The Greatest


Too Close to Call:
The Thirty-Six Day Battle To Decide The 2000 Election

By: Jeffrey Toobin

Jeffrey Toobin went to and graduated from Harvard College magna cum laude then he attended and graduated from Harvard Law School magna cum laude. Some of his other works include A Vast Conspiracy: The Real Story of the Sex Scandal That Nearly Brought Down A President, The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson and Young Lawyer’s First Case- United States v. Oliver North.

The Wrong Winner

By: Joel Thompson

The fight over who would win the 2000 election was fierce and tensions were high all around. As Jeffrey Toobin, author of Too Close to Call: The Thirty-Six Day Battle To Decide The 2000 Election, says “the wrong man was inaugurated on January 20, 2001, and this is no small thing in our nation’s history.”1

The first part of the book, Too Close to Call: The Thirty-Six Day Battle To Decide The 2000 Election, explained the problems with the vote count in Florida. The first issue was that butterfly ballots were used in the county of Palm Beach. Butterfly ballots were incredibly difficult to use because so many people voted for the wrong person or at least felt like they did. This happened because the ballot, when opened, had names of presidential candidates on both pages but had the space for indicating your vote down the center divider, confusing people and earning it the name butterfly ballot. Near the end of the election Al Gore called George W. Bush to concede, but realized that he could still win the race because the Florida votes were more in his favor than previously reported by the news. He then called back and told an enraged George W. Bush that “the state of Florida is too close to call.”2 The fight for Florida would continue for thirty-six days after the election to decide the victor. The Democrats and Republicans then began setting up bases of operation in Tallahassee, Florida. The Democrats decided they were going to fight for recounts and claim a Florida victory for Al Gore. Al Gore was warned by some of his trusted campaign advisers that he should not continue to fight for too long. He did not want to seem like he simply could not accept that he lost, because that would hurt his future possibilities of running for president again or getting different roles in the government. Being told one of his advisers that “people get screwed everyday.”3

The difference between the votes for George W. Bush and the votes for Al Gore in Florida was about .03%. This meant that it more than passed the Florida law requirement of less than a .5% difference of votes and called for mandatory machine recounts of all counted ballots. This is when the ballots are put through a machine to recount them. The Al Gore campaign asked the court for manual recounts, people recounting the votes by hand, in the counties of Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Volusia. The counties were supposed to do a manual recount of all votes if they found an error in vote tabulation, which is a fancy way of saying a they found a problem with the vote count. Most people interpreted that as a miscount of the votes, but the George W. Bush campaign interpreted that as finding mechanical failure of the tabulation system, yet another fancy way of saying finding problems with the machines counting votes. The George W. Bush opinion stalled the call for manual recounts in the court. Once the counting started there was a court decision that “... won the presidency for George W. Bush with their decision on Saturday afternoon.”4 The decision affected what was going to be considered a vote for a presidential candidate. In the past, before the decision, people would punch a hole in their ballot with a stylus next to the name of the person they were voting for, much like a Scantron sheet. Ideally, there would be a clean, punched hole indicating the vote, but realistically the hole did not always go all the way through the ballot. In these cases the person checking the vote would hold the vote to the sun; if they could see sunlight through the indent, the vote was counted. The decision changed that rule so that a vote was only counted if the voter poked a hole completely through the ballot, thus the notorious hanging chad was born. This was good for George W. Bush because Al Gore was gaining many votes with the recounts. This new rule took away a lot of Al Gore’s newly gained votes because the new votes were no longer counted as valid. After the election of George W. Bush into office, The Palm Beach Post went back and recounted all the votes in Florida and found that, if the old standard for counting votes were used, Al Gore would have won Florida and the election after all. Al Gore asked for an extension of the deadline for the certification of the votes by the secretary of state. The court said that the late recounts could be rejected by the Secretary of State if there was proper basis and reasoning provided by her.

