Who really Spoiled?

Since the 2000 election has come up in my post about the Ralph Nader movie over on Progressive Utah, I thought I’d provide some information on “election spoiling”, which some people, even 7 years later,still believe is the case with Ralph Nader running for president in 2000.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Who Really Spoiled in 2000?

The Supreme Court Spoiled:
Al Gore won the 2000 election. George W. Bush became President when a biased US Supreme Court allowed election manipulation by Florida Republicans.

Al Gore Spoiled: 

Gore ran a weak campaign with no clear message. He failed to defeat Bush in the debates and even lost his home state of Tennessee. Millions of Democrats voted for Bush compared to the few hundred thousand who voted for Nader.

Democratic Senators Spoiled:
When the Black Caucus challenged Bush’s election victory in January 2001, not one Democratic Senator stood up in support. Senate Democrats failed to push for an investigation of the Florida vote debacle.

The Democratic Party Spoiled:
For many years, Democrats never objected when officials removed African American and other voters from the voter rolls in Florida and other states. Why didn’t the Democrats sue when 90,000 Florida voters were disqualified earlier in 2000? Why were Democrats (including Gore) silent about disqualified votes in the weeks after the election?

Don’t Believe the Lies!

Lie #1: “This is a two-party system.”
Nothing in the US Constitution limits the number of political parties. Democracy means free participation, in the party of your choice. 

Lie #2: “Green candidates steal votes from Democrats”
Greens will continue to affect election outcomes – and sometimes win. But Greens have no power to steal votes from Democratic candidates, because no candidate owns anyone’s vote except for his or her own. 

Lie #3: “If Nader hadn’t run, everyone who voted for him would have voted for Gore!” 
According to exit polls, Nader’s support came from Democrats, Republicans, independents, and many others. Many would not have voted for Gore if Nader hadn’t run, and some voters might not have voted at all. 

Top Democrats Know That the “Spoiler” Charge is a Lie!  

Al From, chair of the Democratic Leadership Council, wrote in Blueprint Magazine (1-24-01) that according to their own exit polls, Bush would have beat Gore by one percentage point if Nader hadn’t run in 2000.

Vote your conscience and your hopes, not your fears! 
Democracy means joining the party of your choice, and voting for candidates who best represent your interests and ideals.

Support Fair Elections! 

Support Instant Runoff Voting (IRV)! 
IRV allows voters to rank their first, second, and third choices on the ballot. IRV ensures that whoever wins the election has the support of a majority of voters. Many cities and towns have adopted IRV because it allows voters a real choice. Read more about IRV, Proportional Representation, and other democratic ways to reform our spoiled two-party, winner-take-all system, which bars people from representation and participation, at FairVote.org. 

Support public financing of election campaigns! 
‘Clean Election’ campaign laws in Maine, Massachusetts, and Arizona help candidates who don’t take contributions from corporate lobbies. 

Support free air time and inclusion in public debates for all candidates! 
Voters have the right to know about all candidates whose names will appear on the ballot. Democracy means the power to make informed choices.

Repeal unfair election laws! 
In many states, Democrats and Republicans have blocked other parties and candidates by passing antidemocratic ballot access laws. Some states have rules to disqualify voters whose votes they don’t want counted — as we saw in Florida in 2000.

Dispelling the Myth of Election 2000: Did Nader Cost Gore the Election?

Questioning the Myth

George Bush beat Al Gore by only 543 votes in Florida. Gore needed Florida’s electoral votes in order to win the presidency. He did not get them. Gore’s diehard Democratic Party supporters have declared Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader the reason their candidate lost the 2000 presidential election, even though numerous other factors in the climactic Florida vote-counting drama affected the outcome. Instead of focusing solely on the votes Ralph Nader took from Al Gore, a balanced analysis would also take into account the following: (1) voters who were disenfranchised; (2) voting systems and procedures that failed; (3) the party-line United States Supreme Court vote declaring George W. Bush the winner; and (4) Democrats who voted for Bush or not at all.

