MIAMI HERALD – Florida Priorities Summit: What Florida can learn from the 2000 recount

By Adam Wollner

Nearly two decades after the most dramatic recount in American history, attorneys from the Al Gore and George W. Bush legal teams said Florida is in a better position to handle recounts, but that many of the old problems still persist.

Kendall Coffey, who worked on Gore’s legal team, and Ed Pozzuoli, who worked on Bush-Cheney’s legal team, appeared at the Florida Priorities Summit to discuss how the vote-counting process had changed since the 2000 presidential election in Florida. County supervisors around the state are hastily counting ballots in the Florida Senate and governors’’ races ahead of the Thursday deadline for machine recounts.

Pozzuoli said that not only has the vote-counting equipment had vastly improved over the past 18 years, the legal process is much clearer. Now, a machine recount is triggered when the vote margin is within .5 percent, and a manual recount is triggered when the margin is within .25 percent.

“The legal part of this in 2000 was swiss cheese,” Pozzuli said.

Coffey agreed that the recount process had improved, adding that there are now now standards in place to determine voters’ intent when a ballot is in dispute. But he acknowledged that many of the individual vote-counting problems remain. Broward County has come under the most fire for its delayed vote tallying.

Coffey also emphasized that Florida needed to mainitain the public’s confidence in the recount process, something that did not happen in 2000.

“A lot of late-night comedians were treating it as a joke,” he recalled.

“You can never eliminate the human error part … by statute,” Pozzuli added.

Coffey also lamented the vitriolic climate surrounding the 2018 recount effort.

“I thought we were pretty cordial back then,” Coffey said. “The stakes were higher, the margin was infinitely closer. But the tone was more cordial.”

Buzzfeed editor Mark Seibel, a former Miami Herald managing editor, said he was dismayed by how little progress Florida had made.

“There’s a lot wrong with the system,” Seibel said. “Strides I thought the state had made, it turns out they didn’t go far enough.”

The summit marks the culmination of the Florida Influencer Series for 2018 — a project by the Miami Herald, el Nuevo Herald and Bradenton Herald. Over the past six months, the Influencers shared their ideas on how to address the most important issues facing the state and responded to questions from readers.

Watch a livestream of the Florida Priorities Summit here.

Nancy Ancrum, the editorial page editor for the Miami Herald leads the panel with Marc Caputo, Michael Putney and Rachel Smolkin during the Florida Priorities event at the University of Miami’s Donna E. Shalala Student Center on November 14th, 2018.