An exhaustive review of last year's disputed presidential election in Florida indicates that George W. Bush still would have defeated Al Gore even if Mr. Gore had been granted the limited vote recounts he was seeking. Several U.S. news organizations consider the study the final word on the 2000 presidential election.
The study was carried out by a group of news organizations that pooled their resources into an extensive review of more than 175,000 disputed ballots from last November's presidential election in Florida.
The study found that even if Al Gore had won the right to limited recounts in Florida, he still would have lost to Mr. Bush by at least 200 votes. The official results gave Mr. Bush a 537 vote victory.
Dan Keating is with the Washington Post, one of several news organizations that participated in the survey. He told NBC television that a review of disputed ballots where it was hard to tell which candidate the voter preferred did not help the Gore camp as expected.
"And what we found in our study was that, much to everyone's surprise, actually the under-votes benefited George Bush more than Al Gore. So, if just the under-votes had been counted, George Bush still would have won the presidency," he said.
University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato has conducted his own review of the election in Florida. He says the recent terrorist attacks effectively rendered the disputed election as a non-issue for most Americans.
"It's a dead issue. It was over a long time ago in most people's minds, even before September 11. After September 11, this is barely a footnote," he said.
The ballot review did indicate that a statewide recount of all disputed ballots in Florida, something the Gore campaign did not request, could in fact have resulted in a very narrow Gore victory in Florida, giving him the White House.
Analyst Larry Sabato says the review is more good news for President Bush who already enjoys very high approval ratings for his handling of the war on terrorism. "He is an accidental president, but you have to put an emphasis on both parts of that phrase. An accident because more people turned out to vote for Al Gore in Florida than to vote for George Bush," he said. "He is president because more Bush voters correctly finished and completed their ballot. More Gore voters spoiled their ballot."
Professor Sabato also says election officials learned some important lessons from the vote in Florida, lessons that should pay dividends in future elections. "It is very clear that millions of voters do not know how to vote a ballot properly. And second, it is also clear that pieces of the election process need reforming," he said. "We need better machines, we need precinct-based opportunities for people to correct their ballots and so on. And gradually we are addressing these questions and I think the system will be better in 2004 because of what happened in 2000."
Under the sometimes complicated U.S. system, Mr. Gore lost the presidency even though he won about a half-million more votes than Mr. Bush. But a recent Gallup survey indicated that if the election were held today, President Bush would prevail over Mr. Gore by a margin of 61-35 percent.