On assignment for TIME magazine during the electoral crisis in late 2000, I watched in detail as the Florida election officials used an array of tactics to discount votes to ensure that George W. Bush would win the election. The winning candidate’s brother, Governor Jeb Bush, and his Secretary of State Katherine Harris, blocked any manual recount of the votes, despite evidence of widespread machine error and other irregularities in the voting process.
Weeks of legal wrangling over whether to recount the “undervotes” (ballots on which the voter’s mark was hard to see) obscured the central drama. Electoral officials in several Florida counties had discarded over 100,000 ballots as “overvotes” (ballots on which the voters had apparently voted for more than one candidate). Disproportionate numbers of these rejected “overvote” ballots came from majority Democratic precincts, with predominantly African-American populations. Many African-American voters felt disenfranchised, while backers of Bush argued that Democrats were just “sore losers.”
These photographs do not prove a thing. Instead, they depict the atmosphere of distrust, bitter partisanship and racial tension that pervaded the Florida recount crisis.