Disenfranchised By Design?

The Florida Secretary of State’s Office hired a private firm known as Database Technologies, Inc. (now ChoicePoint Corporation) to identify convicted felons and remove them from Florida’s voting rolls. Prior to the election, 94,000 voters were removed (Kelly, 2002). This is legal if someone has been convicted of a felony, but as it turns out, 97 percent were innocent and should not have been removed. “the list was full of mistakes mainly because of the criteria [the database company] used. it compared its list of felons with the florida voting rolls by looking for a rough match between the names and dates of birth. thus a christine smith could have been disqualified if there had been a christopher smith of the same age with a felony record somewhere in the us. [the database company] also used race as a matching criterion, skewing the impact of the errors even more against black voters” (Borger & Palast, 2001). As The Nation magazine reported, “immediately after the november, 7, 2000 election, minority voters who had never committed crimes complained of having had their names removed from voting rolls in a purge of ‘ex-felons,’ of being denied translation services required by law, … and of harassment by poll workers and law-enforcement officials.” The list of voters denied the right to vote was overwhelmingly Democratic and half were minorities (Kelly, 2002). Al Gore neither protested the disenfranchisement nor supported these voters’ lawsuit to regain their vote.

Voting Systems and Procedures

Voting systems throughout Florida (as well as the country) varied in makeup, and some had seriously flawed ballots. Since the 2000 presidential election, 11,000 election-related complaints have been registered in Florida, and some reforms have been implemented.

Ballots discarded
as “over-votes”

Paper and Pencil Ballot

Some Florida counties used a paper and pencil ballot. Some of these counties sent their ballots to the county seat (election headquarters) for tabulation, while others tallied votes at the polling place. When votes were counted at a county election headquarters, voters were not given a chance to revote if they had made a mistake, such as double voting or making an illegible mark on a ballot, and, in this scenario, African-Americans were four times as likely as whites to have their ballots thrown out (Keating & Mintz, 2001). In the tally-on-site counties, voters were told immediately if they had made a mistake and were given a second chance to vote (ibid.). In these second-chance counties, African-Americans were just under two times as likely as whites to have ballots tossed out. With nine out of ten African-American voters voting Democratic and two-thirds of white voters voting Republican, the use of voting systems that lacked a second-chance option represented a net advantage for Bush of thousands of votes.

One common type of disqualified ballot, called a double bubble, showed a double vote for president in that a voter marked the oval next to the candidate’s name and then also marked the oval next to “write in” and wrote in the same candidate’s name. A Washington Post review (2001) found that Gore would have had a net gain of 662 votes, enough to win, if there had been a hand recount of “over-votes,” mostly from double bubbles.

Butterfly Ballot

The Infamous Butterfly Ballot

The infamous butterfly ballot has punch holes running down the center and the list of candidates on pages to the left and right of these holes. Butterfly ballots are the most prone to voter confusion as it is not clear which hole goes with which candidate. Palm Beach County, the one county in Florida that used this system, is a predominantly Democratic-leaning county yet extreme conservative candidate Pat Buchanan had a phenomenal showing there. On the left side of the Palm Beach County ballot George Bush was listed first and Al Gore second. However, the second punch hole in the center of the ballot was for Pat Buchanan, the first candidate listed on the right.

Pat Buchanan himself has admitted that most of his votes in Palm Beach County were meant for Al Gore, saying he “did not campaign and bought no advertising there” (Nichols, 2001, p. 86). He added, “i would say 95 to 98 percent of [the votes] were for gore” (id. at p. 89). The day after the election, many people were upset, saying the butterfly ballot was confusing. When the election results were “too close to call,” Buchanan worried he would be charged with costing Gore the election. He said he got more media coverage after the election than he did during the campaign (id. at p. 84). The graph below showing an abnormally high Buchanan vote in Palm Beach County suggests the butterfly ballot cost Al Gore thousands of votes, more than enough to have won the presidency.

