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web posted November 19, 2001

Vote review: Bush would have won Florida

A vote-by-vote review of untallied ballots in the 2000 Florida presidential election indicates George W. Bush would have narrowly prevailed in the partial recounts sought by Al Gore, but Gore might have reversed the outcome — by the barest of margins — had he pursued and gained a complete statewide recount.

Bush eventually won Florida, and thus the White House, by 537 votes out of more than 6 million cast. But questions about the uncounted votes lingered.

Almost a year after that cliffhanger conclusion, a media-sponsored review of the more than 175,000 disputed ballots underscored that the prize of the U.S. presidency came down to an almost unimaginably small number of votes.

The new data, compiled by The Associated Press and seven other news organizations, also suggested that Gore followed a legal strategy after Election Day that would have led to defeat even if it had not been rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court. Gore sought a recount of a relatively small portion of the state's disputed ballots while the review indicates his only chance lay in a course he advocated publicly but did not pursue in court — a full statewide recount of all Florida's untallied votes.

"We are a nation of laws and the presidential election of 2000 is over," Gore said November 11 in a prepared statement. "Right now, our country faces a great challenge as we seek to successfully combat terrorism. I fully support President Bush's efforts to achieve that goal.

Said Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer: "The election was settled a year ago, President Bush won and the voters have long since moved on."

Against the backdrop of the disputed Nov. 7, 2000, election, the news organizations set out earlier this year to examine as many as possible of the ballots set aside as either undervotes or overvotes. Undervotes involved about 62,000 ballots where voting machines were unable to detect a choice for any presidential candidate, while about 113,000 overvotes were read by machines as possibly containing more than one choice.

The goal of the news organizations was not to learn who really "won" Florida; the Electoral College already had determined Bush was the winner following a U.S. Supreme Court decision that ended further counting and led to Gore's concession. The aim was to provide a valuable historical record by thoroughly assessing tens of thousands of ballots that no one had fully examined.

Much of the legal wrangling focused on how votes were defined, and the ballot review did, too, calculating results under different standards — for example, whether to count as votes "hanging chads" on punch-card ballots or ballots marked with an "X" instead of the required filled-in oval on optical scan ballots.

Completing two partial recounts that Gore unsuccessfully pursued in court showed Bush maintaining a lead ranging between 225 and 493 votes — meaning Bush still would have won if the U.S. Supreme Court had allowed a partial statewide recount to continue.

Under any standard that tabulated all disputed votes statewide, however, Gore erased Bush's advantage and emerged with a tiny lead that ranged from 42 to 171 votes.

Strikingly, all these outcomes were closer than even the narrow 537 votes of Bush's official victory. With numbers that tiny, experts said it would be impossible to interpret the survey results as definitive.

Under the most inclusive standards, the study showed up to 24,653 potentially salvageable overvotes and undervotes among the 12 presidential candidates who ran in Florida.

The Florida election review was developed by the AP, CNN, The New York Times, The Palm Beach Post, The St. Petersburg Times, Tribune Publishing, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. Tribune newspapers include the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Newsday, the Orlando Sentinel and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in Ft. Lauderdale.

This media consortium hired the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago to view each untallied ballot and gather information about how it was marked. Founded in 1941, the center is a not-for-profit corporation whose charter is to advance the methodology of public opinion surveys and provide accurate survey data.

The consortium used computers to sort and tabulate votes, based on varying scenarios that had been raised during the postelection scramble in Florida. County election officials made the ballots available to NORC under state and local laws.

A NORC supervisor said county officials sometimes had difficulties identifying the exact ballots that went untallied on Election Day. Because of that, along with the possibility that ballot observers mistook some data in such a mammoth tabulation, it would be impossible to guarantee which candidate prevailed if the margins were within a few hundred votes, he said.

"As that differential between the two candidates becomes smaller and smaller, there's the potential that the inherent variability in the data could be larger than that minimal difference," said Kirk Wolter, senior vice president for statistics and methodology who helped supervise the project for NORC. Wolter spoke before the results were known.

As President Bush and the nation address a host of new concerns after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, those who once were embroiled in the Florida political contest — on either side — had little reaction.

Bush would not comment directly, Fleischer said, adding: "It's over."

"You've got to accept it, put the bitterness aside and move ahead," a key adviser to Gore, Carter Eskew, said. He added, however, that the results backed up the conviction of Democrats that their man had won.

Florida's election saw 6.1 million votes cast, and county figures suggest that more than 176,000 ballots, or 2.9 percent, never made it into the certified totals.

That percentage is not unusual and likely would have attracted little attention but for the closeness of the outcome. Nationwide last year, about 2 percent of ballots were disqualified. Some states were far higher: Illinois with 3.9 percent, Georgia 3.5 percent, South Carolina 3.4 percent of votes untallied for a variety of reasons.

Hong Kong rated world's freest economy

China's entry into the World Trade Organization may be challenging Hong Kong's traditional role as a go-between for the mainland, but the city remains the world's freest economy, according to a survey released November 12.

It was the eighth straight year Hong Kong has topped the list compiled by the Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal.

