(This report courtesy of the Media Research Center.)
Fox News Sunday gave air time to the new theory that the false network reports, about how polls had closed in Florida’s Panhandle an hour before they really did, cost George W. Bush thousands of votes. On www.OpinionJournal.com John Fund also explored the subject, relaying testimony from poll workers about how voting tailed off in the last hour and recalling how a then-unknown Florida Secretary of State had implored the networks to not report the polls had closed in Florida when they remained open in the Central Time Zone.
The May 3 Special Report with Brit Hume on FNC ran a short item on the theory as espoused by former White House counsel, C. Boyden Gray.
Fox News Sunday moderator Tony Snow made the idea the lead item in the show’s “Below the Fold” segment:
“Did TV networks create the Florida recount mess? An outfit called the Committee for Honest Politics says yes. It reports that every major network told voters the Florida polls were closed at 7pm eastern time on election night, a full hour before balloting actually ended in Florida’s overwhelmingly Republican Panhandle region. Voting there fell off significantly in the final sixty minutes and Yale economist John Lott estimates the plunge cut George Bush’s lead by at least 7,500. We at Fox committed the error once. Other networks did so more often. Dan Rather and CBS led the parade with 18 direct statements in one hour that the polls had closed and another 15 implying the Florida vote was over.”
Here is an excerpt from John Fund’s May 4 OpinionJournal.com piece in which he cited a Senate hearing in which the topic was raised:
The entire Florida election dispute might have been avoided if the networks hadn't declared the polls were closed in Florida when some 5% of the state, in the Central time zone, was still voting. Since those areas voted 2-to-1 for George W. Bush, the GOP nominee probably lost several thousand votes because citizens thought they couldn't cast ballots….
It’s now well known that all five TV networks and the Associated Press declared Florida for Al Gore at 7:50 p.m. Eastern time, 10 minutes before the polls closed in the panhandle counties. That could not have dissuaded many voters from casting ballots. But far more serious was the announcement by all five networks at 7 p.m. Eastern time that the polls in Florida had closed….
Affidavits from 42 poll workers or inspectors were presented at a hearing chaired by Sens. Fred Thompson and Joe Lieberman yesterday. They all indicated that they saw a decline in the number of voters beginning at 6 p.m. CST, when ordinarily the voting traffic increases. The networks have yet to fully own up to or explain this more serious mistake….
CBS, for example, explicitly stated that the polls had closed in Florida 13 times during the hour while the panhandle counties were open, along with 15 additional implied statements to that effect and frequent visual references to a map showing Florida's polls had closed. All of the networks except of Fox News Channel repeated the contention that Florida's polls were closed throughout the hour that the panhandle precincts remained open.
There is growing evidence that the network poll-closing announcement did lower voter turnout. A survey by pollster John McLaughlin estimated that the early calls by the networks discouraged more than 4% more Republicans than Democrats to go to the polls. Another study, by John Lott of the Yale Law School, estimated the drop-off at 3%. That's a range of 7,500 to 10,000 Republican voters for the two studies.
The Committee for Honest Politics, a GOP-founded watchdog group, estimated that at each of the 361 panhandle polling places, the networks' false information dissuaded 54 people from voting. That would represent a total of 19,133 Floridians who didn't vote. If these voters would have gone 2-to-1 for Mr. Bush, as actual voters in the panhandle did, that means a loss of 6,377 Bush votes — nearly 12 times his official margin of victory.
There's no way of knowing how accurate these estimates are, but the testimony of poll workers and inspectors indicates that something certainly happened after the networks declared Florida's polls closed.
A poll worker in Bay County reported: “Voting was steady all day until 6 p.m. Between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. was very different from past elections. It was very empty. The poll workers thought it was odd. It was like the lights went out.”
A clerk for elections in Okaloosa County: “Soon after 6 p.m., I noticed the volume dropped to almost zero. In past elections, there was usually a rush of people coming from work, trying to get to vote before the polls closed.”
Another clerk for elections in Okaloosa County: “I don't think we had more than five people from 6:15 until we closed at 7 pm. We had averaged 80 voters per hour until the last hour.”
Warren Brown, deputy for elections, Santa Rosa County: “Eight years ago in the presidential election, there were so many people in line that the last voter did not vote until nearly 10:30 p.m. When I went outside at the end of the day to tell people to hurry along, there was no one in the parking lot.”
Barbara Alger, a poll inspector in Escambia County: “The last 40 minutes was almost empty. The poll workers were wondering if there had been a national disaster they didn't know about.”
On Oct. 30, a week before the election, Florida's Secretary of State Katherine Harris issued a statement to the media pointing out that the polls in the Central time zone would be open until 8 p.m. EST. “The last thing we need is to have our citizens in the Central time zone think their vote doesn't count because it certainly does,” she implored the networks. “Waiting until 8 p.m. EST allows all Floridians the opportunity to decide the outcome of races within Florida.”
The networks ignored her….