Debunked: The Myth That Ralph Nader Cost Al Gore the 2000 Election

By Good German
November 2, 2010

Editor’s Note: While this article is from 2010, it’s well worth another read in 2016

Matthew Jones of USC’s Political Science Department says:

It’s really difficult to make the argument that Ralph Nader cost Al Gore the 2000 election, for multiple reasons. There were only 560 votes separating George Bush from Al Gore. That’s essentially within every margin of error, which when it gets within the margin of error, means that there’s too many other factors that could have affected it to say with any confidence what caused Al Gore to lose and George Bush to win.

Every 3rd party candidate got over 600 votes, which means that if any one of those 3rd party candidates had potentially dropped out and those votes had gone to Al Gore, he would have won too. So once you start to make those arguments, you open up a can of worms that you just cannot put back. Almost half of the Democratic Party voters stayed home, so who’s to say that the people who voted for Ralph Nader, if they didn’t have the choice of Ralph Nader, wouldn’t have stayed home or voted for somebody else anyway?

In a 2004 article Tony Schinella broke down a lot of polling numbers (including those in states other than Florida, who also had an impact on the election) and pointed out that more registered Democrats voted for Bush than voted for Nader:
In Florida, CNN’s exit polling showed Nader taking the same amount of votes from both Republicans and Democrats: 1 percent. Nader also took 4 percent of the independent vote. At the same time, 13 percent of registered Democrats voted for Bush! Again, Gore couldn’t hold his own base and because of this, he lost. The Democrats don’t say one word about the fact that 13 percent of their own party members voted forBush.

On the ideological front, 3 percent of Nader’s vote identified themselves as “liberal,” while 2 percent called themselves “moderate” and 1 percent called themselves “conservatives.” An even split: 6 to 6.

When asked who they voted for in 1996, 1 percent of Nader’s voters said they voted for Bill Clinton, 1 percent said they voted for Bob Dole, and 10 percent said they voted for Ross Perot. Here is the chart:





No vote—12——50——-44———0————-7

Again, Perot voters trend conservative. In fact, by a 3 to 1 margin, Perot voters in Florida went with Bush. So, with Nader taking equally from voters who cast votes for Clinton as they did from Dole, and then 10 percent previously voting for Perot being split on a 3 to 1 margin to Bush, that shows that if Nader had not been in the race, the majority of those voters would have gone to Bush, by a 7 to 4 margin. Also note: 16 percent of Clinton’s vote went to Bush! Again, Gore couldn’t hold the previous administration’s support.

In a two-way race, CNN showed the results as Bush 49 percent, Gore 47 percent, with 2 percent not voting. And again, with no Buchanan, Bush gains thousands of votes. So, an even split of Nader voters offers no resolve to the matter of the state being thrown to the Supreme Court, with or without Nader.

Now, if you use the national exit polling data, yes, Gore wins handily. But it just doesn’t work that way. Each state is different. Both New Hampshire and Florida have large sections of independents who are conservative but not Bush conservatives. Many of them might vote for Nader but wouldn’t vote for Gore. Both New Hampshire and Florida are not like Oregon and Wisconsin. From personal experience, having lived in this state off and on for most of my life, I can tell you that independent voters in New Hampshire swing conservative. They might throw votes to Clinton; they might throw votes to Nader; but that doesn’t mean they would go to Gore.

On the flip side, Florida is different. There is no doubt in my mind that 600 or more Nader voters from Monroe or Gainesville counties could have gone to Gore. These two counties have pockets of liberals – environmentalists in Monroe County, around the Everglades, and thousands of college students at University of Florida in Gainesville. According to the New York Times, which had a green map of Florida right after the election, Nader’s strongest support was in those two counties. But the numbers from CNN don’t show this at all so …

Then again, as talked about in this great article by Jim DeFede, then with the Miami New Times, there was a lot of animosity for centrist Democrats and Gore in Monroe County over the Homestead Air Force base conversion to a multi-use airport: [“Collision Course”]. Again, when the Democrats abandon their base – in this case, liberals and environmentalists – they lose, especially when voters have other choices.