The Florida Supreme Court made a surprise ruling that the secretary of State could not certify the election until the court said they were ready; thus the manual recounts should continue. Miami-Dade County claimed they would not perform a manual recount but then changed their minds, but once again changed their minds and stopped counting votes after local Republicans started protesting. Broward County decided not to do a manual recount but then like Miami-Dade they changed their minds as well and started the manual recount of votes. Broward County loosened the definition of what counted as a vote to more closely follow voter indication. If Palm Beach County had used the Broward County definition of votes then Florida and the election would have once again gone to Al Gore and he would have been President. In Duval County a poorly designed ballot, called a caterpillar ballot, cost Al Gore around 2,600 net votes. This happened because voters were told to vote on every page of the ballot, yet the presidential candidate options stretched across two pages of the ballot. Thus voters were confused on whether they were supposed to vote twice for presidential candidates or not. A whopping 21,942 people over voted and put down multiple people down as their preference for president in Duval county alone. The George W. Bush campaign recovered overseas ballots, mostly from serving military personnel, that were incorrectly submitted and counted them, “...these votes padded George W. Bush’s lead by a critical 123 net votes-and they became known as Thanksgiving stuffing.”5 The United States Supreme Court started to get more involved in Florida by moving up the deadline to turn in all of the recounts. Palm Beach missed the deadline so none of the recounted votes from there were counted. Broward became the only county to turn in a recount. The certified result of the Florida vote was signed by the Secretary of State, 2,912,790 votes for George W. Bush and 2,912,253 votes for Al Gore, a very small difference of only 537 votes.

President Clinton was disappointed in Al Gore’s timidness to motivate protesters to get out on the streets and take issues to court. He often stated that Al Gore needed to be fiercer and stop being so passive. The Al Gore campaign’s last effort in court to secure Florida consisted of mainly begging the court for votes that they believed should have been counted for Al Gore. In court they asked for 215 net votes from the late Palm Beach County recount, 157 net votes from the aborted Miami-Dade County recount and 51 net votes from a county called Nassau. They also asked the court to tell Miami-Dade County to complete their recount and for Palm Beach County to re-examine the contested votes with the looser rules about counting votes used by Broward County and more closely follow the intent of the voter. The court case went to George W. Bush and the Republicans completely, the Democrats did not get any of the votes they asked for or the resurrection of the Miami-Dade and Palm Beach County recounts. Seeing no other chance of success, the Al Gore campaign appealed to the Florida Supreme Court in one last desperate push. This was the very last chance for Al Gore to win the presidential election. The Florida Supreme Court surprisingly decided to give Al Gore the 215 net votes from Palm Beach County and the 168 net votes from the partial recount in Miami-Dade County. Then the Florida Supreme Court delivered “...the greatest and most surprising judicial victory in the history of this or any election.”6: all the undervotes in the state of Florida, approximately 60,000 votes, were to be recounted. The recount began under Judge Lewis and went very quickly. The Republicans in turn appealed to the Supreme Court of The United States. The Supreme Court decided in Bush v. Gore to stop the newly started recount and put all the ballots away. There was one final argument in The Supreme Court about whether or not recount should continue with a standard regulation on what was considered a vote but the Supreme Court sided with George W. Bush, and he won the election.

Jeffrey Toobin states in the last few pages that he believed Al Gore should have won the 2000 presidential election. He wrote the book Too Close to Call: The Thirty-Six Day Battle To Decide The 2000 Election to explain and make apparent what exactly happened during the recounts of the 2000 election. He felt that “Al Gore was bedeviled by his superego—an internal censor so strong that it wiped out not only the killer instinct but also the fighting spirit.”7 Toobin also saw many of the Republican debates as contradictory. An example being when Republicans made fun of Al Gore, through the media, for not asking for a recount of every vote in Florida like his motto stated. Then when Al Gore got a recount for the entire state of Florida the Republicans wanted to shut it down immediately. Toobin intended to show how Al Gore should have won the election but the Republicans fighting him used borderline dirty politics to stop him and Al Gore did not fight hard enough to stop the Republicans from doing this.

