537 VOTES, a high-octane feature documentary chronicling the political machinations that led to the unprecedented, contested outcome of the 2000 presidential election, debuts WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 21 (9:00-11:00 p.m. ET/PT) on HBO. Through interviews with key insiders and a wealth of archival footage, the film examines the events in the battleground state of Florida leading up to and after election day in November 2000, when a chaotic voter recount resulted in Texas Governor George W. Bush winning the presidency by a razor-thin margin. 537 VOTES looks beyond the headlines of undervotes, recounts and hanging chads to reveal the players and politicos locked in a strategic battle for the future of the United States.
537 VOTES will be available on HBO and to stream on HBO Max.
537 VOTES is directed by Billy Corben and produced by Emmy® and Peabody Award winning Corben and Alfred Spellman. The film is executive produced by Emmy® and Academy Award-winner Adam McKay (“The Big Short,” HBO’s “Succession”) and Todd Schulman.
In early 2000, the international custody battle over a six-year-old Cuban boy, Elian Gonzalez, triggered a political earthquake in the swing state of Florida, ultimately swaying the outcome of the presidential election. With Miami’s largely conservative Cuban American population outraged at the Clinton administration’s handling of the repatriation of Gonzalez, many called for “el voto castigo:” the punishment vote, to harm Vice President Al Gore’s chances at the ballot box. Miami-Dade County mayor, Democrat Alex Penelas, dubbed People magazine’s “Sexiest Politician,” is surprisingly absent from Gore’s side as election fever mounts. After election day, with the margin of victory hinged on Florida, weeks of chaotic ballot recounts, lawsuits, counter lawsuits and public protests ultimately ended with George W. Bush winning the presidency by a mere 537 votes.
With humor, verve and new insights, 537 VOTES exposes the key players who contributed to the chaos in the contested Florida county, featuring interviews and archival footage of insiders and political operatives at the time, including Roger Stone; Joe Geller, Chairman of the Miami-Dade County Democratic Party; Al Cardenas, Chairman of the Florida Republican Party; Cuban American anchorman Rick Sanchez; political consultant Armando Gutierrez; Bush campaign operative Brad Blakeman; Democratic Mayor Alex Penelas; author of Cuba Confidential, Ann Louise Bardach; Democratic political operative Jeff Garcia; Miami political reporter Michael Putney; Gore attorney Mitchell Berger; and Democratic pollster Fernand Amandi.
On election day, November 7, 2000, in one of the narrowest election margins in history, it all came down to Florida, where the state’s 25 electoral votes would decide the next president of the United States. The press called Florida for Gore and then retracted it, and Fox News called it for Bush. Gore called Bush to concede, and then all networks deemed Florida “too close to call.” Gore then retracted his concession and the recount began.
Both parties braced for a bitter and lengthy legal battle. Bush’s campaign mobilized its troops, rallying local Cuban Americans and national GOP figures such as former Secretary of State, James Baker. In turn, Gore’s side hired former Secretary of State Warren Christopher and called for a manual recount in four Florida counties, including Miami-Dade. Under heavy scrutiny were 10,750 “no vote” ballots, where “dimpled,” “pregnant” or “hanging” chads were not counted by the tabulating machines. After 36 days of legal maneuvering and appeals on both sides, the U.S. Supreme Court, with a conservative majority, ruled to stop the manual recounts, thereby granting the presidency to George W. Bush on December 12, 2000.
537 VOTES pulls back the curtain on a momentous episode in electoral politics, revealing that it was more than just faulty ballots that impacted such a decisive episode of American history. An eye-opening look at the presidential election that had far-reaching global repercussions and set the tone for the future of partisan politics in the United States, the film gives an entirely new perspective on political hustle and hype. It is a cautionary tale for anyone who thinks voting doesn’t matter and a sobering look at what it takes to make sure every vote is counted.