And as Schinella points out, the Supreme Court was who actually handed to election to Bush. Attorney Joseph C. Sommer writes:

The Florida Supreme Court issued its decision at about 4:00 in the afternoon of Friday, December 8. The statewide counting of the undervotes began shortly thereafter and was proceeding smoothly and rapidly, with votes being recorded for both Gore and Bush. The process was expected to be completed sometime on Sunday afternoon, December 10.

But at 2:40 PM on Saturday, December 9, five conservative members of the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a halt to the counting at the request of Bush’s legal team. Antonin Scalia, in a concurring opinion, wrote that the counting threatened irreparable harm to Bush “by casting a cloud upon what he claims to be the legitimacy of his election.” Subsequent to the stay, no votes were ever again officially counted in the Florida presidential election.

On Tuesday, December 12, the same five justices held that the decision of the Florida Supreme Court violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment. In general, the Equal Protection Clause requires that persons in similar circumstances be treated equally by the laws.

The majority said the standard announced by the Florida Supreme Court for counting the undervotes – namely, a vote should be counted if there is “clear indication of the intent of the voter” – violated equal protection. The court claimed that because different Florida counties might apply different standards of what constitutes clear intent of the voter, identical ballots might not be counted the same way.

According to the majority, such an outcome was constitutionally impermissible. They said the Florida Supreme Court should have articulated a more uniform standard for counting the undervotes.

Additionally, the five conservatives ruled that December 12 was the legal deadline for Florida’s presidential votes to be counted. Because this was the same date as their decision, they concluded there was no time to send the case back to the Florida court for a more uniform standard to be set and the counting to resume.

The upshot of their actions was that Bush was declared the election’s winner even though thousands of valid votes had not been counted.

He then goes on to list eight reasons why the Supreme Court’s decision was illegal, all of which can be read here.

Finally, basic mathematics tells us that when someone pulled the lever for Nader in 2000, Bush’s tally did not rise by one singe vote and Gore’s tally did not decrease by one single vote.

Unless the voting machines were even more hackable than has already been demonstrated. Alastair Thompson wrote in 2003:

Searches of the Diebold memos database find a single followup memo from McLaurin about the Checksum Errors experienced in Volusia, but nothing on the mysterious 16,022 negative vote count.

Which leaves us where exactly?

What we know from the memos can be summarised as follows:

Two memory cards were uploaded from Volusia Couny’s precinct 216, the second one was loaded sometime close to 2am in the morning. It automatically replaced the first card’s results and reduced Gore’s total by 16,022 votes and added several thousand votes to Bush plus a variety of minor candidates;

Both memory cards loaded into the system clean and without errors, indicating (contrary to the official line) that they were not faulty;

After the error was noticed the original card was reloaded and the mistake was rectified;

The error was introduced in such a way that the total number of votes remained unchanged (again something that could not happen by chance.);

According to the technical boffins, the chance of the memory card being corrupted and still passing the checksum error test are less than 60,000 to 1;

The technical managers at Diebold Election Systems considered it a reasonable possibility that the second card was part of deliberate conspiracy to rig the election results.

In her book Bev Harris explains the issue of whether the card was a chance fault or a deliberate example of tampering”

“A memory card is like floppy disk. If you have worked with computers for any length of time you will know that a disk can go bad. When it does, which of the following is most likely? In an Excel spreadsheet that you saved on a “bad disk,” might it read a column of numbers correct the first time: “1005, 2109, 3000, 450…” but the second time, replace the numbers like this: “1005, 2109, -16022, 450…” Or is it more likely that the “bad disk” will…fail to read the file at all, crash your computer, give you an error message, or make weird humming and whirring noises.” source: page 239, Chapter 11, “Black Box Voting in the 21st Century”

However officially, as we learned earlier, the explanation given publicly – and accepted without demur by the media – for the strange events in Volusia county is that there was simply a “faulty memory card”.

