This is the eighth blog in our series examining election integrity.
Public officials at every level of government have often had suspected or proven involvement in partisan election fraud, and sometimes other criminal activity. Even when their actions are legal, they are anti-democratic when they subvert the will of the voters. This month we will focus on Katherine Harris and her pivotal role in the 2000 election of George W. Bush.
In a flagrant conflict of interest, Katherine Harris, a Republican appointed by Governor Jeb Bush, served simultaneously as Secretary of State of Florida and as a co-chair of George W. Bush’s Florida election campaign. Harris gained national attention when she halted the Florida recount and certified George W. Bush’s narrow victory of 537 votes over Al Gore, awarding the Florida electors to Bush. Harris’ ruling was upheld in the state circuit court but overturned on appeal by the Florida Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme court stepped in and decided by a 5-4 vote along party lines to award Florida’s electors, and thus the presidency, to Bush. Although Republicans would dispute their findings, independent probes conducted by The Washington Post and the Palm Beach Post concluded that Al Gore, not George Bush, would have won the Florida electors and the presidency if all the votes had been counted.
On election day, Gore led in the popular vote, but the national electoral college vote count was 267 for Gore and 246 for Bush, with 270 needed to win the election. Florida’s 25 electoral votes would determine the outcome.
- Just after the Florida polls closed on November 7, the networks predicted that Al Gore would win, based on exit polls.
- At 2:16 A.M. on November 8, right-wing media consultant John Ellis at Fox News, who was also a cousin of George W. Bush, called the election for Bush, who was ahead by 1,784 votes. Fox’s call caused the other networks to follow. Al Gore called Bush and congratulated him, but en route to give his concession speech, it was discovered that 360,000 votes still had not been counted, and they were in counties that usually voted Democratic. It was also discovered that Volusia County had recorded a negative 16,000 votes for Gore. Volusia’s 216th precinct had only 585 registered voters, but a voting machine made by Diebold Election Systems showed that this precinct gave Bush 2,813 votes and gave Al Gore a negative vote count of -16,022 votes. The only reason the error was caught was because one poll monitor noticed Gore’s vote count going down throughout the evening, which is an impossibility. Diebold blamed a “faulty memory chip,” but Bev Harris of blackboxvoting.org says their claim is simply not credible. She contended that the event could easily have been programmed by someone who wanted Bush to win. As we saw in last month’s blog, Diebold was owned by Republican partisans. We have no way to know whether other such “errors” went undetected.
- As Gore arrived to make his concession speech, 99% of the vote had been counted and Gore was only 600 votes behind. He cancelled the concession speech, and Republicans quickly labeled him a “sore loser.”
- On November 9th, the original vote tally was close enough to trigger a machine (not manual) recount in all 67 Florida counties. This recount reduced Bush’s lead to 327 votes.
- Meanwhile, all sorts of reports about election irregularities were pouring in: about blacks and Hispanics barred from voting, about police roadblocks to keep people from reaching the polls, about voters who had been sent on wild goose chases to find their polling places, about polling places that were understaffed, about misplaced ballot boxes, and about Palm Beach County’s butterfly ballot, in which the names of candidates did not match the holes, resulting in a win for Pat Buchanan, who the Anti-Defamation League considered to be “racist, anti-Semitic, anti-Israel and anti-immigrant.” Many Palm Beach voters were elderly Jews, who thought they were voting for Gore/Lieberman, with Lieberman being the first Jew ever on a presidential ticket, when they erroneously cast their ballots for Buchanan.
- In Palm Beach County, 10,000 ballots were not counted because the voting machines had recorded “undervotes,” which means there was no vote for president. People had voted for senator but not for president, a scenario that seemed unlikely. A similar situation occurred in Miami-Dade. Broward County reported missing ballot boxes and unexpected totals from certain precincts.
- In the 41 of Florida’s 67 counties that used optiscan machines, there were also overvotes, where the voter appeared to cast more than one vote. However, a stray pencil mark or other error could cause the machine to reject the ballot. In total, there were 175,000 overvotes and undervotes.
- Because none of these irregularities could be addressed by a machine recount, a manual recount would be needed. Because of the undercounts in Miami-Date, Broward, Palm Beach, and Volusia, Democrats requested manual recounts in those counties. They also complained that, had it not been for the misleading “butterfly ballot” in Palm Beach County, Gore would have won the election. Eventually the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the butterfly ballot was not illegal.
