Recount: Research inspired by the movie

February 1, 2012

I finally got around to watching the movie Recount last weekend.  It wasn’t until after I finished watching that I realized I had chosen both the week of the just concluded primary in the state of Florida and the week of the 1 month anniversary of the very close vote in Iowa to watch.

The movie, for those who aren’t familiar, is a dramatization of the story of the Rresidential Election recount of 2000 in Florida, which began the day after the election and ended with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98.  The relevant details can be found in the opinion, and in the Florida Supreme Court opinion it overruled, Gore v. Harris, 772 So.2d 1243.

One of the film’s characters points to the oft-derided line in the decision*, which effectively rendered the entire decision non-precedential, and asked whether the court had ever written anything like it before.  I was able to find a few prior cases, and one subsequent case, though it appears the language is more likely to appear in concurrences or dissents.

Search:  consideration decision holding /15 limit! restrict! /15 present current “#before #us” /15 circumstance situation

Result: 24 Documents

Search: le(consideration decision holding /15 limit! restrict! /15 present current “#before #us” /15 circumstance situation)

Result: 9 Documents

The Florida Recount process forced every state to re-examine its election procedures, and a wave of reform legislation followed (for some discussion of this reform, see 73 FDMLR 1711).  Westlaw has a 50 State Survey of current ballot counting laws available at 0050 Surveys 8.   Also, the Reference Attorneys performed a WestCheck report on automatic recount statutes in November 2010. For your own (fairly) comprehensive list of statutes relating to recount procedures, try running pr(election) & sd(recount) in Statutes and Court Rules content. This finds 1832 relevant statutes, but a similar search in a state-specific database would yield a more manageable list.

If you want to learn more about the 2000 Presidential Recount, Westlaw still has the litigation materials in a special database: the database identifier is Preslit-Doc, and it includes numerous petitions and briefs filed by the parties, as well as court orders and oral argument transcripts.  I recommend a reading of the Suprme Court transcript, both for the quality of the arguments and for Joseph Klock’s mildly infamous inability to tell the justices apart.**

*“Our consideration is limited to the present circumstances, for the problem of equal protection in election processes generally presents many complexities.”  531 U.S. at 109.

**For more on this Mr Klock’s footnote in history, as well as a sense of how the litigation was viewed as it was going on, try the following search in allnews: joseph /3 klock /p justice /3 brennan souter.