Jeffrey Toobin seems to have a generally liberal bias in this book. Other works he has written have not been as politically polarized, so they are not a factor evaluating his perspective. He received his education at Harvard and Harvard Law School. His family is Jewish and he was born in New York City. Most importantly, he supported Al Gore when he ran for president. All of these reasons can explain his left bias even though he makes an admirable job of attempting to remain as objective as possible. He does not shy away from exposing Al Gore and his campaign’s flaws as well. the book Too Close to Call: The Thirty-Six Day Battle To Decide The 2000 Election was published in 2001, only one year after the controversial decision in Florida. The emotions were still high and the sting of defeat was still present for many who believed that “... Al Gore should have been declared the victor over George W. George W. Bush…”so this book was written for that audience and for people who were curious about what happened in the behind the scenes politics of the fighting political parties.8

A review by Mark Dionne, the political papers archivist for The University of Rhode Island, thought that “dozens of people and numerous courtrooms make Too Close to Call sometimes a bit choppy,” but also recommended it for anyone interested in the subject because Toobin makes legal issues clear to everyone and makes Too Close to Call a great place to start when learning about the 2000 election recount.9 He also said that Too Close to Call deserved to have more people read it.

Another review by Dr. Richard S. Conley, associate professor at the University of Florida, finds that “Toobin’s bias is evident in passages throughout the book Too Close to Call: The Thirty-Six Day Battle To Decide The 2000 Election as he depicts the post election debacle in Florida.”10 He thought that the overall thesis was straightforward and understandable but Toobin’s partisan overtones make him advise teachers to not use Too Close to Call as a teaching tool.

Jeffrey Toobin’s book Too Close to Call: The Thirty Six Day Battle To Decide The 2000 Election is an in depth look into what happened behind the scenes of the Florida recounts and George W. Bush v. Al Gore. Toobin and his book definitely sympathize more with the Democrats but never shied away from critiquing Al Gore and his nonaggressive campaign. the book Too Close to Call: The Thirty-Six Day Battle To Decide The 2000 Election can be overwhelming at points, throwing in name after name in a very dense text, making reading for long periods of time tiring. He seems to be heavily motivated by his grief for Al Gore losing, stating that “under all of the standards used by the researchers, when all the votes were counted, the result was the same: Al Gore won.”11 Even though the book Too Close to Call: The Thirty-Six Day Battle To Decide The 2000 Election was biased, it covered all of the events following the election, from the first concession call to Al Gore’s concession speech and every court case in between, in great detail, even finding events that are new to many people such as the caterpillar ballots in Duval County and Al Gore’s strange pseudo conspiracy thoughts and actions.

The book Too Close to Call: The Thirty-Six Day Battle To Decide The 2000 Election reflects on fears of the rise of terrorism because it takes place during golden period after Cold War tensions were dying and yet just months before terrorist fears resurfaced with great power again, after the September 11th terrorist attack on the Twin Towers. While never directly talking about it the book Too Close to Call: The Thirty-Six Day Battle To Decide The 2000 Election certainly is impacted by digital technology. George W. Bush and Al Gore both had official websites and emails such as Al Gore’s famous email Rstone@goamerica.net.

Jeffrey Toobin’s Too Close To Call: The Thirty Six Day Battle To Decide The 2000 Election, is a conclusive retelling of the events that took place directly after the election, and the struggle between Al Gore and George W. Bush over Florida. This book is incredibly useful for anyone looking to learn about what happened in Florida and why. This presidential election was probably the most controversial and closest to call. This is an important historical event that people should be educated about because it affected our country and it’s history so greatly. George W. Bush was in office for eight years. If Al Gore was President for even half of that time then many things would be different. For example, we would not have invaded Iraq and we would definitely have stricter environmental regulations. It was an interesting read and should be read by more people.

[1] Toobin, Jeffrey. Too Close To Call: The Thirty Six Day Battle To Decide The 2000 Election. New York: Random House, Inc., 2001. 282
[2] Toobin, Jeffrey. 25
[3] Toobin, Jeffrey. 56
[4] Toobin, Jeffrey. 86
[5] Toobin, Jeffrey. 176
[6] Toobin, Jeffrey. 236
[7]Toobin, Jeffrey. 277
[8] Toobin, Jeffrey. 282
[9] ”Too Close To Call: The Thirty-Six-Day Battle to Decide the 2000 Election by Jeffrey Toobin.” PopMatters. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 May 2017.
[10] Conley, Richard. Review: Too Close to Call: The Thirty-Six Day Battle to Decide the 2000 Election by Jeffrey Toobin: Wiley
[11] Toobin, Jeffrey. 278
[12] Toobin, Jeffrey. 8