- Democrats requested manual recounts, which are allowed under Florida law, on November 10. On Nov. 11, Bush lawyers went to federal district court in Miami to prevent them. On Nov. 13, the federal court refused to stop the manual recounts. On November 13, Harris said that no manual recounts should take place unless the voting machines were broken, but a judge overruled her.
- Katherine Harris could not directly tell the four counties how to do their recounts, but she sent a lawyer, Kerey Carpenter, to offer to help Palm Beach County’s canvassing board. According to the board’s chairman, Carpenter did not disclose that she was working for Katherine Harris. After the recount had produced 50 new Gore votes, Carpenter influenced the board to start over again with a more stringent standard, dropping Gore’s gain to 6.
- On November 13, while manual recounts were underway in Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Volusia counties, Katherine Harris and other election officials who made up the State Elections Canvassing Commission, announced that the statewide results would be certified on Nov. 14th, not counting absentee ballots. Florida law required that all county returns be certified by 5 p.m. on the seventh day after an election, which would be 5 p.m. on Nov. 14th, and Harris announced that she would not include any manual recounts received after that deadline. The Gore campaign, joined by the Palm Beach and Volusia county canvassing boards, responded with a suit to extend the deadline. Volusia County completed its hand count by the deadline, bringing Bush’s lead down to 300. On Nov. 14th, a state trial judge held that Harris had legal discretion to decide whether to consider recounts past the deadline. On Nov. 15th, Broward County’s canvassing board decided to begin a manual recount of its 587,928 ballots, and Broward and Palm Beach Counties both requested that their recounts be included in the statewide certification even though they would be submitted past the deadline. Harris refused. On Nov. 16th, the Florida Supreme Court left it to a lower court judge to decide whether Harris would be required to include these votes in the final tally. On Nov. 16th, Gore filed a motion to compel the Secretary of State to accept returns past the Nov. 14th statutory deadline. On Nov. 17 Judge Terry P. Lewis refused Gore’s request. That same day, the Florida Supreme Court put a hold on Judge Lewis’s decision until it could consider Gore’s appeal. On Nov. 18th, Gore was leading by 930 votes, after the overseas absentee ballots were included. On Nov. 20th, the Florida Supreme Court heard oral arguments from attorneys for Bush and Gore on whether the hand counts could be included in the final tally. On Nov. 21st, the Florida Supreme Court ruled unanimously (7-0) that the hand counts must be included, and set a new deadline to certify votes by 5 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 26 or, if the Secretary of State’s office is closed on Sunday, the deadline would be on the following Monday. The Sec. of State announced that she would keep her office open on Sunday, so the new deadline was 5 p.m. Nov. 26.
- On Nov. 22, the “Brooks Brothers riots occurred in Miami-Dade County. The following is quoted from Wikipedia.
The Brooks Brothers riot was a demonstration at a meeting of election canvassers in Miami-Dade County, Florida, on November 22, 2000, during a recount of votes made during the 2000 United States presidential election. The name refers to a traditional brand of suits associated with conservative business dress.
Hundreds of paid GOP operatives descended upon South Florida to protest the state’s recounts, with at least half a dozen of the demonstrators at Miami-Dade paid by George W. Bush’s recount committee. Several of these protesters were identified as Republican staffers and a number later went on to jobs in the Bush administration.
The “Brooks Brothers” name is a reference to the protesters’ corporate attire; described as “50-year-old white lawyers with cell phones and Hermès ties”, the astroturfing protesters were corporate-sponsored and flown in, as opposed to being local citizens concerned about counting practices.
The demonstration was organized by Republican operatives, sometimes referred to as the “Brooks Brothers Brigade”, to oppose the recount of ballots during the Florida election recount. Realizing that they could not meet a court-ordered deadline, the canvassers decided to limit the recount to the 10,750 ballots rejected by computer, and moved the counting process to a smaller room closer to the ballot-scanning equipment to speed up the process, while restricting media access to 25 feet away while they continued. Republicans objected to this change of plans and insisted the canvassers must do a full recount. At this time, New York Rep. John Sweeney told an aide to “Shut it down.” The demonstration turned violent and according to The New York Times, “several people were trampled, punched or kicked when protesters tried to rush the doors outside the office of the Miami-Dade supervisor of elections. Sheriff’s deputies restored order.” DNC aide Luis Rosero was kicked and punched. Within two hours after the riot died down, the canvassing board unanimously voted to shut down the count, in part due to perceptions that the process wasn’t open or fair, and in part because the court-mandated deadline was impossible to meet.
