Three individuals, operating independently, examined each undervote ballot and some of the overvote ballots. However, most of the overvote ballots, which are less subject to different interpretation over their markings, were viewed by one person. The Post's findings are based primarily on results in which two of the three reviewers agreed on the marks on the ballot, deemed a fair standard for discerning what was on the ballot.
The new study differs from an earlier ballot examination by the Miami Herald and USA Today, which did not systematically look at all overvote ballots, instead relying on a computer analysis of those ballots. In that study, one person, usually an accountant, determined marks on individual undervote ballots. A second person also looked at the undervote ballots, but the accountant's coding was always used if they differed. The study concluded that Bush would have won under almost all situations.
All ballot data, along with supplemental surveys and other information gathered by the media group, can be viewed on the NORC Web site.
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The NORC observer teams hired by the consortium did not decide whether the undervote or overvote ballots would have been counted as valid votes in a recount. Instead, they worked independently, using a coding scheme to describe the marks on each ballot under supervision of a NORC team leader.
The study projects possible election outcomes based on different scenarios -- which ballots might have been included in recounts and what marks on those ballots might have been considered as votes.
On ballots from punch-card machines, such as those used in the South Florida counties where Gore asked for recounts, these marks included a dimpled chad, which is the appearance of an indentation, or chad with one or more corners detached.
On ballots from optical scanning machines, the marks included instances where a voter circled or wrote in the candidate's name rather than filling in an oval next to the name on the ballot.
The Post, in conjunction with the other news organizations, reviewed the descriptive codes to apply different standards for determining voter intent and tallied results based on several scenarios that sought to approximate conditions on the ground in Florida.
The three examiners agreed most of the time, but Post analysis of ballot swings caused by disagreement showed more than enough votes to decide the election.
Bush was certified by the Florida election canvassing commission as the winner by 537 votes Nov. 26. That certification came after Gore had asked for recounts in Volusia, Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties. But it included full results from only Volusia and Broward, which met the state's 5 p.m. deadline.
Palm Beach County submitted its final results about two hours past the deadline, but Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris declined to include them. Officials in Miami-Dade halted their recount days earlier, amid GOP-inspired protests, claiming they would not have enough time to meet the state's deadline.
Had all four counties completed their recounts, as requested by Gore, and been included in the state certification, Bush still would have been declared the winner, but by just 225 votes, according to the analysis by The Post and other news organizations.
The Florida Supreme Court's Dec. 8 order for a statewide manual recount of all undervote ballots also would have resulted in Bush as the winner, the study found. Gore's team protested when the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 9 agreed to the Bush campaign's request for a stay, halting that recount in midstream. But the study found that a count of all undervotes in the state would have left Bush ahead of Gore by 430 votes.
Some counties ignored the state Supreme Court order that weekend and refused to conduct manual recounts. Other counties included undervote and overvote ballots in their recounts. The media consortium surveyed the counties to determine what standards they were using. On the basis of those standards -- the closest approximation possible to what was happening that weekend -- the Post study found that, if the court had not intervened to stop the counting, Bush would have won by 493 votes.
But the results in Florida and, therefore, in the presidential election might have been different had the 67 counties been ordered to proceed with a manual recount of all undervotes and overvotes.