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Remembering the 2000 election battle

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In November of 2001, I went on vacation to Costa Rica, arriving on Nov. 18. The battle over the contested 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore was at its height and mounting in tension. Although I did a lot of touristy stuff during my week there (lots of museums, volcanoes, food and ticos), I also managed to keep up with election developments, thanks to the presence of CNN and other American news channels in my hotel room. I kept a diary; it makes for interesting reading, now that we’re in the midst of another election controversy. If you read on, you’ll see the references to “civil war” between Republicans and Democrats. It’s a pretty good and accurate accounting of the 2000 election brouhaha, and captures the ongoing chaos and confusion, with developments changing by the minute as the outcome remained in doubt and rumors–sometimes true, sometimes not–swirled.

The following are excerpts of my reporting on the election developments. (I have eliminated all references to my personal experiences, which were also quite interesting!)

Nov. 18, Dallas Airport, 5 p.m. I’ve missed developments all day. I look at the T.V. monitor, which is tuned to CNN. Bush leads by 930 votes (in Florida)! Damn. Not good. That 930-vote lead comes after 67 of 67 counties counted their foreign ballots—which means Bush picked up only 630 votes! This doesn’t seem like as many as had been anticipated, although of course it would be enough for him to win.

San Jose (the capital of Costa Rica). 11 p.m. After a fast taxi ride to my hotel I turn on CNN. Bush still ahead by 930. Obviously nothing happened today. Lots of overseas ballots including military being rejected—about 40%. Republicans complaining. Some very early returns (unofficial) from the (Florida]) recounting. Indications are that Gore will not get enough to offset the 930.

Nov. 19, Sunday. 7:40 a.m. CNN says Bush still up by 930, but one reporter says Bush gained 12 votes in Palm Beach.

3:30 p.m. CNN. Democratic and Republican congressmen debating the constitutionality of manual recounts. The spin is to influence tomorrow’s Florida Supreme Court hearing. But what does it matter if Gore can’t take the lead anyway? Beyond tomorrow, will the U.S. Supreme Court get involved? Also, will “dimpled chads”* be allowed? CNN’s Chris Black says “hundreds” have been discovered so far for Gore in Palm Beach and Broward counties, although it’s not clear if they are reflected in the current tallies. As for Dade County, apparently they stopped, or postponed, counting again, but for now, it is said Dade will resume counting tomorrow—before anyone knows what the Florida Supreme Court will say.

(* Also known as “hanging chads”)

4:30 p.m. Republican hack Marc Racicot says Democratic strategists realize Gore cannot win on a recount without dimpled ballots. He thus launches the next phase of this war. This is the Battle of Dimpled Ballots. The Republicans are terrified of them! Racicot accuses Democrats of “changing the rules” by wanting to count dimpled ballots. This is untrue! Gore has always said, Let’s count the vote of everyone who intended to vote, dimpled or not.

Meanwhile, John King interviews President Clinton from Ho Chi Minh City. What a great president he is. I would vote for him again.

Nov. 20, Monday. 1:05 p.m. I return to the hotel literally in time for the live coverage of the Florida Supreme Court hearing. “The Court is certainly aware of the historic nature of this session,” begins the Chief Justice, warning the room to remain “in order” and outlining the logistics of the process. Interesting that this is being cast as a fight between the Florida Secretary of State (Republican Katherine Harris) and the Florida Attorney-General (Democrat Robert Butterworth).

3:45. CNN says the most contentious question was between one Justice and a Bush lawyer. They add that Bush worked out at a gym today—same as me! BULLETIN: HUGE BUSH VICTORY! Florida Attorney-General rules all military ballots must be counted. That’s another 500-800 for Bush.

3:55. Florida Supreme Court announces no decision today. They do not say when they will decide. But what is the count? Bill Schneider (CNN analyst) points out the Republican Florida Legislature may eventually appoint their own electors. That of course could mean Civil War. But I don’t think it will come to that. One way or another, I believe Bush will remain ahead in the vote, and win.

Dick Armey (arch-conservative Republican House Majority Leader) says it would be “distasteful” to go to a Gore inaugural; he will attend “but not stand.” David Broder, the dean of the Washington press corps, says we are on “a very, very perilous slope.”

They even have CBS News down here. Dan Rather is apocalyptic on the Florida Supreme Court “battle” in his words. Bulletin: CBS quotes an analyst as saying the Democrat’s “best case scenario” from the recount is 740. This is nowhere near enough, especially if previously invalidated military ballots are counted. My prediction: Gore concedes, perhaps by this weekend. He vows to fight on for 2004.

11 p.m. Nothing new.

Nov. 21. A new dynamic. If, say, Florida is not allowed to recount—or can recount but dimpled chads don’t count—and Bush is declared the winner—and if it turns out those ballots are unofficially counted anyway (as they probably will be, unless they’re destroyed)—then Democrats will cry “Stolen election!” and convincingly. And that will fuel the impending split.

5:30 p.m. It’s disturbing that this overseas ballot thing is being represented by some people (mainly Republicans) as Democrats not wanting the military to vote. Even as I write this, CNN says they are “receiving word that a ruling may be forthcoming this evening” from the Florida Supreme Court. Today is the end of the second week of this undecided election. The Bush campaign today filed suit challenging the Florida Supreme Court’s authority to rule on the validity of hand counting. CNN does not say where they filed—in some Federal court? This is a hint the Bush campaign fears the Florida Supreme Court’s decision. CNN says Gore has a net gain in the recounting so far only of 230 votes. CNN’s ratings said to be the highest in their history. And so we wait, not only on the question of recounts, but on the all-important dimpled chads.

11:05 p.m. Breaking news! Jim Baker press conference. The Supreme Court must have ruled; Baker seems pissed. They must have lost. Yes! The court unanimously ruled the recount will count! Baker vows to bring this to the Florida (Republican-led) Legislature. Frank Sesno (CNN commentator): “Talk about uncharted territory! We’re in deep water now.” Florida threatening to call Special Session to undo what its own Supreme Court has done!

Bill Schneider: “This is a nightmare, the nuclear scenario.” Jeff Greenfield (CNN commentator): “We are so much closer to the possibility of a Constitutional train wreck.”

* * *

I’ll finish up tomorrow. Have a good day. Let’s vow to resist the Republican coup Trump is trying to pull off.

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