The controversial incident was set in motion by John E. Sweeney, a New York Republican who was nicknamed “Congressman Kick-Ass” by President Bush for his work in Florida. Sweeney defended his actions by arguing that his aim was not to stop the hand recount but to restore the process to public view. Some Bush supporters did acknowledge they hoped the recount would end. “We were trying to stop the recount; Bush had already won,” said Evilio Cepero, a reporter for WAQI, an influential Spanish talk radio station in Miami. “We were urging people to come downtown and support and protest this injustice.” A Republican lawyer commented, “People were pounding on the doors, but they had an absolute right to get in.” The protest prevented official observers and members of the press from getting in.
- After Miami-Dade stopped its recounts, Gore sued to force them to continue, but the Florida Supreme Court refused his request. Broward and Palm Beach Counties continued, announcing that they believed they could meet the Nov. 26th deadline.
- On November 24, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Bush’s appeal of the Florida high court ruling allowing hand recounts to proceed.
- Broward county was able to complete its recount by the Nov. 26 deadline, but Palm Beach County missed the deadline by a few hours.
- At 5 p.m. on Nov. 26, Katherine Harris accepted the results of the manual recount in Broward but not in Palm Beach county, and certified Bush the winner in Florida by 537 votes. She did not count the 215 votes that Palm Beach County had identified as a net gain for Gore because they missed the 5 PM deadline and because she refused to include votes of a partial manual recount. She also refused to include the votes from the partial manual recount in Miami-Dade that resulted in a 168 net-gain for Gore.
- On November 27 Gore moved to contest the Florida result in a circuit court in Tallahassee, saying that the result Harris certified wrongly excluded thousands of votes that were never tallied.
- On November 28 Judge N. Sanders Sauls refused Gore’s request for a speedy resolution and set a December 2 hearing on the case.
- On November 29 a committee of Florida legislators met to consider whether to convene a special session of the state Legislature to appoint electors on its own. Judge Sauls ordered all ballots from Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties — more than 1 million — sent to Tallahassee for possible hand counts in Gore’s contest.
- On November 30, Florida legislators voted along party lines to recommend a special session to name electors in case the election is not resolved by December 12, six days before the Electoral College was to meet. The Republican-led legislature was expected to choose electors pledged to Bush.
- On December 1, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments over whether the Florida Supreme Court overstepped its authority by ordering Harris to include the manual recounts in certified state results. Meanwhile, the Florida Supreme Court upheld Sauls’ ruling delaying a hand recount in Gore’s contest.
- On December 2, Judge Sauls opened hearings on Gore’s challenge to the Florida results. Gore asked for a count of about 14,000 “undervotes” from Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties.
- On December 4, Judge Sauls rejected Gore’s challenge of the Florida results, saying that Gore failed to show that hand recounts would have affected the results, and Gore appealed to the Florida Supreme Court.
- Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court asked the Florida Supreme Court to explain its reasoning in extending the hand recounts, delaying any action in Bush’s appeal of the recounts.
- On December 6, two lawsuits asking judges to toss out some 25,000 absentee ballots in predominantly Republican Seminole and Martin counties went to trial in Tallahassee.
- Florida House Speaker Tom Feeney and Senate President John McKay, both Republicans, called a special session to appoint electors pledged to Bush. On Dec. 12th, the Florida House voted to appoint electors for Mr. Bush, but the U.S. Supreme Court resolved the issue before the Florida Senate was able to vote.
- On December 7, Gore’s legal team argued before the Florida Supreme Court that Sauls was wrong to uphold the certification of Florida’s election results, while Bush’s attorneys urged the seven-member panel to let Sauls’ decision stand.
- On December 8, the Florida Supreme Court, divided 4-3, reversed Judge Sauls’ decision and ordered manual recounts in all counties with significant numbers of presidential undervotes. This involved about 45,000 ballots. The court also ruled that the additional legal votes for Gore in Palm Beach County (approx. 215) and Miami Dade (approx. 168) be included in the tally.
