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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Review: Gore Could Have Won in Florida

NEW YORK -- A vote-by-vote review of untallied ballots in the 2000 Florida presidential election indicates George W. Bush would have narrowly prevailed in the partial recounts sought by Al Gore, but Gore might have reversed the outcome -- by the barest of margins -- had he pursued and gained a complete statewide recount.

Bush eventually won Florida, and thus the White House, by 537 votes out of more than 6 million cast. But questions about the uncounted votes lingered.

Almost a year after that cliffhanger conclusion, a media-sponsored review of the more than 175,000 disputed ballots underscored that the prize of the U.S. presidency came down to an almost unimaginably small number of votes.

The new data, compiled by The Associated Press and seven other news organizations, also suggested that Gore followed a legal strategy after election day that would have led to his defeat even if it had not been rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court. Gore sought a recount of a relatively small portion of the state's disputed ballots, while the review indicates his only chance lay in a course he advocated publicly but did not pursue in court -- a full statewide recount of all Florida's untallied votes.

"We are a nation of laws and the presidential election of 2000 is over," Gore said Sunday in a prepared statement. "Right now, our country faces a great challenge as we seek to successfully combat terrorism. I fully support President Bush's efforts to achieve that goal."

Said Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer: "The election was settled a year ago, President Bush won and the voters have long since moved on."

The news organizations set out to examine as many as possible of the ballots set aside as either undervotes or overvotes. Undervotes involved about 62,000 ballots where voting machines were unable to detect a choice for any presidential candidate, while about 113,000 overvotes were read by machines as possibly containing more than one choice.

Since the legal wrangling focused on how votes were defined, the media-sponsored review did, too, calculating results under different standards -- for example, whether to count as votes "hanging chads" on punch-card ballots or ballots marked with an "X" instead of the required filled-in oval on optical scan ballots.

Under any standard that tabulated all disputed votes statewide, Gore erased Bush's advantage and emerged with a tiny lead that ranged from 42 to 171 votes.

Completing two partial recounts that Gore unsuccessfully pursued in court showed Bush maintaining a lead ranging between 225 and 493 votes.

Strikingly, all these outcomes were closer than even the narrow 537 votes of Bush's official victory. With numbers that tiny, experts said it would be impossible to interpret the survey results as definitive.

Under the most inclusive standards, the study showed up to 24,653 potentially salvageable overvotes and undervotes among the 12 presidential candidates who ran in Florida.

The Florida election review was developed by the AP, CNN, The New York Times, The Palm Beach Post, The St. Petersburg Times, Tribune Publishing, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. Tribune newspapers include the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Newsday, the Orlando Sentinel and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale.

This consortium hired the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago to view each uncounted ballot and gather information about how they were marked. The media organizations then used computers to sort and tabulate votes, based on varying scenarios raised during the postelection scramble in Florida.

Florida's election saw 6.1 million votes cast, and county figures suggest that more than 176,000 ballots, or 2.9 percent, never made it into the certified totals.

Gore outpolled Bush by 540,000 votes nationwide, but the presidency is decided in the Electoral College. Each candidate desperately needed Florida to win and, at the end of an agonizing election night, Bush held a slim lead.

On Dec. 13, the closest presidential contest in decades finally ended 36 days after Election Day following a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. Gore accepted the verdict and, with that, Bush won Florida's 25 electoral votes and the presidency.