A Trip Down Memory Lane

How long did we wait in 2000?

Since 2000 came up in discussion this morning, I sought to refresh my memory as to how long it took to settle the election. The Stanford Law School provides a Timeline of Florida Recount, Florida litigation, and Bush v. Gore and confirms what I was thinking was the case: it took roughly six weeks (actually a bit more than that).

It is true that on election night various networks called Florida incorrectly for both Gore and Bush at different points of the night (leading to more caution in calls to this day). Those network calls led first to a concession phone call by Gore to Bush and then a retracted phone call (the “snippy” call), we did not know the final results until December 22, 2000.

But these facts stress my view of 2000: network calls aren’t official nor are candidate concessions and the reason any given contest takes time is largely a result of the closeness of the votes between the top two candidates. Moreover, counting (and in this case, partial re-counting) proceeded well after “Election Day.”

Moreover, it is worth noting that the main reason that Florida now has one of the better election systems in the country is that they responded to the debacle of 2000 with the modernization of their equipment and procedures. If only we had the national wherewithal to constantly be doing that without a major crisis as a means to motivate. But, of course, talking about procedures is boring and equipment costs money.

Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Gavin says:

    In 2000? Not long enough. 100% of times when they actually counted ALL the Florida votes – in any way requested, hanging chads or not – Al Gore won. Every time. Not some, not part, not half.. every time.
    But of course the Republican Congressional interns had threatened physical violence – also known as the Brooks Brothers Riot – and Republicans invented a controversy regarding the Florida recount, so Bush the Lesser was president on 9/11.

  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Ah yes, when “hanging chads” was all anyone could talk about.

  3. gVOR08 says:

    I was going to reply to your subhead “not long enough to count the votes” but @Gavin: beat me to it.

    And they justified it with hand waving about counting all the votes to the same standards somehow violating the equal protection clause. This started the loss of legitimacy Roberts, Barrett, Thomas, et al are so whiny about.

  4. Andy says:


    100% of times when they actually counted ALL the Florida votes – in any way requested, hanging chads or not – Al Gore won. Every time. Not some, not part, not half.. every time.

    Ummm, no.

  5. James Joyner says:

    I don’t think there’s any dispute that, if there is extensive litigation over the outcome, it takes longer to know how it turns out.

  6. gVOR08 says:

    @Andy: From your link,

    On the other hand, the study also found that Gore probably would have won, by a range of 42 to 171 votes out of 6 million cast, had there been a broad recount of all disputed ballots statewide.

    Gavin didn’t say “if they counted per Gore’s challenge”, Gavin said “ALL the Florida votes”. All the lawsuits aside, it appears more Floridians voted for Gore than for Bush. Roughly 0.001%, making James point about small margins.

  7. Liberal Capitalist says:

    Uugh… I hate maps like that. Land don’t vote.

    Counties are not voting districts.

    Districts are created by number of voters.

    A proper map should have voting districts corrected by number of voters not by land mass.

    Maps like the one above are extremely misleading and provide ammo to some who insist that America is a christian conservative country. Because look at that entire Red!!!

    Finally: All of us here know this… but OMFG it still chaps my ass.

  8. Andy says:


    Gavin said “in any way requested,” which would seem to include Gore’s challenge, but he’s free to correct the record.

    And the key word in what you quoted is “probably.” The issue is that Florida’s system was shitty enough, and the contest was close enough, that there was some gray area in there. The major point of the studies is that Florida’s system had many problems determining who actually won for various systemic and other reasons. It’s not this simplistic narrative of “counting all the votes.”

    Although their conclusions were similar, the Miami Herald study and the later and larger study came up with different numbers, evidence of the uncertainties involved. An official recount might well have come up with yet a third set of numbers.


    In a statewide election decided by hundreds, maybe only dozens, of votes, the limitations of the voting machinery – compounded with sometimes sloppy custody of the ballots and the slight but measurable biases of allegedly neutral human tabulators – make getting precise vote totals virtually impossible.

    Gore might have won under a certain set of recount conditions – ones he didn’t ask for. At what point should a winner have been declared? In hindsight, it probably would have been best to let Gore have the recount he wanted, but then the result would be the same.

