Feb 26 – The study, sponsored by the newspaper, its parent company Knight-Ridder and USA Today, shows a recount of Miami-Dade County undervotes — or punch card ballots on which machines could not read a vote for president — would not have given Gore enough votes to overtake Bush's win of the presidency when combined with recount results in Volusia, Broward and Palm Beach Counties.
"There were many people who expected there was a bonanza of votes here for Al Gore, and it turns out there was not," Herald executive editor Martin Baron said Sunday.
Responding to the news, President Bush told reporters Wednesday as he met with his Cabinet, "Hopefully all the focus on the past is over with. It's time to move forward."
"We've never thought it's been in doubt," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "The overwhelming majority of the American people have moved on. This election has been resolved a long time ago."
A review of 10,644 uncounted ballots in Miami-Dade County found that while 1,555 Miami-Dade ballots were marked in a manner that might be interpreted as a vote for Gore, an additional 1,506 bore some kind of marking that might be interpreted as a vote for George W. Bush. This showed Gore would have gained no more than 49 votes if the recount he requested had taken place.
The Herald used broad liberal standards, including counting every dimple, pinprick and hanging chad identified in the section for presidential votes on the ballots.
No markings for president were found on 4,892 ballots, and 2,058 ballots bore markings in spaces that had been assigned to no candidate. One hundred and six ballots bore markings for other candidates, and an additional 527 ballots were deemed to have markings for more than one presidential candidate.
The pivotal decision to reject any late-arriving vote recounts was made by Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, co-chair of the Bush campaign in Florida. Only Volusia County had completed its recount by Harris' deadline, resulting in 98 net votes for Gore. When she announced those totals, Bush led by 300 votes, and on Nov. 17, after overseas ballots were counted, she certified Bush's victory margin of 930 votes.
In the three counties whose results Harris would not accept, recount results would have given Gore 790 net votes — 567 from Broward, 174 from Palm Beach and 49 from Miami-Dade. Based on these results, Bush still would have likely been the victor by 140 votes if Harris had revised her initial certification when recounts came in from the three other counties — thus saving the nation weeks of legal turmoil.
Republicans said the Herald's results indicated that Bush was always the legitimate winner.
"President Bush was lawfully elected on Election Day. He won after the first statewide machine recount," said Mark Wallace, a Miami lawyer for the Republican Party. "He won after the manual recount, and he won at the conclusion of all the litigation."
Democrats said the review shows neither side could have known how the recounts would turn out.
"This underscores how unpredictable the whole recount strategy was, on both sides," said Doug Hattaway, former Gore campaign spokesman. "This shows Bush's tactics of delaying and blocking vote counts didn't really benefit him."
The Herald and Knight Ridder retained public accounting firm BDO Seidman to conduct the inspection, which took more than 80 hours spread over nearly three weeks.
A research firm hired by several news organizations, including The Associated Press, The Washington Post, and The New York Times, is also reviewing 180,000 Florida ballots that did not register a vote for president during machine counts.
The Palm Beach Post previously released the results of its own review of 10,600 Miami-Dade undervotes. In that count, the Post found Bush gained six more votes than Gore.
The Post, which used a more restrictive standard than the Herald, concluded that Bush would have gained 251 votes and Gore would have gained 245 votes. No overvotes, or ballots where machines detected more than one presidential vote, were counted.
The certified results in Miami-Dade were 328,808 votes for Gore and 289,533 for Bush, according to the Florida secretary of state's office. Statewide, Bush won Florida by 537 votes out of about 6 million cast.