How the Miami Herald Lied About Their Own Recount

 
 

by Paul Lukasiak

The widely anticipated release of the results of the Miami Herald recount of Florida undervotes finally happened on April 3rd. The results of the recount demonstrate that under most rational scenarios, Al Gore would have won the Presidency. According to the data, far more people cast a vote for Al Gore than for George W. Bush. And the results strongly suggest that Gore would have won any statewide recount done under the auspices of the Florida Supreme Court.

But the Herald headline and lead tell a different story. They say that Bush would have won if the recount had gone forward.(1)

How did the Herald justify its headline, and its lead? They did it by:

And throughout the post-November period, the Herald consistently ignored, or withheld, information that called into question the legitimacy of the Bush regime, while aggressively pursuing stories that raise questions about Gore supporters claims of victory.

The key information, that Al Gore received the most votes in the Herald examination of the undervote, was relegated to deceptive and confusing tables, and mentioned in articles among a plethora of various scenarios and equivocations. You have to read, and decipher, the 'fine print' to get to the facts.

The Herald Standards

The Herald used four different standards in their articles. The Herald's own data shows that only under the "two corner" standard would Bush have won in Florida in a statewide recount. The Herald never mentions that Florida courts had ruled that the "two corner" standard could not be used for manually counting votes.(2) Under all the other standards, Gore got more votes in Florida.

What the Herald calls the "loose" standard is actually the standard most consistent with Florida law.(3) The Herald even acknowledges this fact, although this information is buried as well.(4)

(To date, the Herald has never presented in an orderly fashion the indisputable evidence that demonstrates that dimples do not occur at random and are virtually impossible to create by voters who 'change their minds', statistical evidence that shows that the number of voters who choose to not vote for president is consistent with the number of unmarked ballots, and totally inconsistent with the number of dimpled plus unmarked ballots, and the evidence that dimples can only be created if there is equipment problems or voter error. Under Florida law, 'voter error' is not a reason to disqualify a ballot.)

The Phony Palm Beach Standard

It was necessary (see below) for the Herald to misrepresent the "other dimple" standard as the "Palm Beach" standard in order to justify declaring Bush the winner "if the U.S. Supreme Court had not halted the sweeping recount of undervotes" ordered by the Florida Supreme Court. The Herald "Palm Beach" standard required only the presence of another dimple on the ballot. The real Palm Beach standard required a pattern of dimples.

The Herald's phony "Palm Beach standard" was the "middle" standard, and thus represents the "compromise" standard. Sandwiched between the illegal "two corner" standard, and the inappropriately named "loose" standard, .the phony "Palm Beach" standard became the presumptive "reasonable" standard between two (one illegal, the other "loose") extreme standards.

The Herald's own data demonstrates conclusively that calling the "other dimple" standard the "Palm Beach Standard" cannot be justified under ANY circumstances. Under the real Palm Beach standard, less than half the votes were counted than were found using the Herald's "Palm Beach Standard."

But without this deception, the Herald would not have been able to justify its desired conclusions-that Bush would have won had the recount been finished under the order of the Florida Supreme Court.

The Herald Standards: Real Standards Not Mentioned

One of the most egregious omissions of the Herald study is that there already exist standards for hand-counting votes in a Presidential election in Florida. These are standards that have the full force of law and precedent behind them.

Both Broward County, and Volusia County conducted full manual recounts. These votes were certified by the state, and were completely and absolutely uncontested by either Gore or Bush. They represent a clear, and de facto, minimal standard by which any statewide recount of votes would have to be conducted if a consistent standard is used.

It should be noted that the Volusia standard is, in fact, the "dimple" standard. Volusia County counted incompletely filled out holes on its optically scanned ballots as votes. The equivalent of such an incomplete mark for a punch card ballot would be a "dimple", and a true "statewide" standard would have been the "dimple" standard.

If the Court imposed separate optical-scan and punch card standards, the Broward standard would have to be the minimum standard for punch card ballots. Under the Broward, a dimple was considered an indication of voter intent if the ballot showed a preference for the party of the "dimpled" candidate.