The “Supreme” Test

The United States Supreme Court voted five to four along party lines to uphold the vote certified by the Florida Secretary of State, Kathleen Harris, declaring George Bush the winner in Florida. Between undercounts and overcounts, that vote count was riddled with inequities. Harris’s role has been sharply criticized because she worked for the Bush campaign, and thus had a direct conflict of interest.

Because varying voting standards were used within different counties, the Florida Supreme Court said it was each county’s responsibility to ensure ballots were treated uniformly. Some counties began a manual recount of the vote. The United States Supreme Court, however, stopped the manual recount altogether by requiring canvassing boards to meet an impossible Electoral College deadline.

In the book The Unfinished Election of 2000 (2001), Pamela S. Karlan wrote, “there is something disquieting about the fact that although the court focused largely on the claims of excluded voters, the remedy it ordered simply excluded more voters yet” (id. at p. 192). “[n]either al gore’s counsel nor the court ever addressed the threshold question of standing and whose rights were being remedied” (ibid.). As Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in his dissenting opinion, “although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this years presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. it is the nation’s confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law.” (Justices Ginsburg and Breyer joined Justice Stevens in his dissenting opinion.)

“Democrats for Bush, Democrats for nobody”

“Twelve percent of Florida Democrats (over 200,000) voted for Republican George Bush”
-San Francisco Chronicle, Nov. 9, 2000

Even if none of the factors mentioned above had happened, the votes of Florida voters themselves show that Ralph Nader was not responsible for George W. Bush’s presidency. If one percent of these Democrats had stuck with their own candidate, Al Gore would easily have won Florida and become president. In addition, half of all registered Democrats did not even bother going to the polls and voting.

The Florida Vote







Natural Law






Workers World






Socialist Workers




The Final Count

According to the official 2001 Statistics of the Presidential and Congressional Election of November 7, 2000, George W. Bush beat Al Gore in Florida by 543 votes. It is noteworthy that every third-party candidate received enough votes in Florida to have cost Al Gore the election.


Green Party Presidential Candidate Ralph Nader did not work for the Florida Secretary of State, the Palm Beach County Election Commission, the Al Gore campaign committee, or the United States Supreme Court. Yet, he has become a scapegoat among many Democrats for Al Gore’s loss of the 2000 election, and, beyond the election, the person to blame for the resulting policies of George Bush. These diehard Democrats are averse to looking at the failings of their candidate, and they are not blaming voters for failing to vote at all. Instead, they are upset that Ralph Nader did not acquiesce to dropping out of the race as many urged him to do. As a side note, if Al Gore had won his home state of Tennessee, he would have had the necessary Electoral College votes to have won the election and the Florida results would have been irrelevant.

The facts are compelling and undeniable that Ralph Nader is not the reason, and should not be blamed, for George Bush’s victory in the 2000 presidential election.

Irene Dieter, May 2003



3 thoughts on “Who really Spoiled?

  1. IRV – facts and fiction
    Instant Runoff Voting does not solve the spoiler problem, nor does it ensure a “majority winner” (which often doesn’t exist anyway). Case in point:
    % of voters – their order of preference
    34% Obama > Edwards > McCain
    17% Edwards > Obama > McCain
    15% Edwards > McCain > Obama
    34% McCain > Edwards > Obama
    With IRV, Edwards is eliminated first, and then Obama narrowly defeats McCain. But wait! 66% of voters prefer Edwards to both McCain AND Obama. McCain acts as a spoiler here, because without him, Edwards would have won. The McCain voters would have been strategically wise to have voted for Edwards, to get their second instead of their least favorite.
    The solution is Range Voting – score all the candidates (say 0-99) and elect the won with the highest average. It completely eliminates the spoiler problem, and objectively leaves voters much more satisfied, on average, than with poor systems like IRV. This can be objectively shown through voter satisfaction index, derived from utility calculations.
    IRV has lead to two-party duopoly in all four countries where it has seen large-scale long term use. Range Voting prevents that duopoly, and allows alternative parties to have a chance in politics. Getting Range Voting should be the number one issue for all Greens and Libertarians, because without it they are effectively irrelevant.


