George Gibbs Center for Economic Prosperity

The Wash⁠i⁠ng⁠t⁠on T⁠i⁠mes: From Hang⁠i⁠ng Chad ⁠t⁠o Ironclad: How Flor⁠i⁠da Ensures Elec⁠t⁠⁠i⁠on In⁠t⁠egr⁠i⁠⁠t⁠y

By: Dr. J. Robert McClure / 2024

Dr. J. Robert McClure


George Gibbs Center for Economic Prosperity


Monday, March 18, 2024

In some ways, time flies, and in other ways, it seems like it stands still. In November 2000, I was in my mid-30s, a husband and a father of 4- and 1-year-old daughters. It seems like a lifetime ago, yet the years have flown in ways that make it seem like it was only yesterday.

It was also the year of what became the most notable and notorious election in Florida’s history.

On election night 2000, before the results were reported, MSNBC election coverage host Tim Russert held up a whiteboard and proclaimed that the election would come down to “Florida, Florida, Florida.”

The state was initially called for Democrat Al Gore. Then that call was retracted, then the state was called (briefly) for George W. Bush, and then retracted again and placed in the “too close to call” category.

What proceeded over the subsequent 30 days, from the Florida Supreme Court to the Supreme Court of the United States, turned the election on its head and made the Sunshine State pretty much the butt of jokes around the globe. The term “hanging chad” went viral as photos of election workers trying to discern the intent of voters who didn’t quite punch all the way through a butterfly ballot spread in the early days of the World Wide Web.

Ultimately, the state’s result and the presidential election itself had to be resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court in its landmark case Bush v. Gore. Subsequently, Congress passed the Help Americans Vote Act, and every state began to develop ways to strengthen its election system to ensure that what happened in Florida in 2000 never happened again.

Fast forward 20-plus years. My daughters are out of college, and one is planning a wedding. I am running a policy think tank, and we are in the middle of recovering from a pandemic we would come to discover most of the world responded poorly to.

Oh, and there was another contested election — but in this case, Florida wasn’t the problem state. Quite the contrary, in fact. As Arizona, Pennsylvania, Georgia and several other states struggled with allegations of vote tampering, disenfranchisement and fraud (charges that would ultimately lead to then-President Donald Trump refusing to concede the election), Florida’s results were 180 degrees from the experience of 2000.

The Sunshine State, with 4 million more registered voters than there were in 2000, went from hanging chad to ironclad. More than 15 million registered voters spread out across two time zones, and diverse voter demographics mirroring the country at large reported election results with efficiency and effectiveness that were a source of envy. By 11 that night, the results of the presidential vote, 27 congressional seats, one U.S. Senate seat, and countless local races were wrapped up and done.

It raises the question: How?

As with most complex policy issues, the answer is a lot of tough work, done year after year, cycle after cycle, completed by governors, legislatures, secretaries of state, election supervisors and stakeholder groups.

Florida’s conservatives focused on outcomes rather than intentions and enacted reforms over those two decades that bore fruit. These included shifting away from confusing ballot formats and adopting a uniform ballot form, with electronic tabulation coupled with a hard copy record for auditing purposes.

In addition, inspection and audit of voting machines are performed every cycle to ensure that votes are not misread. Florida policymakers implemented voter ID requirements to ensure nonresidents were not illegally casting ballots. While the state shifted to expand its early and mail-in vote options, it also implemented review and curing protocols to validate every vote cast outside the traditional voting day process.

Regarding early and mail-in votes, the state now conducts pre-canvassing before Election Day — registering and tabulating all votes cast prior to Election Day. The result is that when polls close on election night, those results are ready to report (while other states take days to report on absentee and early votes).

In recent years, policymakers have also enacted reforms to secure drop boxes, make ballot harvesting a felony, require regular cleanup of local voter databases, and ban third-party grants to election officials. These are all policies designed to make it (borrowing a phrase) easy to vote and hard to cheat.

While the radical left claims (in a patronizingly racist way) that any method of election security is tantamount to a poll tax and the reimposition of Jim Crow laws, Florida’s path proves without dispute that reality is the opposite. Between 2000 and 2020, not only did Hispanic and African American voter turnout increase in Florida, but it also increased at a rate faster than White voter turnout.

Is Florida’s election system beyond improvement? By no means. Some view the early vote process as too generous and open to fraud, while others assert the need for additional curation of mail-in votes. Securing the integrity of elections will never be a static issue. It will require constant vigilance by policymakers and local officials.

My daughters have no memory of the 2000 Florida election debacle. My memory, however, is vivid. My biggest takeaway is this: Florida’s election system proves that while the left wants to judge policies by their intentions, conservatives rightly judge them by their results.

Originally found in The Washington Times.