The disappearing ballots of Duval County

More than 22,000 were tossed out in this Republican stronghold, but most of them were cast in minority, Democratic neighborhoods, and the Gore camp is crying foul.

Topics: 2000 Elections, George W. Bush, Al Gore,

While the nation focuses on several southeast Florida counties where election officials are struggling to come up with an accurate vote count from last Tuesday’s presidential election, another brush fire is burning upstate in solidly Republican Duval County. There, an extraordinary number of discarded ballots are also at issue, and Democrats are crying foul.

Of the 292,000 votes cast in Duval County, nearly 9 percent, or 27,000, were nullified. “Overvoting,” punching holes for more than one candidate, caused 22,000 votes to be tossed, while 5,000 were voided because voters didn’t choose anyone, known as “undervoting.” Machines tabulating the vote automatically spit those out.

Over the weekend, several prominent Republicans, such as GOP chairman Jim Nicholson and Rep. Tillie Fowler, R-Fla., pointed to the 22,000 nullified votes in Duval County as proof that the practice is common. They suggested that even though Bush would have benefited if there had been a hand recount in the county, which he won 152,000-107,000, they were not complaining about the process. “These things happen in elections,” stressed Nicholson on CNN.

Truth is, Democrats are the ones outraged about Duval. They’re angry because close to half the voided ballots — nearly 12,000 votes — came from just four of Duval County’s 14 city districts. The four districts cover predominantly African-American areas of Jacksonville, where Vice President Al Gore won handily.

Duval County did not use the controversial “butterfly ballot,” yet the number of voters apparently confused skyrocketed this year. In 1992, a combined 6,000 over- and undervotes were discarded in Duval County, and 7,500 were thrown out during the ’96 presidential election, according to local officials. This year’s jump to 27,000 represented 8.9 percent of all votes cast in the county, compared with 2 and 3 percent in the previous presidential tallies in Duval. Nationally, the percentage of presidential ballots discarded for under- and overvoting runs between 1.0 and 1.8 percent, according to Curtis Gans, director of the Committee for Study of the American Electorate.

What’s so unusual, according to election experts such as Bob Naegele, who certifies voting machines for the Federal Election Commission, is that the normal rate of overvoting when punch-card ballots are used is roughly 0.1 percent. In Duval County last Tuesday, the rate ballooned to 7.5 percent. “That kind of percentage is just outrageous,” he says. Even in Palm Beach County, where some residents say confusion reigned on Election Day and 29,000 ballots were dismissed, the overvote rate climbed to only 4.1 percent.

“I have no idea why 22,000 people could not follow directions,” says Mike Hightower, chairman of Bush’s northeast Florida campaign. Duval County’s ballot this year consisted of 10 presidential candidates (plus a space for one write-in), spread over two pages, which may have led voters to punch a hole on the first page, turn the page and then vote for another presidential candidate.

“I would suspect it was either a poorly designed ballot or lack of voter education,” says Rob Richie, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Democracy and Voting.

According to Gore’s northeast Florida campaign chairman, Mike Langton, Gore won 84 of Duval’s 265 precincts. On average at those precincts, 138 votes were tossed. In the precincts Bush carried, the average number of tossed presidential ballots was 83 votes per precinct.

“In some black precincts 31 percent of votes were rejected,” says Langton. He is also fuming because he found out about the unusually high number of voided ballots not from county election officials, but from a reporter with the Jacksonville paper. That call came in late Friday, just hours before the midnight county deadline to request a manual recount.

Langton claims that a day after the election he asked Republican county supervisor of elections John Stafford how many ballots were nullified. “He said, ‘Oh, not that many, two or three hundred.’ I asked him, ‘When can I get exact numbers?’ He said, ‘I can’t get you that until Monday.’ But he sent those specifics to Tallahassee last Wednesday. I don’t have any reason to believe why he’d purposely misled me, but he did.”

Neither Stafford, nor his spokeswoman, returned calls for comment.

“The supervisor is an honorable man,” says Hightower. “If anyone has an allegation, then they should come forward with evidence, not innuendo.” Asked when he first learned about the discarded ballots, Hightower says Stafford told him last Thursday that they numbered in the thousands.

Chris Newland, an attorney working with the Gore campaign in Duval, says Democrats may go to court to get access to the invalid, double-punched ballots to detect any possible fraud. “If for instance, 19,000 of the 22,000 have Gore and somebody else punched, then eyebrows may be raised,” he says.

Other oddities surround the county vote. Once the discarded ballots were factored in, it turns out more people in Duval County voted in Florida’s Senate race than voted for president of the United States. Traditionally, the top ticket on any ballot, and particularly when there is a vote for the White House, attracts the most votes. Yet in Duval, 9,417 people who voted for a Senate candidate simply didn’t bother to vote for president.

Also, in stark contrast to the scene in Palm Beach County, where election offices were flooded with hundreds of calls from confused voters on Election Day, the Duval County supervisor of elections received just a handful of calls last Tuesday, despite the fact that, according to the invalidated votes, nearly one in 10 county voters did not correctly mark the ballot.

Eric Boehlert, a former senior writer for Salon, is the author of "Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush."

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>