In the comments on this question about elections won by one vote, I posited that the Presidential election in 2000 was "won" by Bush on the 5-4 split of the SCOTUS which halted the recount in Florida, which granted him the state's electoral votes and thus the majority.

Obviously, Gore conceded, the issue has long since been settled, and it's too much of a stretch to be an answer to that question. But since it came up, is there any chance Gore could have won if the recount continued? Or were all the signs pointing towards a Bush victory anyway?

And a related question: Were the terms of the recount (and what ballots were being counted) more favorable towards one or the other of the candidates? Whoever was ahead, could counting ballots under different rules have changed that?


The answers to your three questions are:

  1. No, the 2000 election was NOT won by 5-4 split of SCOTUS (explained in #3).

  1. Who would have won is a complicated question, with the answer depending on what the recount details were (see details in #3) and the methodology of the model.

  1. As far as related question: YES! The answer to #2 depends greatly on the terms of the recount and which ballots were being counted.

    • More specifically, to address #1, most models predicted that Bush would have still won if the recount happened under the terms specifically requested by Al Gore's team from the Florida and US Supreme Court (in other words, if the SCOTUS voted the other way around, Gore would still have lost)

    • However, if you did a FULL state recount, many (I think majority) of the models would have predicted Gore winning the recount.

    The detailed findings of a study of how a recount would have gone if not stopped (done by a consortium of several US newspapers with expert statistics assistance) can be found in this NYTimes article, with the main two points being:

    • ... the results show that even if Mr. Gore had succeeded in his effort to force recounts of undervotes in the four Democratic counties, Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Volusia, he still would have lost, although by 225 votes rather than 537.

    • An approach Mr. Gore and his lawyers rejected as impractical -- a statewide recount -- could have produced enough votes to tilt the election his way, no matter what standard was chosen to judge voter intent.

    Another set of models (those that counted overvotes - ballots with >1 vote - instead of undervotes only), has Gore winning, since there were ~70k overvotes of Gore+X and ~20k of Bush+X. However - even leaving aside that overvote counting was outside SCOTUS decision scope (the campaigns only asked for undervote counts) - these models are potentially fraught with danger, since they would rely on assuming how specific people counting would interpret "voter intent" - and the model assumes that "intent" was either Bush or Gore and not a minority candidate. That worked for some small subset of ballots (where they voted twice for the same person) but not in majority of cases when X was different from the main candidate.

Wikipedia covers the details of the recount study here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florida_election_recount#Results - with the relevant summaries being:

under the system of limited recounts in selected counties as was requested by the Gore campaign, the only way that Gore would have won was by using counting methods that were never requested by any party, including "overvotes" — ballots containing more than one vote for an office.

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  • 3
    #3 is not entirely accurate regarding "if SCOTUS has ruled for Gore," because the SCOTUS ruling was not on whether to grant a recount under Gore's originally requested terms, but whether the full recount as ruled by the Florida Supremes should move forward. But, overall, a good job on the answer. Jan 23 '17 at 22:30

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