Arkansan plots election results 20 years after the Florida recount

A GOP strategist predicts the 2020 election will likely land in same place as Bush v. Gore in 2000: decided by the courts.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Republican strategist Terry Benham works in an office high above Little Rock with a clear view of the quiet State Capitol. Twenty years ago, he was in the Florida trenches, checking ballots as part of an advance team for the campaign of George W. Bush.

“We arrived in the middle of the night and so the whole thing was kind of made up as we went along,” Benham said Thursday from a conference room at Impact Management Group, where he is a partner.

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While Little Rock is relatively quiet three days after the election, Benham knows teams of legal and political consultants are headed for other capital cities ready to argue over ballots and recounts. They will be making similar arguments to those from 2000.

“There were irregularities that were in predominantly heavy Democratic areas,” he said. “Ultimately, what I think we’re going to wind up is having an election that’s decided in the courts.”

Which is what happened as recounts in different Florida counties started, stopped, re-started with legal challenges that all eventually led to the Supreme Court calling a halt to the chaos and declaring Bush the winner.

At the outset, Benham would be considered a player in the Brooks Brothers Riot, where well-dressed operatives protecting or challenging a razor-thin vote lead for Bush demonstrated outside state election offices.

Benham says he was actually too busy scrutinizing ballot cards to join demonstrations, and he sees a huge difference this time.

“With Florida, all we had to think about was Florida. This one, there’s about five or six states that have slim margins,” he said.

He recalls the tense situation as observers poured over thousands of ballots, inspecting for “hanging chads” and trying to divine voter intent. One mistake after hours of checking could literally tip the election one way or the other.

That tension figures to climb even higher as President Trump prepares his legal challenges. Lawyers for his campaign are descending on Detroit, Phoenix, and Atlanta — some receiving assistance from another prominent Arkansan.

“As the national co-chairman for Lawyers for Trump, we have thousands of volunteer attorneys ready to go,” said State Attorney General Leslie Rutledge on Tuesday, before the close races had even been identified. “We have hundreds that are deployed already to battleground states.”

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Benham isn’t sure where the recount road will lead this time. As a Republican, he’s hopeful evidence he sees of irregularities is fully investigated and he thinks another lesson from Florida will emerge soon.

“We’ve got to figure out who won, count the legal votes, and then move on with whatever the decision of the American people was,” he said.