we conclude as a matter of law that the Palm Beach County ballot does not constitute substantial noncompliance with the statutory requirements mandating the voiding of the election.” 23 The court's contorted double negative suggested that the ballot had some defects but not enough to trigger a legal challenge. Because the ballot was legal, Judge Labarga's ruling on the remedy was not necessary and was vacated. In the end, the Palm Beach County butterfly ballot case foundered on the unwillingness of the Florida Supreme Court to find the ballot defective, as a matter of law, and not on their likely reluctance to recommend a revote.
Did we accomplish anything? Legally nothing was accomplished. But practically our efforts, along with those of others, were the first step in a national civics lesson about the inadequacies of our voting and vote counting systems. Our work clearly showed that the butterfly ballot cost Al Gore thousands of votes, more than enough for him to have won Florida and the presidency. We made our case through the Internet to academics around the country. Our results were reported widely through the media, and the butterfly ballot itself now serves as a catchphrase for bad design.
The Palm Beach butterfly ballot story reads like a classic case of conservative jurisprudence recoiling from trying to right wrongs that vex the human condition. Anyone can see that the standard for calling a ballot defective must be very high and that revotes should be seldom employed, especially in presidential elections where the Humpty Dumpty of third-party preferences cannot be put back together after the initial vote.
All this would seem more palatable to us if the ultimate outcome of the Florida election follies had not been a 5–4 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court that used the Equal Protection Clause and arcane aspects of the Electoral College to justify the abandonment of a statewide recount. But if equal protection mattered so much for the statewide recount, why did it not matter for the citizens of Palm Beach County? And why did it not matter for those citizens who had to use punch-card systems whose error rates are at least five times greater than optical scanning machines used in other counties? 24