Everyone thought Monica was Bill Clinton's problem. But she might have cost Al Gore the presidency instead.
Monica Moorehead -- an obscure socialist running as the Workers World Party candidate -- nullified precious votes for Gore because of a fundamental design flaw on Florida ballots that divided the 10 presidential candidates into two columns.
In 13 of 15 Florida counties examined by the Orlando Sentinel, Moorehead was listed in the second column of the ballot along with Constitutional Party candidate Howard Phillips. In a 14th county, Gulf, she was by herself.
In all, 2,416 confused voters, viewing the ballot like a Chinese menu, picked Al Gore in column A and Moorehead or Phillips in column B -- disqualifying their ballots as "overvotes" for more than one candidate.
Far fewer Bush voters -- 1,852 -- made the same mistake.
So if only the first-column votes had been cast and counted, the invalidated ballots would have gained Gore a net 564 votes in those 15 counties. He lost the entire state, and thus the presidency, by only a 537-vote margin.
The split-column design caused voters to invalidate their own ballots, much as the punch-card "butterfly" ballot did in Palm Beach County.
That design was prompted by outdated ballot requirements, an unprecedented number of presidential candidates and confusion between the Florida secretary of state's office, county election supervisors and the ballot's designers.
In the first test since voters made it easier in 1998 for presidential candidates to get on the ballot, Florida learned a painful lesson about ballot design that other states discovered long ago: never split candidates into two columns.
"That's just something experience has taught us you don't do. You don't split them by page or by column, because you are inviting overvotes when you do that," said John Pearson, senior assistant director for elections in Washington state.
Just as the Palm Beach "butterfly" ballot produced "Jews for Buchanan" -- elderly Palm Beach County Jews who mistakenly wound up voting for a candidate criticized as anti-Semitic -- the two-column "Monica ballot" produced "conservatives for socialism." In 10 predominantly white North Florida counties, 264 people voted for both Bush and Moorehead -- a 48-year-old black atheist whose New York-based party "stands for revolutionary struggle of the workers and all oppressed people against this rotten capitalist system."
The various combinations of double-votes in which Bush or Gore was coupled with Phillips or Moorehead caused 3,567 ballots to be rejected in the 14 counties with the split ballot. That accounted for nearly a third of all the spoiled votes in those counties.
By contrast, in Lake County -- the only one of the 15 counties where all 10 candidates appear in one column -- that same combination of double-votes totaled only 71, or 2 percent of the county's 3,155 overvoted ballots. For all the havoc they caused in the small counties in the Sentinel study, the two candidates together received just more than 3,000 valid votes statewide.
The genesis of the flawed, split-column ballot goes back to 1998, when voters approved a constitutional amendment that made it easier for third-party presidential candidates to get on the ballot. The only requirements now: register the political party with the state, hold a national nominating convention and submit a slate of 25 electors.
Before 1998, minor-party candidates had to pay a fee and get petitions signed by 3 percent of the state's voters. Republican and Democratic candidates had to do only one or the other, a major reason why there were only four presidential candidates on the 1996 ballot.
The flood of candidates in 2000 caught election supervisors by surprise. Many of the rules followed by the supervisors and the company that designed their ballots were based on laws designed for no more than four presidential candidates and old-fashioned paper ballots. Everything from the size of type to the layout of the ballot is based on laws written for a time when voters marked their ballots and stuffed them into boxes.
The Florida Division of Elections, part of Secretary of State Katherine Harris' office, didn't anticipate the problems of splitting the long list of presidential candidates into two columns. The division sent a "sample ballot" to the 67 elections supervisors Sept. 26 with the presidential race divided into two columns. The sample ballot is only a guide; Harris' office lacks the power to order election supervisors how to configure their ballots, said Ed Kast, the division's assistant director.
"I can tell you Katherine Harris didn't see the sample ballot," Kast said. "When it comes to their layout, it's up to them."
But the company that designed the "Monica ballot" said many of the election supervisors accepted the state's sample "pretty much as gospel." Austin, Texas-based Hart InterCivic said it followed the format sent out by Harris' office when it designed the ballot for 12 Florida counties. No county supervisor, who has final approval over the form, rejected the design, Hart said.
