn't have been hard to predict. New York had already split on election night 60%-35% in favor of Gore. A member of the media who took a moment to check with the state back in mid-November -- or even before Election Day -- could have projected that the state's absentee votes would be a bonanza for the Democratic candidate.
Fuzzy Math Pays Off for Bush
Although it had been obvious for weeks that Gore would easily reach the 500,000 mark, I didn't start circulating my popular vote numbers until late November. I waited until New York put their results up on their Web site on December 12 so I'd have the official sources I needed to back up my claims. Within hours, I began my phone, fax, and e-mail blitz of media outlets, six days before electors would meet to officially confirm the victor of the election.
I sent my research documenting Gore's 540,000 vote popular victory to dozens of newspapers and magazines, including the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe, the Associated Press, as well as Al Gore's campaign. The last choice might strike some as odd. Why the Gore campaign? Recall that Gore had not yet conceded the election. Both he and Joe Lieberman were under the impression that their popular margin was the out-of-date, less impressive, 300,000-vote figure. I believed that if there was even a slight chance that an inaccurate reporting of the popular vote might cause Gore to underestimate his base of support, it was important that he and his campaign understand that the media had not been keeping up. After all, 540,000 votes was a victory of over 1/2 of one percent.
Although the Philadelphia Inquirer reported independently on December 16 that Al Gore's margin of victory in the popular vote was then around 540,000 votes, the response to my contacts with members of the press were disappointing, as if a willful ignorance was being enforced among writers and editors. Only one paper, the Los Angeles Times, said they'd take a second look at state numbers. But if they did, it didn't show; they were still publishing erroneous figures a week later.
The following exchange of Monday, December 18, when I called the Associated Press's bureau office in Washington to comment on their outdated popular vote figures, was typical:
AP: Sir, we've updated those.
AP: Yes, we've received several phone calls.
Me: Well, good. So you've accepted the 540,000 vote margin?
AP: No sir, that's incorrect. The margin is indeed 337,000. We checked.
Me: With whom?
AP: The states. Me: I have too. For four weeks now.
AP: [dismissive] Mmm-hmm.
Me: 540,000 is the accurate margin. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported it this weekend.
AP: Yes, we saw that.We're sure it's wrong.
Me: Uh, no, the Inquirer was correct. Trust me.
AP: Mmm-hmmm. Good day sir.
I still wasn't suspecting deliberate suppression of the popular vote numbers. I guessed I was merely dealing with incompetence, not malice. But the next day, December 19, twenty-four hours after electors certified Bush as president, the correct figures appeared in print -- in an Associated Press article. [http://www.cnn.com/2000/ALLPOLITICS/stories/12/19/election.turnout.ap] I was stunned. Someone at Associated Press must have been aware of the new numbers when I had called the day before. So why is it we only got coverage of Gore's greater margin on December 19, the day after the Electoral College met, when the figures had been available for at least a week?
Web-based activists had made clear their intentions to try to sway Republican electors towards doing the honorable thing and voting for Gore. The media holding on to the news of a much larger margin of victory for Al Gore prevented these electors from having access to facts that might have made a difference. Because of the timing of the updated margin's release, I believe the most logical explanation is that the media deliberately suppressed the true scope of Gore's victory in order that no pressure could be brought to bear upon electors to switch their votes on December 18. Shameful, yes. But not surprising given the anti-Gore bias that permeated the national media throughout the 2000 campaign.
No Lie Too Outrageous
Unfortunately, the collusion between the media and right-wing interests didn't end there. Since December 18, right-wing talk radio and Internet sites have been spreading the idea that Gore's popular vote win is a myth in order to legitimize the illegitimate administration of George W. Bush. The claim is that states such as California stopped counting their votes when the winning candidate was declared, meaning absentees weren't counted, meaning Bush would have won the popular vote since we all "just know" that more Republicans vote by absentee.
This is so outrageously Orwellian that I become angry contemplating the need to address it. A quick check of the California election page noted above will show a rigorous accounting of each and every vote cast in the 2000 election, absentees included. NO state (except for Florida, and that was because of the Supreme Court's decision in Bush v. Gore) stopped counting votes because of who did or didn't win the presidential race in their state -- local races still needed to be decided.
Anyone concerned with the truth must confront and denounce this pernicious right-wing revisionism wherever and whenever it arises.
I've recently completed a second comprehensive check of state elections offices and their vote totals. According to my records, three states -- Ohio, South Carolina, and Maryland -- have amended their totals after official results were first reported. The most dramatic change was in Ohio where I was told by a representative of the Ohio Secretary of State's office that 3,000 extra Gore votes were recently found. Gore's margin in the national popular race has increased as follows:
This popular victory (not including the thousands of recently recovered legal votes in Florida) stands today at 543,895, a margin, as noted above, greater than Kennedy's in 1960 and Nixon's in 1968.
Don't forget too that nearly 2.5 million ballots were spoiled nationwide. Because we're finding out that a greater percentage of spoiled ballots are likely to occur in poor, heavily Democratic precincts, it is very likely that Gore's actual popular vote victory was over 1 million votes nationwide. If Bush and his operatives had not stolen Florida, the Electoral College would have validated this fact.
2000 Popular Vote Totaled By State