of the unnoticed after-effects of the terrorist attacks in New York
and Washington has been a delay in the planned release of the last
and largest media recount of presidential election
returns in Florida. Though it seems strange to contemplate today,
as George W. Bush goes about his business as commander in chief,
under different circumstances this week would likely have seen a
high-profile attempt to renew the question of his legitimacy as
events of September 11, editors at a consortium of blue-chip news
organizations the New York Times, Washington Post,
Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, CNN, and others
were in the final stages of work on their analysis of voting in
Florida's 67 counties. "We were pretty much homing in [on publication],"
says Dan Keating, who is running the project for the Washington
Post. Now, the work is on hold, with the newspapers and networks
hanging on to the story until a better time. "At this point,
I think it's safe to say that this is not what the world is focused
on," Keating says.
happens in coming weeks, the news organizations will have to fight
the overwhelming sense that the story, in which they invested hundreds
of thousands of dollars, is so...over. The country is facing
an unprecedented crisis, Bush is president, buoyed by wartime approval
ratings of 80-plus percent, and Al Gore has all but disappeared
from the national scene. If anyone other than Democratic National
Committee chief Terry McAuliffe and the editors of the New York
Times are interested in the issue of hanging chads, they are
not saying so.
It's not the
outcome originally envisioned for the project, which was born in
the heat of the election controversy and scheduled for completion
several months ago. "There was some thought that it would only
take ten weeks to wrap it up," says Julie Antelman, a spokeswoman
for the National Opinion Research Center, which was hired by the
consortium to do the actual vote counting. "But once it started
it became obvious that that couldn't happen."
That's an understatement.
Even though NORC assigned 153 "coders" vote counters
to the project, the ballot analysis dragged on and on. There
were problems getting access to the ballots. There were problems
devising the best system for categorizing clues to voters' intent
in ballots rejected during the original count. And as the "coding"
went on, other media recounts, including the Miami Herald
count that perhaps best reproduced actual conditions at the time
of the election, showed that Bush would have won Florida under almost
every conceivable scenario.
the fact that the big-media recount has taken so long it
is now more than ten months after Election Day indicates
that the mantra of "count every vote," whatever it might
have meant to Gore's supporters, was not a practical possibility
at the time of the election. Would Democrats prefer that the count
still be going on today? The delays in the media recount are another
indication that the vote counting that was done at the time, under
the rules in place at the time, was the best indicator of who actually
All of that,
together with the overwhelming events of the moment, make it likely
that we won't see any front-page recount stories anytime soon. The
news organizations are stuck with a very expensive story that has
become a relic of an earlier time. The world has changed, and they
are struggling with the realization that their meticulous inspection
of hanging chads simply doesn't matter anymore.