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Too Close to Call    by Jeffrey Toobin order for
Too Close to Call
by Jeffrey Toobin
Order:  USA  Can
Random House, 2001 (2001)

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* * *   Reviewed by David Pitt

For those of you with terrifically short memories, the presidential election of 2000 was one of the closest elections in American history. If you listened to the television networks on election night, it was clear that nobody had a clue who won, Bush or Gore, even though everyone had some sort of opinion.

Ultimately, no one won the election: Gore conceded, more than a month after the polls closed. Nearly fifty-one percent of people voted for Gore; he received the second-highest number of votes in history (Ronald Reagan received the most, in 1984). If you look at the total number of votes cast around the country, Gore beat Bush, by slightly more than 540,000 votes. Everything seems straightforward enough, until you look at Florida, where large numbers of people apparently found the ballot too tricky - where, it seems, large numbers of people accidentally voted for the wrong candidates. There was so much confusion, in fact, that it seemed the only thing to do was scrap the entire Florida voting totals and start counting them all over again.

You wouldn't think a book about the laborious, tedious process of recounting an election would be spellbinding, but this one is. Toobin, who's written books about the O.J Simpson trial and the Monica Lewinsky scandal, has a knack for finding little nuggets of drama and anchoring his story to those. Check out, for example, the way he turns Gore's near-concession on election night into a race-against-time scene that would play fine on the big screen. Similarly, when the initial recounts narrow the Bush-Gore margin in 327 votes (out of about six million cast), we're rather shocked to discover we're gnawing on our knuckles a little.

It seems that every time somebody looked crosswise at the votes, or even in their general direction, Gore's numbers rose a little. Right until the very end, until the U.S. Supreme Court said enough is enough, get on with it, until Gore finally did concede the election, it looked like Gore might win. It was that close. It was that confusing.

Toobin does an excellent job of cutting through the confusion - not simplifying it, not dumbing it down, just smoothing it out - and demonstrating that all the talk about chads and dimples and caterpillar ballots and butterfly ballots might have been funny to listen to, but it was deadly serious stuff to at least two men, one of whom became president without, really, winning a presidential election. Toobin has done such a good job here that there is no need for anyone else to write a book about the Florida recount (we're not kidding here - one is plenty, guys).

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