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Newspaper: Butterfly ballot cost Gore White House

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Palm Beach at heart of recount

Ballot designed to help elderly


WEST PALM BEACH, Florida (CNN) -- Voters confused by Palm Beach County's butterfly ballot cost Al Gore the presidency, The Palm Beach Post concluded Sunday.

The newspaper's review of discarded ballots found Gore lost 6,607 votes when voters marked more than one name on the county's "butterfly ballot." A leading Republican called the finding "speculation."

Voters who marked Gore's name and that of another candidate totaled more than 10 times the winning margin Bush received to claim Florida's 25 electoral votes and the White House, the Post concluded. The newspaper said the result was "an indictment of the butterfly ballot, political experts and partisan observers agree."

The newspaper's review of the overvotes found 5,330 Palm Beach County residents invalidated their ballots by punching chads for Gore and Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan. The hole voters punched for Buchanan was located just above Gore's on the two-page ballot.

The ballots showed another 2,908 voters punched Gore and Socialist David McReynolds, whose hole appeared just below Gore's. Buchanan's and McReynolds' names appeared on the right page of the ballot, while Gore's was on the left.

The confusion hurt Bush, too: 1,631 people punched Bush and Buchanan, whose hole was below his on the ballot. But Gore was the bigger loser: the two Gore combinations, minus the Bush-Buchanan votes, totaled 6,607 lost votes for Gore, the Post found.

Palm Beach at heart of recount

The paper reviewed more than 19,000 punch cards in the county, which was at the center of what turned into a 37-day standoff in the courts. Bush won Florida by a 537-vote margin in official results, giving him a 271-267 majority in the Electoral College.

"What it shows is what we've been saying all along -- there is no question that the majority of people on Election Day believed they left the booth voting for Al Gore," Ron Klain, Gore's former chief of staff and his lead legal strategist in Florida, told the newspaper.

But former Montana Gov. Marc Racicot, a Republican who advised Bush's recount effort in Florida, dismissed the Post's findings.

"You're trying too hard to find a correlation here," Racicot said. "You don't know these people, you don't know what they intended. You try to compile statistics and correlate them to a result that amounts to nothing more than speculation."

Almost half of the Gore-Buchanan over-votes were from precincts where most of the voters were 65 or older and Democrats. Even if 1 percent of the 6,607 votes were intended for Buchanan or McReynolds -- more than their combined portion of Palm Beach County's total vote -- Gore would still have gained 6,541 votes, the newspaper concluded.

"Are these stupid voters? Or is it a stupid voting system? There's certainly evidence here that these were not stupid voters," University of California-Berkeley Professor Henry Brady said.

Ballot designed to help elderly

Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Theresa Lepore said she put the presidential candidates on two pages to keep the print size big enough for the county's many elderly voters. She has acknowledged it was a mistake.

Many of the voters said they had expected Gore and Bush to be the first two choices, as Florida law requires. Instead, they found Buchanan, on the opposite page, between them.

"The butterfly ballot discombobulated them," Brady said.

Three-fourths of the over-votes were punches for two candidates, most of which experts attributed to the ballot design, the paper said. The rest were for three or more candidates, which experts called voter error, not a design problem.

The review of over-votes was conducted between January 17 and January 29. Last year, Brady calculated that at least 2,000 of Buchanan's 3,424 Palm Beach County votes were meant for Gore. If that were true, Gore's total gain -- with the overvotes -- might have been as much as 8,600 votes, the paper said.

Twenty-eight voters selected all 10 presidential candidates, the survey found.

The Post's analysis is independent of another review of the Florida vote by a consortium of media that includes CNN. In February, a separate Miami Herald review found a net gain of only 49 votes for Gore among about 10,000 ballots that Gore wanted hand-counted in the November election's aftermath.

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The Palm Beach Post
Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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