A Clear Winner
As difficult as it might be to understand, there was never a dispute about which candidate had more votes. The official results were posted the following morning (Wednesday, November 8) with George Bush as the clear winner by a margin of just 1,784.
You might be wondering how I can say "clear winner". After all, we were told repeatedly that the election was "Too close to call". The answer, of course, is obvious. One of the candidates (Bush) received more votes than the other (Gore). It does not matter how many votes the winning candidate receives over the loser. If it is one vote, or a million votes, the result is the same.
Unfortunately the Gore team and the media thought otherwise. They immediately began conditioning the public with talk of "anomalies". They began using the phrase "too close to call". (Notice that William Daley used the phrase in his "our campaign continues" speech.) This was a critical step in Gore's quest to preserve the election. It would blur the victory of candidate Bush. After a night of confusion and false information coming from networks, the election results appeared tenuous at best. Bush was not granted his due victory and celebration.
In the morning of November 8, county officials received instructions to conduct the state mandated recount (known as the "automatic recount"). This was required under Florida law because Bush's victory was so small, within one half percent. Counties began the re-tabulation process.
What exactly was to be expected from the automatic recount? Would the results have changed enough to give Gore the victory? Maybe, but this was unlikely. Recounts generally uphold the original findings. Ballots are fed through the same tabulation machines and therefore one can generally expect the results to be the same. (Ultimately this proved to be true. George Bush won the automatic recount, affirming his victory.)
Gore needed fresh votes, not a recount of those he already received! The only way to achieve this was to implement a different tabulation process, one that would convert disqualified ballots into newly found votes. He needed manual tabulation.
Manual tabulation is the process of examining ballots with the naked eye in order to determine the intent of the voter. This eliminates the strict uniform standards of a machine. It allows for subjectivity, where even the slightest marking could be interpreted as a vote. This was Gore's only hope.
Before counties could finish the automatic recount, on Thursday, November 9, Al Gore submitted a request for a manual re-tabulation in four counties. Without surprise, three of the counties were his strongest. Palm Beach, Miami-Dade, and Broward are overwhelmingly Democrat. They have among the highest number of voters. This would increase his chances of finding votes. He was not about to request a manual recount of Bush's strongest counties, such as Duval.
Al Gore needed to find new votes. He need to prevent the normal re-tabulation process. He needed manual tabulation in Democrat counties. The election of George W. Bush was to be reversed and the legal game was underway.