Election supervisors said they didn't realize the two columns of candidates would be a problem for voters until election night, when questions by voters alerted poll workers that the ballot was confusing.
"At the time, I didn't see it to be that big of a confusion," said Liberty County Elections Supervisor Marcia Wood. "Our poll watchers saw what was happening and took the initiative to explain to them: It's one race; vote for one person in this race."
Bradford County Elections Supervisor Terry Vaughan said he asked Hart during a pre-election ballot review about putting "go to next column" at the bottom of the first column, but he said both parties agreed it might only confuse voters.
Both Hart and the election supervisors contend that the split-column ballot was unavoidable because of the number of candidates, copyrighted ballot design requiring that voting instructions appear in the first column, laws mandating type size and readability concerns.
"There wasn't any way to get that many candidates into a single column," said Jerry Meadows, Hart senior vice president.
But in Lake County, Assistant Elections Supervisor Jerry Foster proved it could be done. Using the office word-processing system, Foster cut and pasted up a ballot that fit all 10 candidates, and the write-in candidate space, in one column. He did it primarily by condensing voter instructions.
"It looks better and seems clearer in one column," Foster said. "That's just the way we've done it."
Hart officials would not comment on Lake County's ballot but contend that their ballot met the letter of the law.
Election officials in Colorado or Washington -- two other states that also had 10 presidential candidates -- didn't have a problem fitting all the candidates into one column, even though they use the same voting tabulation machines and the same 8.5-by-14-inch ballots as the 15 Florida counties. Election supervisors in those states said it's a cardinal sin to split candidates into two columns.
ES&S, the maker of the voting machines, said that keeping candidates to a single column is not only possible, but necessary. ES&S also designs ballots for its voting machines.
"We did not break any listing of candidates from one column to the next. That's kind of a traditional thing you try to avoid at all costs," said Todd Urosevich, vice president of customer service for ES&S in Omaha, Neb.
But in Washington, ballot planners are allowed by the state to use abbreviations for the political parties, which saves space on the ballot. Washington also has no type-size requirements, although election supervisors there say anything less than 10-point type -- the requirement in Florida -- is difficult for voters to read. The lack of type-size requirements, however, allows more leeway in fitting everything into a single column.
Washington and Colorado fit all 10 candidates into a single column by making the party labels small enough to fit beside candidates' names. On the "Monica ballots," party affiliations are in type as large as the candidates' names, forcing them to take up an extra line.
Colorado also does not have a space for write-in candidates -- which both saves space and avoids confusion. On thousands of discarded Florida presidential ballots, voters wrote in the names of candidates listed elsewhere on the ballot.
In fact, Florida laws make the state's ballots overly complicated and confusing, said literacy expert Timothy Shanahan, who found a host of problems with the "Monica ballot."
"Quite often these are the consequences of people who were trying to get things right, but put up barriers they don't necessarily intend," said Shanahan, director of the Center for Literacy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Splitting the list of presidential candidates into two columns was an attempt to make the ballot easy for voters to read, but the changes blew up in election officials' faces when it ended up confusing thousands of Florida voters.
"If I was going to use a new format in an election, a presidential election wouldn't be the election I would try it out in," said Anna Williams, elections supervisor in Kittitas County, Wash. "You have to test it out on people who aren't familiar with the process."
Based on this year's problems with the split-column ballots, voters may need more instruction in the future when faced with a long list of presidential candidates, Okeechobee Elections Supervisor Gwen Chandler said: "I think they have to hear a voice saying, 'Hey, there are 10 people on the ballot. Make sure you vote for one.' "
And the crowded ballot, along with the obstacles it presents for voters and ballot designers, may be a permanent fixture in Florida.
State elections official Kast said he fears there may be even more candidates on the 2004 presidential ballot: "I don't even want to think about it."
Megan O'Matz of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel contributed to this report. Jeff Kunerth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5392. Jim Leusner can be reached at 407-420-5411 or email@example.com.Copyright © 2015, CT Now