by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Where were you when the great Bush v. Gore controversy began?
It was 22 years ago that Florida became the butt of the nation’s and the world’s joke because of the worst election debacle in modern history. The vote in Florida had finished very close on election night. Then, a machine recount tightened the margin between George W. Bush and Al Gore further. Then came hand recounts and controversies about undervotes and the means lawful to divine voter intention. Everyone in America learned what the word “chad” means and mastered a new set of adjectives to go with it. “Hanging chads!” “Pregnant chads!”
More than a month of litigation and counting and a Supreme Court decision later, Bush emerged the victor. And Floridians wisely resolved never to let such a fiasco happen again. They set out to overhaul their election system. And it worked.
Over time, Florida developed a technologically advanced system that has all the advantages and access one could want in an election, but without chads. That is to say, Florida offers voters abundant early voting and absentee voting by mail, turnout is high, and the state uses machines now instead of butterfly ballots. There is no more need to divine voter intention by looking to see whether a chad has been “dimpled.”
Best of all, Florida officials have results on election night. This is thanks mostly to their decision to require that voters request a ballot and to let election workers process the early and mail-in votes — 85% of the Florida vote in 2020 — ahead of election night. This way, unless the race is so close that a recount is justified, it doesn’t take long to know who won.
This year’s election serves as an unfortunate reminder that many states are bizarrely moving in the opposite direction, toward chaos.