Al Gore, not George Bush, should be sitting in the White House today as the newly elected president of the United States, two new independent probes of the disputed Florida election contest have confirmed.
The first survey, conducted on behalf of the Washington Post, shows that Mr Gore had a nearly three-to-one majority among 56,000 Florida voters whose November 7 ballot papers were discounted because they contained more than one punched hole.
The second and separate survey, conducted on behalf of the Palm Beach Post, shows that Mr Gore had a majority of 682 votes among the discounted "dimpled" ballots in Palm Beach county.
In each case, if the newly examined votes had been allowed to count in the November election, Mr Gore would have won Florida's 21 electoral college votes by a narrow majority and he, not Mr Bush, would be the president. Instead, Mr Bush officially carried Florida by 537 votes after recounts were stopped.
In spite of the findings, no legal challenge to the Florida result is possible in the light of the US supreme court's 5-4 ruling in December to hand the state to Mr Bush. But the revelations will continue to cast a cloud, to put it mildly, over the democratic legitimacy of Mr Bush's election.
Some 56,000 so-called "overvotes" were examined in the Washington Post survey. All of these ballot papers were ruled to be invalid votes on November 7 because they contained two or more punched holes in the presidential section of the ballot. Twelve Florida counties used voting machines where voting was by punch cards in this way, and eight of them participated in the survey: Broward, Highlands, Hillsborough, Marion, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Pasco and Pinellas. None of the ballot papers in the survey formed part of any official count or recount.
The research shows that 45,608 of the 56,000 ballot papers (87% of the total) contained votes for Mr Gore, compared with 17,098 containing votes for Mr Bush (33%). In 1,367 cases, voters punched every hole except that for Mr Bush.
In cases where the voters cast invalid "overvotes" in the presidential election, but then cast valid votes in the US senate contest lower down on the same ballot, 70% voted Democrat, Mr Gore's party, and only 24% voted Republican.
The disproportion was especially dramatic in Palm Beach, whose butterfly ballot paper interleaved two lists of candidates in such a way as to show Mr Gore's name second on the ballot paper, but to require the voter to punch the third hole to record a vote for him.
Though no absolute conclusions can be drawn from the overvotes, the implication that many thousands more invalidated Floridians intended to vote for Mr Gore than for Mr Bush seems hard to resist. The survey also clearly implies that some of Florida's voting machines were inadequate and that many voters were confused by the procedure.
In the second survey, the Palm Beach Post examined 4,513 dimpled "undervotes" - so named because no hole was punched in the ballot paper - and which were excluded from the November and December manual recount process. In each case, the Palm Beach county canvassing board ruled that no vote had been cast on these ballots but Democratic or Republican observers disputed the ruling. The ballots in the survey had been set aside for a possible court-ordered review that never took place.
Of the disputed ballots, some 2,500 had dimples for Mr Gore, while 1,818 had similar marks for Mr Bush. If they had been counted, Mr Gore would have had a net gain of 682 votes. This would have been in addition to a separate net gain of 174 votes from Palm Beach which was disallowed by Florida's secretary of state.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2001