I did not follow the events of the 2000 presidential election in Florida the way I have the 2008 race, so I was happy that I could catch up on the subject while on the plane to Seattle with the movie Recount. Three weeks later, I watched it again.
The movie, written by Danny Strong and directed by Jay Roach, documents the legal struggle of Al Gore’s team, including the hand recounting of the ballots, all the way to the official result: George W. Bush winning the state by 527 votes, thus securing his first term.
The appeal of the movie is coming mostly from outside of the film making: from knowing you are watching a reconstruction of real events, and the awareness of the inevitable and—with Bush’s approval rating dropping to 25%Two Gallup polls conducted in October had Bush’s approval rating at 25%, with the margin of error 3%.—for many people in retrospect, almost tragic ending. But there are also problems: The movie is partisan in its portrayal of heroes and villains (although Katherine Harris was thwarting the recounts, her characterization borders on caricature), and it is selective in its facts. Comparing this to the 9/11 hijacking drama United 93 shows how a balanced and understated approach would have been more powerful.
Even so, Recount gives a fascinating look behind the scenes of the campaigns, and explores real issues such as the confusing ‘butterfly ballot’ or expanded felon lists excluding legitimate voters. This makes the movie’s frustrated line, “Who won this [expletive] election?!” unanswerable on a higher level because these irreparable problems cannot be resolved by hand counting to try and discern the intent where machines fail.
The movie is well worth watching, if only to remind oneself how fragile the whole voting process and standards are. George W. Bush has not significantly changed his course. Was it possible for those 75% Americans now unhappy with his presidency to foresee at least some of this in 2000? I think so. The answer is in a simple reminder which is made as frequently as it is ignored. It is also part of the lighthearted Swing Vote I was watching on my way back: People must start focusing on the issues again, and not on the quantity of emotional TV ads, and demand the same from the candidates.