- Bush appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking them to overturn the decision of the Florida Supreme Court and stop the hand recounts. Bush also filed a request to stop the recount with a federal court in Atlanta. On Saturday, as counties in Florida were beginning to manually count undervotes, the federal court in Atlanta ordered that the recount could proceed, though it issued a stay preventing any recounted votes from being certified until the U.S. Supreme Court could review the Florida Supreme Court decision.
- Meanwhile, the Florida Legislature met to begin the process of choosing electors on its own.
- Circuit judges in Tallahassee ruled against Democratic challenges to absentee ballots in Martin and Seminole counties (more on this later).
- On December 9, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling, halted the manual recounts and set a hearing on the matter two days later.
- On December 11, Bush’s lawyers argued before the U.S. Supreme Court that the Florida Supreme Court overstepped its bounds by ordering a manual recount of undervotes in Gore’s election contest. Gore’s lawyers argue that the U.S. Supreme Court has no reason to intervene in the state court contest. The U.S. Supreme Court will normally defer to state courts when interpreting state issues such as statewide elections. In challenging the Florida Supreme Court opinion before the U.S. Supreme Court, Bush had to explain why there was a federal issue.
- Bush’s attorneys claimed that a recount would violate the equal protection clause because recount standards were not clear and uniform; for example, they counted undervotes but not overvotes. Bush also referenced Article II of the U.S. Constitution, which grants exclusive authority to state legislators to select electors, not to the Florida Supreme Court. They also argued that extending the deadline to November 26 would cause Florida to lose its “safe harbor.” The safe harbor provision allows states to appoint their electors without Congressional interference if done by a specified deadline: at least six days before the time fixed for the meeting of the electors. Since the electors were set to meet December 18, the “safe harbor” deadline was December 12.
- Gore’s team responded that, regarding the equal protection clause, a clear standard was used, one that was imposed by the Florida legislature itself: that voter intent must be the determinant of whether a vote was cast. Furthermore, failing to have manual recounts might violate the equal protection clause, because of evidence that whether a ballot is counted accurately by machine depends on the type of machine used, which vary from county to county. Regarding Article II, they argued that the Florida legislature delegated power to the Florida Supreme Court to review its election statues. They further argued that the Florida Supreme Court was not writing a new law, but merely interpreting existing law, which is the prerogative of courts.
- On December 12, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 along party lines that there may be no further recounting of Florida’s contested votes (Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. , Dec. 12, 2000) because the recount ordered by the Florida Supreme Court violated the equal protection clause, since the standard it set forth to discern the “clear intent of the voter,” was too vague. Technically, the U.S. Supreme Court decision returned the case to the Florida Supreme Court at approx. 10 p.m. on Dec. 12. to come up with fair standards that do not violate the equal protection clause, to have the recount completed, and all subsequent disputes of the recount fairly resolved, prior to 12:01 a.m. on Dec. 13, in order to reach the safe harbor deadline. Since there were only two hours before the deadline, 5 justices believed this would be impossible to do, so in effect, they declared that there can be no more recounting of votes in Florida, and Bush won the election.
- On Dec. 13th, Gore announced his concession, and George W. Bush became president-elect.
Florida Ballots Project recounts
After the election, the 2000 Florida Ballots Project made an effort to catalog the 175,010 Florida ballots that did not register a vote for president of the United States in November 2000, and the data is available for public download from this website at no charge.
The National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago conducted the data collection and created much of the content on the website. They were sponsored by a consortium of news organizations, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post Company, Tribune Publishing, CNN, Associated Press, St. Petersburg Times and The Palm Beach Post. The Tribune Company, based in Chicago, includes the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Orlando Sentinel, and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. The consortium funded the 2000 Florida Ballots Project because they wanted a comprehensive, in-depth inventory of all uncounted votes in Florida’s November 2000 Presidential race that would be immune from charges of political bias or methodological weakness. The American National Election Studies (ANES)project at the University of Michigan is providing long-term archiving and distribution services.
The 175,010 ballots were collected from the entire state, not just the disputed counties. The review’s findings were reported in the media during the week after November 12, 2001, by the news organizations that funded the recount, listed above. The following is quoted from Wikipedia.
