Spotlight to shine on Florida, but will it be brighter than 2000 election?

President-elect Bush meets with Vice President Gore at Gore's official residence in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2000. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) (J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE, Copyright 2000 AP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The state of Florida always gains the attention of voters during an election cycle. But the national attention has perhaps never been higher for the Sunshine State during an election than in the year 2000.

During the general election in 2000, News4Jax political analyst Rick Mullaney was General Counsel for Jacksonville, so he was the attorney for the Duval County canvassing board, and he was on the canvassing board.

“2000 was a unique set of circumstances that brought about something that was very dramatic, very unique and unforgettable really with the 36-day recount,” Mullaney said.

The entire country watched when Florida’s vote was so close that the nation did not know for sure who won the presidential election.

Was it Al Gore -- or George W. Bush?

FILE - This Nov. 8, 2000 file photo shows Orlando Sentinel election night headlines The first headline was, "Oh, so close," followed by "IT'S BUSH," then "IS IT BUSH?" and lastly "CONTESTED." The presidential election is still undecided while the nation waits for Florida's final vote count. The mere mention of the 2000 election unsettles people in Palm Beach County. The county’s poorly designed “butterfly ballot” confused thousands of voters, arguably costing Democrat Al Gore the state, and thereby the presidency. Gore won the national popular vote by more than a half-million ballots. But George W. Bush became president after the Supreme Court decided, 5-4, to halt further Florida recounts, more than a month after Election Day. Bush carried the state by 537 votes, enough for an Electoral College edge, and the White House. (AP Photo/Peter Cosgrove, File) (Copyright 2000 AP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

“If you go back in time to 20 years ago, because of the ballot design, because of the closeness of Florida with over 6 million ballots cast because we’re only 500 votes apart, it led to a 36 day recount that is unlike anything in U.S. history," Mullaney said.

Mullaney says many people point to changes now that wouldn’t allow the same thing to happen in 2020. Technology replaced the hole punch system, so there are no hanging chads.

But, thousands of ballots were thrown out as either undervotes, with no one chosen, or overvotes, where more than one candidate was selected.

Twenty years ago, Florida became ground zero for one of the most contentious and drawn out presidential elections in American history. News4JAX political analyst Rick Mullaney was there, in the middle of history happening, and explains why it won't happen like that again this year.

Mullaney says many people point to ex-Congresswoman Corrine Brown, a Jacksonville Democrat, as a key in electing Bush, the Republican. A Libertarian candidate named Harry Browne was on the two-page ballot.

“And, of course, Congresswoman Brown herself had said make sure to vote for Brown and vote every page,” Mullaney said. “And if you follow those instructions, it was an overvote and it got thrown out. We had over 22,000 votes thrown out.”

Mullaney continued, “Remember this: There was only a 500 vote difference. So most people believe of those 22,000 ballots that were thrown out, the majority would have gone for Al Gore and that would have changed the course of the election in Florida, and change who became president of the United States."

The political analyst pointed out two major takeaways from the 2000 election: The vote count turned out to be accurate, and Bush -- by a very slim margin -- actually did have more votes cast for him.

The other point is that among the ballots that were thrown out, they disproportionately favored Gore.

Counting the vote

By 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, elections supervisors will post the results for the 9 million votes already cast. But as we learned in 2000, Election Day isn’t the end.

“There are no winners on Election Night. I don’t care what the media says. The winners are determined once we’ve counted all the votes. And it takes a lot of time to count all the votes,” said Mark Earley, vice president of the Florida Supervisors of Elections.

Nationwide, half of the states allow mail ballots to arrive after election day. Florida does not.

Totals for recounts in races separated by less than a half of a percent aren't due until nine days after the election.

Monday began with 1.3 million mail ballots still outstanding and thousands of those mail ballots were being delivered to drop boxes across the state throughout the day.

“Anything we get late in the day on Election Day, likely, we will not have a chance to get all of the signatures verified for that, so those will be in process and we’ll get to those either on Wednesday or Thursday after the election,” said Earley.

Voters with spoiled mail ballots have until 5 p.m. Thursday to fix a bad signature or another problem.

More than 103,000 mail ballots were sent to military stateside and overseas.

Totals for how many have been returned are unknown.

“If they come in, they’ve got up until ten days for us to receive their ballot,” said Earley.

Totals for recounts in races separated by less than a half of percent aren’t due until nine days after the election.

Final results aren’t due from the counties until Nov. 15 and Florida won’t officially certify the results until Nov. 17.

About the Authors:

Kent Justice co-anchors News4Jax's 5 p.m., 10 and 11 p.m. newscasts weeknights and reports on government and politics. He also hosts "This Week in Jacksonville," Channel 4's hot topics and politics public affairs show each Sunday morning at 9 a.m.