Scare tactics: effective, but expensive
In terms of raw political cunning, one must hand it to the Gore campaign. The stratagem the Gore folks pulled off in Palm Beach County just as the polls closed on November 7, 2000, has to go down in the annals of politics as one of the shrewdest maneuvers yet.
The Gore campaign felt the winning of Florida’s 25 Electoral College votes would be crucial to the outcome of the presidential race. When it appeared that Florida was going for Bush, the Gore folks decided it was time to put a well-planned telemarketing campaign into action.
Earlier, the Gore campaign hired TeleQuest®, a telemarketing firm, to write a script designed to be phoned to a pre-selected list of Palm Beach senior citizens. According to Wade Scott, a TeleQuest® account manager, TeleQuest® made 5,000 phone calls in 45 minutes.
That kind of effort requires a great deal of advance planning, script-writing, voter targeting, an Army of telemarketers and a lot of money. Here is a verbatim copy of what the Gore campaign paid TeleQuest® to phone to 5,000 seniors in Palm Beach County:
“Some voters have encountered a problem today with punch card ballots in Palm Beach County. These voters have said that they believe that they accidentally punched the wrong hole for the incorrect candidate.
“If you’ve already voted and think you may have punched the wrong hole for the incorrect candidate, you should return to the polls and request that the election officials write down your name so that this problem can be fixed.”
All-too-often senior citizens are easy prey for slick telemarketers and a number of Palm Beachers fell for this scam. TV crews were alerted to where they could find senior citizens who had received the TeleQuest® calls so their anguished faces could be flashed on TV screens across America.
A few days later, some anonymous person (presumably, a Republican) found humor even in the foulest of political circumstances by posting the following on the Internet:
“Subject: Good News – I’m going to be Rich
I wanted you to know that my fortune is pending. Last week, I purchased a lottery ticket for the Florida Lotto. I was very disappointed to discover that the numbers I had on the ticket were not the winning numbers. In fact, no one picked the winning numbers, and no winner was declared.
“However, I discovered that the numbers for the winning ticket were, indeed, the numbers that I wished to pick. Somehow, I got confused by the selection process, and inadvertently picked different numbers from the ones I wanted. Had I picked the numbers I wanted, I would have won the lottery.
I have asked my lawyer to intervene on my behalf. He’s going to find a judge who agrees with us (no matter how many tries it takes) and ask him to order the State of Florida to give me the opportunity to re-pick my numbers. Once I have the opportunity, I will select the numbers from the winning ticket and claim my rightful prize. And, you can be proud that you know me, an upstanding, honest citizen of Florida and the United States of America.”
Seriously, there are much less expensive ways than a telemarketing blitz to alter the outcome of an election. For example, five citizens of Palm Beach County filed sworn affidavits that they observed election commissioner, Carol Roberts, deliberately altering ballots during the hand recount to make them favor fellow Democrat, Al Gore. Also, in Palm Beach County, the police confiscated a ballot-box machine, known as a “Votamatic,” from the car of, Irving Slosberg, another local Democrat. The machine punches holes through ballot cards. Denise Cote, a Palm Beach official, reports the machine had to be taken from a voting booth.
So, when you have election helpers like Ms. Roberts and Mr. Slosberg, it seems rather dumb to hire TeleQuest® to upset senior citizens who have already voted.
William Hamilton is a nationally syndicated columnist and a featured commentator for USA Today.