Both standards, of course would have worked to Gore's advantage. The Volusia County standard would have required that the undervotes from Palm Beach, Broward, and Dade be re-examined (see below), and Gore would have won the dimple count, according to the Herald's numbers.

The Broward standard would have also required re-examining the Palm Beach ballots, gaining Gore a considerable number of votes. More importantly, perhaps, is that by using the Broward standard, Gore would do much better than Bush based on the totals from the Senate race. The Democratic Senate candidate received about 23,000 fewer votes than Gore; the Republican candidate for Senate got over 200,000 fewer votes than Bush. Additionally, because of the higher undervote rate in African American communities, and the strong tendency of African Americans to vote straight Democratic tickets, Gore's advantage under the Broward standard would have been significant indeed.

The Herald also completely ignored its own reporting.(5) In Dade County alone, over 1700 hundred ballots were cast but not counted because of holes punched in the chads directly below the chad for the presidential candidates. Such holes should have been impossible to create unless the ballot had been misaligned in the equipment used for voting. No review of undervoted ballots can be complete without mentioning these ballots, which indicate that Gore would have received at least 120 additional net votes.(6) Other counties would also yield such votes.(7)

Finally, the Herald makes no mention of legally prescribed votes were never counted in Florida. Although these votes were part of the "overvoted" ballots, as votes that are specifically prescribed as legal votes, Florida law demands their inclusion in any canvass of ballots under any circumstances. According to the Orlando Sentinel, Gore received a net gain of at least 194 fully prescribed legal votes that were never counted as the laws of Florida demands.(8)

The Herald Scenarios: Misrepresenting the Courts

The Herald's projections of Bush victories under the "recount done under the Florida Supreme Court order" scenarios is based on a number of completely false premises:
  1. That the Herald's "Palm Beach" standard is actually the standard used in Palm Beach County. As noted above, this is demonstrably false

  2. That a it would be possible for counties to use the "two corner" standard. As noted above, the Florida Courts already ruled such a standard illegal.

  3. That a dimple standard would be used statewide, but that it would be applied ONLY to those counties that were being counted under the original court order. This is patently absurd. The decision of the Supreme Court not to re-examine the Palm Beach ballots was not based on a ruling that the PBC canvassing board had included all the legal votes. The ruling was based solely on the fact that the Gore legal team had not even met the limited burden of proof that any legal votes had gone uncounted in Palm Beach County.(9)
Any imposition of a statewide standard would have to be done, by definition, statewide. All that would be required to examine Palm Beach and Broward ballots, once a statewide standard had been created, would be proof that ballots that met the statewide standard remained uncounted in those counties.

Since there is no question that ballots with dimples were not counted in both Broward and Palm Beach counties, for the Herald to suggest that they would be excluded from a statewide recount using a "dimpled ballot" standard is simply absurd. And because the "other dimple" standard is far more liberal than the standard used in Palm Beach, a statewide recount using that standard would require the examination of the Palm Beach undervote, and possibly the Broward undervote as well.

In other words, none of the "Bush would win" conclusions of the "Florida Supreme Court ordered" recount scenarios hold up to any sort of scrutiny whatsoever. They are based on completely false definitions, the disregarding of previous court decisions, and an apparently willful misinterpretation of the grounds on which the Palm Beach ballots had been excluded from the statewide recount. The Herald engaged in nothing but pure, completely baseless, and utterly dishonest spin.

What Really Would Have Happened Under the Florida Court Ordered Recount

There is a final assumption in the "court ordered recount" scenarios, however, that is so outrageous, and which was so determinative of the spin the Herald used, that calling it a "lie" is putting it mildly. The Herald declared Bush the likely victor based on the assumption that there would be consistent counting of votes across county lines without the imposition of statewide standards.

The Herald created scenarios under the "Florida Supreme Court" order that bore no relationship to reality, and used them to declare George W. Bush the winner. Absent this bizarre assumption, there was no way that the Herald could legitimately declare anyone the "likely" winner. And the political realities at the time that the Court order came down make it highly unlikely, if not impossible, that Bush would have won under any realistic scenario that included differing standards between counties.