The media group concluded that if the disputes over the validity of all the ballots in question had been consistently resolved and any uniform standard applied, the electoral result would have been reversed and Gore would have won by 60 to 171 votes (with, for each punch ballot, at least two of the three ballot reviewers’ codes being in agreement). The standards that were chosen for the NORC study ranged from a “most restrictive” standard (accepts only so-called perfect ballots that machines somehow missed and did not count, or ballots with unambiguous expressions of voter intent) to a “most inclusive” standard (applies a uniform standard of “dimple or better” on punch marks and “all affirmative marks” on optical scan ballots).
An analysis of the NORC data by University of Pennsylvania researcher Steven F. Freeman and journalist Joel Bleifuss concluded that, no matter what standard is used, after a recount of all uncounted votes, Gore would have been the victor.… Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting‘s analysis of the NORC study and media coverage of it supported these interpretations and criticized the coverage of the study by media outlets such as the New York Times and the other media consortium members for focusing on how events might have played out rather than on the statewide vote count.
In other words, some of the corporate media failed to report that Gore was the legitimate winner and even did some deceptive reporting. Anyone who wants to be sure can check the original data, which appears on the website.
Results of the Florida Ballots Recount Project show an extremely close count, but the count would likely have been much less close had it not been for voter suppression.
Another way Katherine Harris helped rig the 2000 presidential election for Bush was through her role in the infamous Florida racial voter purge. In the past, voter purging had been conducted by local elections officials, but in1997, Florida passed a law requiring the state to contract with a private company to purge its voter rolls. This made Florida the first state to hire a private company to decide who was ineligible to vote. The company in 2000 was ChoicePoint, a data aggregation company that acted as a private intelligence service to government and industry.
In the aftermath of the 2000 election, which hinged on the Florida vote, ChoicePoint was accused of cooperating with Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, and Florida Elections Unit Chief Clay Roberts, in in a voter fraud conspiracy for knowingly using inaccurate data to racially discriminate in order to rig the election for the Republican Party. The following is quoted from Wikipedia:
The allegations charge that 57,700 people (15% of the list), primarily Democrats of African-American and Hispanic descent, were incorrectly listed as felons and thus barred from voting. Reports estimate that 80% of these people would have voted, and that 90% of those who would have voted, would have voted for Al Gore. Other allegations include listing voters as felons for alleged crimes said to have been committed several years in the future.
In an election that was won by 537 disputed votes, this illegal purge was likely responsible for making the election appear close enough for the Supreme Court to hand the presidency to Bush.
ChoicePoint officers testified that Florida had ordered their company to loosen its requirements for matches, resulting in more false-positives. For example, ChoicePoint used virtually no Social Security numbers, did not check address histories, and used no database cross-checking, although it had 1,200 databases that could be employed for the task. Investigative reporter Greg Palast concluded that racial minorities were targeted: “An African-American felon named Will Whiting might wipe out the registration of an innocent African-American Will Whiting, but not the rights of an innocent Caucasian Will Whiting,” Palast alleges that 80% of the 57,700 people allegedly barred from voting were African-American.
Florida was accused of voter suppression not only by purging the voter rolls, but also by using confusing ballots, inferior voting equipment, moving polling places without notice, failing to process applications for registration under the Motor Voter law, and using various types of voter intimidation against minority voters.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 banned discriminatory practices that disenfranchised African-Americans until the Act was gutted by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. In June 2001, The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights released a report and statements arguing that Florida was, on numerous counts, in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965:
The Commission found that the problems Florida had during the 2000 presidential election were serious and not isolated. In many cases, they were foreseeable and should have been prevented. The failure to do so resulted in an extraordinarily high and inexcusable level of disenfranchisement, with a significantly disproportionate impact on African American voters. The causes include the following: (1) a general failure of leadership from those with responsibility for ensuring elections are properly planned and executed; (2) inadequate resources for voter education, training of poll workers, and for Election Day trouble-shooting and problem solving; (3) inferior voting equipment and/or ballot design; (4) failure to anticipate and account for the expected high volumes of voters, including inexperienced voters; (5) a poorly designed and even more poorly executed purge system; and (6) a resource allocation system that often left poorer counties, which often were counties with the highest percentage of black voters, adversely affected.
On February, 2002, the NAACP and four other groups filed suit against Harris, a former state election chief, and the county elections supervisor over procedures for voter registration, voter lists and balloting. The suit charged that African-American voters were disenfranchised during the 2000 presidential election, and argued that Florida violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the 14th Amendment. A settlement was reached in which ChoicePoint agreed to donate $75,000 to the NAACP and to reprocess the voter file on the plaintiffs’ terms.