Singapore ranked second, New Zealand third -- and mainland China 121st, down from 114th place last year.

The United States tied for fourth, with Estonia, Ireland, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

"Policy is everything," said Gerald P. O'Driscoll, a co-author of the report. He cited Hong Kong's duty-free ports, its low-cost government, strong property rights and stable rule-of-law as key factors in the survey's findings.

Despite China's acceptance last weekend into the WTO, the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based conservative think-tank, found little change in recent years.

An average tariff rate of 15.7 percent; quotas; import licensing, import substitution and local content policies; restrictive quarantine and certification standards earned China the most negative rating for protectionist trade policies.

A high level of intervention in the economy, restrictions on capital flows and foreign investment, banking and finance and "low levels of protection" for property rights were also cited.

"There hasn't been as much reform in the past couple of years as the Chinese government would like you to believe," O'Driscoll told reporters.

Still, Beijing won praise for a stable monetary policy.

Hong Kong has a high degree of autonomy and its residents enjoy many freedoms not found in the mainland under an arrangement meant to preserve the former British colony's capitalist way of life after it reverted to Chinese rule in 1997.

Critics accuse the government, however, of allowing a handful of tycoons to dominate the local economy.

Though it kept its lead over Singapore, Hong Kong's score slipped slightly this year due to a change in the way the group measured "black market activity" -- mainly described as perceptions of the level of corruption. O'Driscoll characterized the change as insignificant.

Japan's rank plummeted to 35th, from 14th last year, due to slow progress in deregulation, high government spending and the persistence of trade barriers, the survey said.

North Korea ranked last, with the lowest level of freedom in every category.

EU approves Internet eavesdropping in bid to combat terrorism

The European Parliament voted November 13 to allow anti-terrorist investigators to eavesdrop on private data on the Internet and endorsed beefed up police cooperation in hunting down terrorists.

The vote was the first step in a long legislative effort to unify and update data protection legislation in the 15-nation European Union, including for commercial uses. It was approved by 339 votes to 92, with 89 abstentions.

The terrorist attacks of September 11 have raised the stakes in the contentious debate over privacy versus public safety.

U.S. President George Bush asked EU leaders in a confidential letter last month to revise data-protection laws to enable authorities to check e-mail and other Internet communication in probing suspected terrorist cells, European media reported.

The EU's anti-terrorism legislation would permit governments to temporarily restrict the right to privacy and intercept communications for "protection of public security, defense, (and) state security." It could also force Internet service providers to keep data on customers that could then be passed on to police.

Parliament's proposals will now be studied by the 15 member states then sent to the EU legislature in Strasbourg, France, for a second reading. A final vote isn't expected for several months.

Meeting in Strasbourg, the European Parliament overwhelmingly passed two resolutions that same day calling on EU members to beef up national police forces and increase cooperation in hunting down suspected terrorists.

EU justice and home affairs ministers are working on a new anti-terrorist package that is expected to be approved in early December. It would create a European arrest warrant and a standardized extradition procedure.

While agreement was swift on the anti-terrorist measures covering personal data, EU proposals related to business uses of the Internet faced strong lobbying by consumer and industry groups.

The EU measure would extend the strict privacy protection adopted in 1997 against unsolicited phone calls to e-mail, advertisements sent to mobile phones or any other form of "electronic communications."

It would also set rules on the use of "cookies" - files placed by Web sites for identification purposes on Internet users' hard drives. Cookies can tell how often user visits certain sites.

Under the EU bill, companies would be restricted in how they can use cookies - and can only hold onto user data for a limited, though undetermined, amount of time - unless governments request otherwise for security reasons.

Telecommunications companies and Internet providers fear they will be footing the bill for such requests.

"It's helpful ... for law enforcement purposes, but that is not best dealt with in a data protection directive," said Joe McNamee of the European Internet service providers association. His group argues that the current proposal is too vague, especially on time limits for keeping data and on what data police should get access too.

In the United States, privacy advocates lauded the EU's restrictions on data collection on individual Web surfers.

"The EU is proposing to do the right thing with cookies, by requiring affirmative consent before people are tracked," said Jason Catlett, president of Junkbusters Corp., a New Jersey-based group that informs Americans on fending off intrusive marketing.

The EU measure also seeks to restrict unsolicited commercial e-mails, or spam.

The bill diluted attempts to restrict companies from sending mass-mailings to e-mail accounts unless the addressees agreed in advance to receive them - a so-called "opt-in" system. Under the current proposal, individual governments will be able to choose between the opt-in system or the current practice of forcing consumers to indicate they do not want to receive such mass mailings.

Scalia against national ID cards

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said that if Americans were asked to vote on creating a national identification card, he would probably cast his ballot against the idea.

Scalia offered remarks after a speech at the University of Missouri on November 14, expressing skepticism about an ID card and humorously brushing aside a question about whether anthrax jitters had reached the high court after spores were found in its mailroom.

"Piece of cake. We're tough. We have to stand up to press criticism," he said, drawing laughter and applause.