Throughout the entire process, the Bush team had been arguing against the inclusion of any dimpled ballots. Without those dimpled ballots, given the 300+ vote advantage that Gore would have received from the optically scanned counties, Gore's actual three vote lead in the "clear vote" category, the at least 194 legal votes that were never included in the certified totals, and the 344 votes awarded to Gore by the Florida Court from Dade and Palm Beach Counties, and the estimated 120 votes from the "misaligned" ballots, it becomes virtually impossible to come up with the necessary votes for Bush to have won the recounts.

For Bush to win under the "variable standards" scenario, he would have had to completely reverse his previously stated objections to dimpled ballots in order to get the necessary votes from the punch card counties to overcome Gore's advantages noted above. However, had he done so, not only would he have faced political embarrassment, he would have opened the door for a reconsideration of the Palm Beach and Broward ballots. In other words, the "variable standards" scenario appears to be a "no win" situation for Bush.

In reality, it is impossible to predict with any certainty, based on the Herald data, what would have happened under the recount ordered by the Florida Supreme Court. "Uncertainty" is the only legitimate conclusion that can be drawn from the data. Nevertheless, the Herald created bogus and ridiculous scenarios in order to declare Bush the winner.

Why the Lie?

By itself, the data from the Herald manages to prove absolutely nothing. But taken in conjunction with the media recounts that have been done of the overvoted ballots, the Herald data does prove one thing decisively---more people VOTED for Al Gore than for George W. Bush in Florida.

Then why did the Herald declare Bush the winner? Although there is more than sufficient evidence to say that the Herald did so because of its clear, consistent and unmistakable political bias, the real reason is probably money. The Herald went to considerable expense to do this recount, and the only way it is every going to get a return on this investment is by selling the book it is doing on the recounts. The best way to do that is to create controversy about the results. Controversy sells books.

The Herald recount represents a distinct low point in journalistic integrity and credibility. After promising a completed recount in three week, it took three months. After declaring, without equivocation, that it would not release any partial results, the Herald released the results from Dade County, and then completely misrepresented what those results actually meant. And now they give us the Big Lie.

It should not go unnoticed that during the post-November 7th period, the Herald has completely avoided looking into the wholesale irregularities perpetrated by Republican election officials in Florida.

Instead of investigating the felons list scandal, the Herald investigated people who voted (10), and consistently highlighted the number of felons it supposedly found who voted. The emphasis of the Herald was not the deliberate attempt to disenfranchise voters, but on the fact that people actually voted.

Instead of investigating the circumstances under which election documents were altered by Republican Party operatives with the blessing of Republican elected officials, the Herald went in search of dead people voting…found one in Palm Beach County, and did an entire story around that one dead voter.

And despite numerous articles about illegal votes being cast, not once did the Herald mention the tens of thousands of fraudulently cast absentee ballots that provided George W. Bush with his margin of victory. These votes were cast after the Republican Party urged voters to cast absentee ballots fraudulently, in a solicitation that was designed to look like voting for convenience was an act endorsed by the Governor, acting as the Governor.

Nor should it go unnoticed that the Herald withheld the information regarding the legal status of undervoted ballots (per the Beckstrom decision) until it could bury as part of its undervote coverage. And the Herald has yet to mention the even more relevant part of the Beckstrom decision---the part that says that election officials MUST do their jobs the way the laws of Florida says they have to do them, and that they do NOT have the discretion to ignore the laws of Florida as they see fit. Such an admission would require the Herald to do what it clearly has no interest in doing---looking at how the failure of state and local Republican officials to obey the law was responsible for the election being stolen.

As noted above, one cannot simply say that the reason the Herald lied about the results of its examination of the overvotes was political. But given the nature of its coverage of the Florida election when taken as a whole, no reasonable person could be questioned about assuming that is precisely what happened.

– end –

Footnotes

  1. Martin Merzer, "Review Shows Ballots Say Bush." Miami Herald, 4 April 2001.

  2. In Florida Democratic Party v Palm Beach County Canvassing Board, the issue before the Court was whether it was permissible for Palm Beach to use a previously articulated "two corner" rule in manually counting votes. Judge Jorge LaBarga ruled that such a standard was not legal, stating that the canvassing board "cannot have a policy in place of per se exclusion of any ballot." A similar case in Broward County resulted in virtually the same ruling.