Another Republican trick deployed in the 2000 election was manipulation of absentee ballot laws. By the time of the 2000 election, both parties realized that the election might be so close that the winner could possibly be determined by absentee ballots. The Republicans apparently thought that the majority of the absentee ballots were likely to be from Bush voters living on military bases, so Katherine Harris jumped in and modified the Florida election law to help Republicans. Florida law specified that absentee ballots sent from abroad could be accepted up to 10 days after the election if they were postmarked by Election Day. Harris changed the law by declaring that the ballots would not be required to be postmarked on or before Election Day. Democrats protested, but a Florida Supreme Court ruling allowed it.
The New York Times initiated a six month investigation and found that this tactic could have changed the outcome of the election:
Under intense pressure from the Republicans, Florida officials accepted hundreds of overseas absentee ballots that failed to comply with state laws.
In an analysis of the 2,490 ballots from Americans living abroad that were counted as legal votes after Election Day, The Times found 680 questionable votes. Although it is not known for whom the flawed ballots were cast, four out of five were accepted in counties carried by Mr. Bush, The Times found. Mr. Bush’s final margin in the official total was 537 votes.
The flawed votes included ballots without postmarks, ballots postmarked after the election, ballots mailed from towns and cities within the United States and even ballots from voters who voted twice. All would have been disqualified had the state’s election laws been strictly enforced.
There were two other cases involving 25,000 absentee ballots that resulted in a Republican advantage: 15,000 ballots in Seminole county and 10,000 ballots in Martin County. Both cases involved allegations that thousands of Republican voters sent incomplete applications for absentee ballots.
Prior to the election, both the Republican and Democratic Parties prepared and mailed to registered voters preprinted requests for absentee ballots. The form prepared by the Democratic Party either had a space provided for the voter identification number, or the voter identification number was preprinted on the request form. The request form prepared by the Republican Party included neither a space for the voter identification number nor the preprinted number, and there was no instruction on the Republican form informing the voter to include the voter identification number. As a result, thousands of requests ballots from Republican voters arrived without the numbers.
After initially rejecting the applications because they lacked the voter registration numbers as required by Florida law in 2000 (Statute 101.62), Sandra Goard, the Supervisor of Elections for Seminole County and Martin County Supervisor of Elections Peggy Robbins illegally allowed Republican Party workers to add voter identification numbers so absentee ballots could be sent to those voters.
In Jacobs v. Seminole County Canvassing Board, a local Democratic lawyer who was not connected with the Gore campaign, charged that Sandra Goard allowed Republican party operatives to spend ten days in her office correcting 2,126 Republican absentee ballot applications so they would not be thrown out, resulting in 1,833 additional votes from registered Republicans. Jacobs’ suit argued that Florida law prohibits third parties from filling in information on forms already signed, that this action had never been permitted in the past, and the Democratic Party was not allowed to amend ballot applications for their voters. Jacobs’ attorney, Gerald Richman, said, “We believe very strongly that what occurred in this case was intentional, knowing wrongdoing because both the Republican Party and the supervisor of elections knew exactly what they were doing,”
In Taylor v. Martin County Canvassing Board, Peggy Robbins allowed representatives of the Florida Republican Party to remove several hundred request forms from her office in order to add missing voter identification numbers. She then processed the corrected forms even though her office had a policy of not issuing absentee ballots when the voter registration number was missing or incorrect, and even though doing so violated Florida Statute 101.62 (2000). Democratic voters in the county sued to invalidate all the absentee ballots, alleging that Robbins had violated Florida election law. They asked that all the absentee ballots in the county be thrown out, or have the certified vote totals adjusted to eliminate the inappropriate benefit Bush derived from the altering of the requests. A statistician estimated that Bush received 558 extra votes.
Both lawsuits alleged that, by allowing Republicans to correct the applications, Goard and Robbins allowed voters to cast their ballots who should have been barred from doing so.
The cases were argued separately on December 6 and 7, but the two judges delivered a joint ruling. They agreed that the statute had been violated, but that eliminating all the absentee ballots would unfairly punish those who had applied correctly for an absentee ballot, so the absentee votes would remain. The Florida Supreme Court upheld the ruling.