  9. gVOR08 says:

    @Andy: He said “in any way requested, hanging chads or not “. I’ll also note that Gavin is welcome to weigh in, but I take that as a reference to the various counting standards applied in the press recount. Again, it appears more people in FL voted for Gore than for Bush.

    I’ll add that the press took forever to do this, tying in to the theme of close elections and strict scrutiny taking time. By the time they wrapped up, 9/11 had happened and we were in full rally-round-the-flag, Bush the war leader, mode and the stories got buried.

  10. Kathy says:

    @Liberal Capitalist:

    There are maps adjusted by population or voter size. They look really weird.

  11. gVOR08 says:

    @Kathy: I keep reading that Ds are inherently disadvantaged in redistricting because they’re concentrated in cities. That would disappear if we redistricted on population cartograms.

  12. @James Joyner: Indeed. Close races take a long time, and super close races especially so.

  13. de stijl says:

    One thing I find endlessly interesting is that population dense areas tend to vote blue, and less dense areas tend towards red. Not an always, but almost always thing.

    Does anyone have a solid model as to why this is true? I have a boatload of theories, but none proven. Everyone has a crapton of ideas.

    I have theories about sociological implications about meeting folks unlike yourself often, everyday in a denser population area, but I an unaware of serious studies about why cities tend to be more liberal than rural in the US. And why anomalies like Jacksonville, FL occur.

    One thing that I can explain about a seemingly Blue anomaly in NE Minnesota which is very rural except for Duluth is that it was populated by miners from Europe (a lot from Finland) exactly when unionism was taking hold there. Iron was there to be mined. Workers were imported by incentives. Those imported workers wanted rights and to not be treated as serfs.

    We imported mine workers who wanted decent treatment, a say, and a slice of the pie. Ever since, the Arrowhead region of NE Minnesota has voted Blue.

    In Minnesota, the D party is officially called the Democractic-Farmer-Labor Party, or colloquially as DFL. Created in 1944, so not a relic of turn of the century Prairie Populism like in Wisconsin, but it’s own semi-radical power to the people kinda left wing labor thing.

    The thing that powers Blue NE Minnesota is trade unionism. Miners unite! These are the kids and grandkids and greatgrandkids of fairly radical trade unionist minded miners. Blood is powerful.

  14. de stijl says:

    I remember the Bush and Gore competing press conferences when each tried to shove as many American flags into the background as possible.

    I am 95% convinced Gore actually won. But the Supreme Court decided who would be President, which was a very bad precedent. They even acknowledged that in the decision.

    Every now and again I imagine an early 2000s absent Bush (or Cheney) as President. Likely we do not invent a reason to invade Iraq after 9/11. What would the world look like? What would be different had Gore won the presidency?

  15. James Joyner says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: For sure. But the combination of close votes, the piece-by-piece release of results, and then slow drips after election night means that people distrust our elections. Indeed, to return to the example at hand, most Democrats still think they got jobbed in 2000.Their number includes commenters here who are pooh-poohing the idea that Republicans will think they’re getting hosed when Laxalt’s margin is overcome by “late-arriving ballots.”

  16. @James Joyner:

    most Democrats still think they got jobbed in 2000.

    But not because it took as long as it did. Quite the contrary, they would argue that it didn’t take long enough (i.e., there should have been a statewide recount).

    I don’t disagree that some Republicans are going to lie about how the process works, nor would I disagree that better processes are needed. But what I am saying is that there is an overblown emphasis on the idea that all contests were always settled on election night. And to note that even when things are called, those calls do not encompass all voting counting.

  17. At least part of what I am arguing is that those of us who know better (Frank Luntz on Twitter comes to mind) need to not let our impatience for results hero fuel the fire of “we used to know on Election Day, so they must be stealing it!”.

    I really do think, and we can set 2000 aside, that the notion that we always knew on Election Day is overblown. What has changed is that specific seats were not this important. It has always taken a few days to know the final House count, for example. It is just that most people don’t pay attention to that because they don’t care exactly how many seats a party wins, just who the majority is.

    Speaking as an elections nerd who really cares about seat counts, I am fairly certain such info is never available on Election Day/the day after.

  18. Han says:

    @de stijl: What would be different?