  2. I will not be bamboozled again
    I’m fascinated each time I read a piece bashing Nader for “attacking” General Motors and “killing” the Corvair. The Nader-bashers should actually read “Unsafe At Any Speed” once; they might discover it’s about the Detroit auto industry generally, not just the Corvair. The Corvair is emblematic of the industry as a whole, right down to trying to copy the Beetle’s success by copying the Beetle’s design.
    Four decades later, “Unsafe At Any Speed” is as relevant as the day it was published. 44,000 Americans are killed by motor vehicles each year but nobody seems to care. Detroit builds safer cars only because FMVSS of 1966 mandates it. They build cleaner cars only because the Clean Air Act mandates it, then spend billions to convince us they’ve benevolently turned Green. Ford won’t even match its own mile-per-gallon performance of 1987 here (see http://www.fueleconomy.gov) but offers a 50 mpg sedan overseas. (see http://www.ford.co.za)
    Nader didn’t kill the Corvair; it did itself in. It was a mediocre & unreliable car which Chevrolet dropped after ten years and two major designs – hardly an unusually-short product lifecycle.
    Likewise Gore & Kerry.
    Bush v. Gore began like that old joke about a battle of wits with an unarmed opponent, then morphed into a battle of twits. Maybe Nader tipped the balance, but why was there ever a balance in the first place? Duhbbya should have been laughed out of the arena. Gore felt the need to distance himself from the greatest political campaigner in history, losing Arkansas & Tennessee in the process. Twelve states were decided by just a few percentage points. Had the Democrats spent half as much energy opposing Bush and election fraud as they spent opposing Nader, Gore would have been inaugurated.
    2004 should have been another Democratic slam-dunk. With spiraling deficits, a perpetual quagmire in Iraq and Fatherland Security looking for communists – er, terrorists – under every bed, the Democrats should have been able not only to sweep the election but forever put to rest the idea that the Republican Party is the party of smaller government, peace & security and personal liberty. What happened? Instead of bringing forth a candidate to attack Duhbbya’s Folly, Kerry called for escalating it with 60,000 more troops.
    So, with an undistinguished candidate, a muddled message, an uninspired campaign again distracted with attacking the Green Party, and turning a blind eye to election fraud, (Wally O’Dell’s DREs reported 4258 Bush votes in one Ohio precinct, but Kerry conceded the election – see http://www.freepress.org/columns/display/3/2004/983 ) the Democrats handed us another Bush inauguration.
    I had high hopes in 2006. The Democratic Party finally began to find a backbone and start opposing. Conyers held impeachment and election-fraud hearings and Kucinich talked about ending the war.
    Wither the “opposition” [sic] party now?
    90% of Americans want Americans out of Iraq. 90% of Americans want the budget balanced and interest rates stabilized. What’s the Democrat-controlled Congress doing? Boosting the debt with another hundred-odd billion off-budget dollars to extend the Iraqi quagmire.
    Greens may be inexperienced, but that’s hardly an argument for doing the same things the same way. I’d certainly prefer inexperienced allies to enemies with years of experience governing – or worse, entrenched seatwarmers like Debbie Stabenow and Sander Levin who give my agenda lip service during reelection campaigns, then vote against it.
    If The Left would stop whining for a moment that we’re unelectable and elect us, you’d see a real change instead of just a label change. A few seats in Congress won’t enable Greens to control the agenda, but imagine the tone in Washington be if no one party controlled the majority?
    I will not be bamboozled again. Come 2008, if there are still Americans in harm’s way overseas, or if Cheney & Bush have not been impeached, I pledge to never vote for a Democrat again.
    I urge you to do the same.
    Douglas Campbell
    The Motor City
    Edited for length. Originally published on BeyondChron.org


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