The “faulty memory card” explanation is also included in a CBS News Network investigation into the Election 2000 debacle.

And it is here that we find a considerable amount of information about just how significant the Volusia County events were on election night.

The first thing we learn from CBS’s investigation into the events of election night is that according to the Voter News Service (VNS) exit polls for Florida Al Gore should have won comfortably.

7:00 PM: The vast majority of Florida polls close. CBS News decides not to project a winner in the Florida Presidential race at poll closing, even though the best estimate, based upon exit-poll interviews from the 45 survey precincts, shows Gore leading Bush by 6.6 points. The Decision Desk decides to wait for some actual votes from sample precincts to confirm the exit-poll results.7:40 PM: The VNS computation shows a “call” status in the Florida Presidential race. This status means that statistically Gore is leading, but the Decision Team needs to check more data. Source

VNS eventually officially called the Florida race to Gore at 7.52pm, notwithstanding comments early in the vote count from George Bush that he was confident he would win both Florida and Pennsylvannia (comments which were never fully explained).

With the benefit of hindsight we think we now know that the VNS data was wrong. That is certainly what the CBS inquiry found.

In the report attached below there are a range of explanations for this given, none of them adequately explain the magnitude of the error however.

Most of the news networks followed the VNS call giving Florida to Gore. And by 8.02pm all networks had announced Gore as the winner in Florida. And it wasn’t till 9pm that some doubts about this call started to emerge.

First up a significant error – attributed to a typing mistake – was found in the VNS data at 9.07pm. This led to closer examination of the rest of the data and the incoming returns. By around 10pm the Florida calls to Gore were all officially withdrawn. This is recorded in the CBS report as follows:

9:54 PM: The CBS News Decision Desk recommends that the call in Florida for Gore be withdrawn. CBS is in a local cutaway at 9:54 PM (the seven minutes at the end of the hour when local stations broadcast their own election results), and so CBS does not withdraw the call until 10:00 PM.10:16 PM: VNS retracts its Florida call for Gore. – Source

The CBS timeline then jumps forward four hours to 2am EST. By now an apparently substantial lead of 29,000 votes has opened up in favour of George Bush.

2:09 AM: VNS adds Volusia County’s erroneous numbers to its tabulated vote. With 171 out of 172 precincts in the county reporting, Gore’s vote drops by more than 10,000 while Bush’s rises by almost the same amount. This 20,000-vote change in one county increases Bush’s VNS statewide lead to more than 51,000 votes. – Source

What the news networks, and the Al Gore, camp do not realise at this point in the evening is that over 24,000 of votes that make up this significant lead are attributable to two Diebold Election Systems computer errors.

First there are the 16,022 votes stolen from Gore in Volusia county by the “faulty memory card”. Meanwhile over in Brevard County another error – also involving Global Elections System (the predecessor of Diebold) equipment is responsible for a further 4000 votes being lopped off the Gore total.

And it is also worth noting that nobody knows whether the Brevard and Volusia county errors were the only ones in play at this time. These errors were both big ones. They were noticed and corrected on the night. How many smaller vote subtractions could have taken place on the night? Theoretically hundreds. As Dana Milbank’s Washington Post report shows it was only because someone noticed the error in Volusia that it was corrected and remarkably the software itself contains no automatic system for rejecting negative vote totals being reported by precincts, events which by definition can only be nefarious and wrong.

So, why do Democrats continue to focus blame Nader and the Greens? It’s certainly easier to vent one’s frustrations upon someone weaker than you than it is to confront powerful, corrupt institutions and a dysfunctional system. And it’s even more attractive if one is part of that system, and if the weaker party could conceivably become a threat to one’s own power some day.