During the question-and-answer session after the speech, Scalia was asked whether a national identification card would violate citizens' privacy rights. He replied that the Fourth Amendment doesn't mention a national ID card.

But he reminded the audience that citizens are always free to propose constitutional amendments.

"If you think it's a bad idea to have an identity card, persuade your fellow citizens" through the amendment process, rather than asking courts to make policy, he said.

If such a popular vote were held on allowing national ID card, "Personally, I'd probably vote against it," Scalia told the audience of about 350.

In New York, an anti-terrorism committee created after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks planned to call for creation of a national ID card system, its chairman said. The Bush administration has yet to take a position on the cards.

Conrad Black, newly appointed to House of Lords, addresses Canada's Fraser Institute

Abandoning his Canadian citizenship was not done as a "ticket to the House of Lords," but because it was an act of dissent against a public policy that deprives Canada of its rightful place as a world leader, Conrad Black said November 15. The newspaper magnate who renounced his Canadian citizenship this summer was giving his first major speech in Canada since he became Lord Black of Crossharbour and earned a place in the House of Lords, the upper chamber of the British Parliament.

"Renouncing my citizenship was much more than a ticket to the House of Lords," Black said in a speech at a luncheon sponsored by the Fraser Institute, a conservative think-tank.

"It was the last and most consistent act of dissent I could pose against a public policy which I believe is depriving Canada of its right and duty to be one of the world's great countries."

Black delivered a lengthy address in which he lamented what he perceived as Canada's inexorable decline.

Earlier, he was awarded the institute's inaugural T. Patrick Boyle Founders Award. The award is in honour of the institute's founder and is given to a person who exemplifies "the mission and philosophy of the institute."

Black said the renunciation of his citizenship was intended to be an "act of patriotism directed against Canadian complacency at being a one-party federal state with no deliverance in sight."

He described Canada, compared to other G-7 countries, as "a plain vanilla place" and told his audience that "most Canadians remain resolutely oblivious to their country's objective decline."

Black suggested Canadians were under a mistaken illusion that their country is held in much higher regard than is the case.

Interspersing an abbreviated biographical sketch of his life and his attempts a making a difference in Canadian public policy with his view of Canadian history over the last several decades, Black had few kind words about his native country.

"Interest in Canada is like Canadian art - it has no market outside the country," he said.

After the Second World War, when "Empire loyalty" began to fade, Canada was left with a "paternalistic, monarchical, and progressive British Tory tradition. . . that a benign state confers good things on the people," he said.

"That tradition became identified in the (former prime minister Pierre) Trudeau era as being simply a more socialistic society than the United States."

Canada's social safety net programs "backfired" when private medicine was abolished, doctors went elsewhere, gun collectors were persecuted and the "wave of social intervention. . . quickly moved well beyond this and became pervasive."

Although Canada's productivity levels steadily lag behind the U.S., and Canadians' standard of living over the past several decades has declined by almost 40 per cent compared to the Americans', Canada has "generally accorded higher social benefits to virtually all categories of employees than the United States."

"Too many of Canada's leaders live in New York and Chicago and Los Angeles and London, which is one of the main reasons why the leaders in Ottawa and Toronto and elsewhere tend to be inadequate."

He said more than four million Canadians have moved to the United States in the past 200 years.

Canada has peace, order and "what most Canadians profess to accept as tolerably good government," but if Canadians were "a little livelier, freer and happier, fewer Canadians would look or move to the United States and elsewhere in pursuit of life, liberty and happiness."

Black, 57, was put forward for a seat in the unelected House of Lords by former Conservative party leader William Hague and his name was included in a list of appointments in 1999.

The Canadian government had initially said it had no objections to Black becoming a lord, provided he didn't use the title in Canada and that he become a British citizen, which he did in June 2000.

But shortly after he was named, Prime Minister Jean Chretien stepped in and invoked a rarely used power blocking the media baron from accepting the lifelong British peerage.

Black filed a lawsuit but lost at the Ontario Court of Appeal earlier this year. He announced he would renounce his Canadian citizenship in May, finally clearing the way for his appointment.

In his speech Thursday, Black said Chretien "deliberately gave false advice" to the Queen that he was ineligible under Canadian law for the peerage.

Although Black had been nominated for the peerage in Britain, he said Chretien used the fact that Black was a dual citizen "and the Queen cannot choose between conflicting advice from two prime ministers." That effectively blocked his appointment, he said.

Contrary to what many people believe, Black said he did not seek the peerage; it was offered.

Left without any recourse, Black described himself as the only "adult, sane, solvent, unincarcerated citizen of the U.K. ineligible for an honour in that country because I was also a citizen of a country with a capricious and antagonistic prime minister."

The chairman and chief executive officer of Hollinger Inc., Black has sold most of his Canadian newspapers, including the National Post - the broadsheet he started three years ago - to CanWest Global Communications.

Black's newspaper interests stretch beyond Britain.

Hollinger is a Black-controlled holding company that through subsidiaries publishes and distributes newspapers and magazines in Britain, the United States, Canada and Israel.

Operating company Hollinger International's papers include London's Daily Telegraph, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Jerusalem Post.

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