  3. Florida Statute 101.5614 states that "No vote shall be declared invalid or void if there is a clear indication of voter intent as determined by the canvassing board." The statute also provides the criteria for not counting votes as "impossible to determine the elector's choice..." [emphasis added]

  4. The Beckstrom decision (Beckstrom v Volusia County Canvassing Board) of 1998 stated that ballots that are not machine readable are "defective" pursuant to the procedures to be used for counting defective ballots in 101.5614. The Miami Herald provided a separate article (Jay Weaver, "Law: Check Defective Ballots") about the Beckstrom decision as part of its April 4th coverage. What is even more significant about the Beckstrom decision is that the Florida Supreme Court makes clear in its decision that the "discretion" exercised by election officials did not, in general, exist. At issue was the interpretation/applicability of the 1975 FSC landmark Boardman decision, which provided canvassing boards some discretion to include votes despite the fact that the voter was not in full technical compliance with the statutory requirements. The lower state court, in ruling on Beckstrom, noted that "the Boardman decision has become a 'license for lawlessness by election officials.'" In fact, since 1975, Boardman had been expanded far beyond its original intent, which was to create a "substantial compliance" standard for voters. The "substantial compliance" standard had been transferred to election officials, and that had been expanded upon until there was a de facto rule that unless there was fraud involved, election officials could do anything they wanted to. In Beckstrom, the Florida Supreme Court made it clear that "anything goes" was not the rule, saying:
    We expressly state that our decision in Boardman is not to be read as condoning anything less than strict adherence by election officials to the statutorily mandated election procedures. Such adherence is vital to safeguarding our representative form of government, which directly depends upon election officials' faithful performance of their duties. [emphasis in original]

  5. Andres Viglucci, "1,700 Dade voters mispunched chads." Miami Herald, 6 January 2001.

  6. The report notes that if all the misaligned Presidential votes were counted, Gore would receive an additional 316 votes. However, because these holes occurred between two assigned chads, an argument can be made that these holes are ambiguous. Nevertheless, the report notes that about 400 of the 1012 ballots which a misaligned Gore vote were misaligned on all races in a way that could be resolved only if the hole represented a Gore vote. The article does not mention if, or how many, such ballots there were for Bush. Extrapolating from the 696 misaligned Bush votes, one get approximately 280 fully misaligned ballots with Bush votes, giving Gore and additional 120 votes on which the voter intent can be clearly discerned.

  7. Most punch card counties apparently used consecutive holes in the Presidential race, which would result in misaligned votes being counted for the wrong candidates. Because of the misalignment problem, on most ballots intended Bush votes would have gone for Gore, and intended Gore votes for Harry Browne. Assuming the rate of misaligned ballots is the same throughout Florida, Bush would have lost 4600 intended votes, and Gore 6000 intended votes. But because in many counties a Bush voter who misaligned their ballot would wind up casting a Gore vote, Gore probably realized a net gain in votes because of misaligned ballots. Finally it should be noted that Duval County also had unassigned chads, and with almost 5000 undervotes, would be a significant source of additional legal votes.

  8. There were votes that were counted as overvoted because of the presence of a "write in" vote that was not for a "qualified write in candidate". Florida law is highly specific in saying these are not to be counted as overvotes. For a detailed explanation and analysis, see "Lost" Votes and a Stolen Election.

  9. "Because the appellants have failed to introduce any evidence to refute the Canvassing Board's determination that the 3300 ballots did not constitute "legal votes," we affirm the trial court's holding as to this issue." Per Curiam decision, Gore v Harris et al, Florida Supreme Court, 8 December 2000.

  10. An examination of the Miami Herald's list of articles on the election makes it clear that the Herald spent no time investigating election officials and how they did their job, but put significant resources into investigating possibly fraudulent votes.


Copyright © 2001 by Paul Lukasiak.
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