The judge’s indictment was damning. “We have been the laughingstock of the world, election after election,” the US district judge Mark Walker told a court in Florida on Thursday. “And we chose not to fix this.” The midterm elections took place more than a week ago. New members of Congress are posing for photos on Capitol Hill in Washington. Yet the Sunshine state is still counting votes in the knife-edge US Senate race between the Republican Rick Scott and the Democrat Bill Nelson. It has been a tortuous 10 days of chaotic leadership, catnip for lawyers, protesters in the streets, clapped-out counting machines and partisan allegations of incompetence and worse. Bob Shrum, a Democratic strategist, said bluntly: “Florida is where good elections go to die.” He should know. Shrum was a senior adviser to Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election, which all came down to Florida. Katherine Harris, the Florida secretary of state and co-chair of George W Bush’s statewide campaign, announced that he had won the state – and with it the presidency. At first Gore, phoned Bush to concede but, as the margin tightened, he called back to withdraw his concession.
Democrats pushed for a recount; Republicans resisted. Armies of lawyers flew in from both sides. For five weeks they wrangled over how the ballot papers had been designed. There was the question of what voters intended with punch-card ballots when they only detached a portion of the perforated paper (“hanging chads”) or merely dented instead of removing the punch-out (“dimpled chads”).
Another mystery surrounded why people in Democratic strongholds voted for the third party candidate Pat Buchanan, a conservative Christian, rather than Gore. Shrum recalled: “As Buchanan said to me, ‘There were not thousands of Jewish Democrats on the gold coast wanting to vote for me.’”