Call it the magic moment that never came. From election night, when Bush cousin and Fox election analyst John Ellis first gave Florida to Dubya, to December 12, when a five-member bloc on the Supreme Court ratified the GOP's fuzzy math and handed Bush the White House, no vote tally from Tallahassee showed Al Gore ahead. Despite a widening margin in the national popular vote that eventually reached 540,000 votes, a raft of GOP lawyers, public officials and spinmeisters made sure that he never assumed even the most fleeting lead.

But ongoing news investigations of 180,000 uncounted presidential ballots in Florida are beginning to rain on Bush's honeymoon. An inquiry by the Orlando Sentinel, South Florida Sun-Sentinel and Chicago Tribune of approximately 16,000 discarded overvotes and undervotes from 15 small, mostly rural counties show Gore picking up at least 366 votes from ballots on which voters' intentions were easily determined. Many such votes come from ballots containing both a vote registered next to Gore's name and another vote for him scrawled in longhand in the space for write-ins. Though counted in a few counties and in most other states, such ballots were tossed out by at least nine Florida counties. When added to the votes the Florida Supreme Court tacked onto statewide totals in its short-lived December 8 ruling, the results of this small sampling alone would have tipped the state to Gore.

The Washington Post and the Miami Herald also are conducting examinations of overvotes and undervotes throughout the state. In an initial analysis of overvotes from eight Florida counties, only half of which went to Gore, the Post reported that Gore was selected on more than 46,000 ballots while Bush was chosen on only 17,000. These voters favored Democrat Bill Nelson in the state's closely contested U.S. senate race by a margin of almost 3-to-1, reinforcing the notion that Gore suffered due to the exclusion of all these ballots from the state's presidential vote totals.

Conservatives have attempted to make hay from one survey by the Palm Beach Post in early January of the 10,500 undervotes in Miami-Dade County. That inquiry, which some Democrats had once predicted would yield a small pickup for Gore, actually produced a net gain of 6 votes for Bush. Yet the tide of subsequent disclosures suggests that Gore was massively shortchanged in Florida. Indeed, the conclusion that he was unfairly denied the White House is slowly progressing from a fringe conviction to mathematical fact.


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