As a result, George W. Bush won the absentee vote in both counties — by 10,006 votes in Seminole and 6,294 votes in Martin in an election that Bush won by 537 votes. If the ruling had favored Democrats in even one of the cases, Gore could have won the presidency.
Illegal campaign contributions
In addition to electoral fraud in 2000, Katherine Harris was also accused of providing favors in return for campaign contributions throughout her political career.
Katherine Harris’ career in public office began in 1994, when she ran as a Republican and was elected to the Florida state senate. Harris had a close personal relationship with William Griffin, the CEO of Riscorp, a Florida insurance company, and she introduced Griffin to various Florida legislators. In the 1994 state senate election, Riscorp made illegal contributions totaling $400,000 to these legislators, including $20,600 to the Harris campaign. Two years later, in 1996, Harris sponsored a bill that gave Riscorp an advantage over its competitors.
William Griffin served prison time in 1998 for illegal campaign donations and other wrongdoing, but the election of Jeb Bush as Florida’s governor stopped further investigation into the scandal, and Harris escaped prosecution.
In 2002, Harris was elected as a U.S. Representative with substantial support from the Bush family. In 2005-2006, Mitchell Wade, founder of defense contractor MZM, and a major corporate campaign donor to Harris, was involved in bribery scandals. Wade had obtained $32,000 in donations from MZM employees for Harris’ campaign, then reimbursed the employees. Wade acknowledged that the donations to the Harris campaign were illegal and were part of an attempt to influence Harris to MZM’s benefit, but Harris maintained she had no personal knowledge that her campaign was given illegal contributions. Documents filed with Wade’s plea say that he took Harris to dinner in March, 2005, where they discussed another fundraiser and the possibility of obtaining funding for a Navy counterintelligence program in Harris’s district. Harris sent a letter in April, 2005 to the chair of the defense appropriations subcommittee Chairman asking for $10 million for the Navy project backed by Wade.
In 2005, Harris ran in the 2006 United States Senate race in Florida and lost, partly because of the bribery scandals, and her political career seems to have come to an end.
During her time in office, Harris was a conservative Republican. She was pro-life and voted against embryonic stem cell research. She supported privatizing Social Security. She voted in favor of the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which would grant legal status to fetuses. She supported tax cuts and the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act, which restricts bankruptcy filings by consumers. Harris was also in favor of welfare reform, school vouchers, the Patriot Act, the Flag Desecration Amendment, the Federal Marriage Amendment, and the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Katherine Harris also had strong ties with the Christian Right. In a 2006 interview with the Florida Baptist Witness, Harris denied the separation of church and state and called for Christians to vote along religious lines:
We have to have the faithful in government and over time, that lie we have been told, the separation of church and state, people have internalized, thinking that they needed to avoid politics and that is so wrong because God is the one who chooses our rulers. And if we are the ones not actively involved in electing those godly men and women and if people aren’t involved in helping godly men in getting elected then we’re going to have a nation of secular laws. That’s not what our founding fathers intended and that’s certainly isn’t what God intended. … we need to take back this country. … And if we don’t get involved as Christians then how could we possibly take this back? …If you are not electing Christians, tried and true, under public scrutiny and pressure, if you’re not electing Christians then in essence you are going to legislate sin. They can legislate sin. They can say that abortion is alright. They can vote to sustain gay marriage. And that will take western civilization, indeed other nations because people look to our country as one nation as under God and whenever we legislate sin and we say abortion is permissible and we say gay unions are permissible, then average citizens who are not Christians, because they don’t know better, we are leading them astray and it’s wrong.
On October 3, 2006, Harris participated in a prayer service via phone call. In one instance, she called for the elimination of the separation of church and state:
Treat the pastors’ hearts so that those who think there’s no place for government, have them understand kingdom government, and how they need to be involved in the governance on this earth because God is our governance.
Harris then went on and called for Jews to be converted to Christianity.
And Father God, right now on the day after the Jewish new year, Father, after the day after atonement, as they enter into their new year, Father God, I just pray that you would bring the hearts and minds of our Jewish brothers and sisters into alignment.
It appears that Katherine Harris, a right-wing Christian extremist and minor Republican officeholder with ethical challenges, had the power to change the course of history. The interventions she made in stopping the Florida recount, in enabling the voter purge, and in extending the deadline for absentee ballots, enabled George W. Bush, loser of the popular vote, to become president.
Next month, we will focus on the role of Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell in the 2004 election.