Revisiting Florida 2000 and the Butterfly Effect

Theresa LePore, who designed Palm Beach County’s butterfly ballot, with old ballots three years after the 2000 election. Credit…David Friedman

We’re still in a post-primary lull before the campaign starts to heat up — and before Donald J. Trump goes on trial. Here are a few quick notes to end the week.

Joe Lieberman and the butterfly ballot

Joe Lieberman, the former Democratic senator, died this week at 82. He was Al Gore’s vice-presidential nominee in 2000, when the Gore-Lieberman ticket came less than 600 Florida votes away from winning the White House.

We’ll never know what would have happened if the Supreme Court had allowed the recount to continue. But I don’t think it’s always appreciated that we probably do know that Mr. Gore would have won Florida, and therefore the presidency, if it weren’t for the infamous “butterfly ballot” in Palm Beach County.

If you don’t remember — it has been a while — the butterfly ballot was very unusual. Candidates were listed on both sides of the ballot, and voters cast a ballot by punching a corresponding hole in the middle. What made it so unusual was that the ordering of the candidates on the ballot didn’t have the same logic as the corresponding punch hole: George W. Bush and Mr. Gore were the first two candidates listed on the left-hand side, but they corresponded to the first and third hole on the punch. The second punch corresponded with the first candidate on the right-hand side of the ballot: the paleoconservative Pat Buchanan, running as a Reform Party candidate.

After the election, many voters from Palm Beach claimed they had inadvertently voted for Mr. Buchanan when they meant to vote for Mr. Gore. This is clear in the data. Mr. Buchanan fared far better in Palm Beach County than he did on the other side of the county line. Indeed, Mr. Buchanan fared far better in Palm Beach County than any politically or demographically comparable area in the country.

You can see this pattern quite clearly in this map, courtesy of Matthew C. Isbell, a Democratic data strategist and consultant:

Related Articles

Back to top button