For once the pundits are right. Florida Fiasco 2000 has indeed been an education in American democracy. We never realized until now how rotten, dishonest and corrupt it really is. First, there are the candidates themselves. We know that whatever they say today they would be saying the opposite if their respective positions were reversed. George W. Bush says he won the election, no ands, ifs and buts. No need to have a hand count, he and his minions say, since the ballots have already been counted and recounted. Besides, as James Baker likes to put it with his usual winning charm, human beings are inherently less reliable than machines. This would be news just about everywhere in the world, where following every election flawed humans sit down and patiently count millions of voting slips. But worse even than Bush’s self-serving dishonesty does anyone really believe that if he thought he could win on a hand count he would continue to reject it? have been the posturings of the conservatives.
For years American conservatives championed the rights of voters against judges. Liberals, unable to get their way at the ballot box, they would argue, resort to the courts to ram their agenda down the throats of an unwilling populace. Busing, affirmative action, abortion, prayer in schools on issue after issue, unelected judges would overturn the will of the American electorate. The voters of California overwhelmingly endorse Proposition 187 on illegal immigration. Along comes a judge to say the people chose wrong and throws it out. Today conservatives flee in terror from elections. No hand count in the three Democratic counties, they shriek. No statewide hand count either. The courts must step in and make the counters stop. Thank God for the Electoral College! There has to be some restraint on the will of the majority. Small states minorities, in other words must be able to trump large states.
Al Gore won the national popular vote by a margin in excess of 330,000. This is bigger than Kennedy’s margin over Nixon in 1960, and Nixon’s margin over Humphrey in 1968. Anywhere else, Gore would by now be President-elect. Yet conservatives seem oblivious to this, as they tout cheerfully, first, the 300+, and now the 500+ vote margin by which George W. Bush got "elected" President. Even that margin looks very shaky. Gore picked up 215 votes in Palm Beach County, though Secretary of State Katherine Harris refused to accept them. He gained 157 votes in Miami-Dade County when the count was halted. There are also the 51 votes Gore gained in Nassau County on the second machine count that were discounted when the county decided to go back to its original tally. If you count these votes, Bush’s margin is just over 100 votes. And that’s using Palm Beach County and Miami-Dade County’s strict standards with regard to the "dimpled chads." A "dimpled chad" in the Presidential vote would only be counted so long as there were no perforations on the rest of the ballot.
Then there is also the issue of federalism. All matters must be left to the states except, of course, when they get in the way of the conservative agenda. When that happens the US Supreme Court must intervene. The insufferable James Baker complains that standards for counting ballots vary from one county canvassing board to another. Aren’t conservatives supposed to be in favor of local diversity? Doubtless, conservatives will hail any move by the Florida legislature to appoint a slate of electors ahead of any decision by the Florida courts on the election contests as a triumph of voters over judges. Should the US Supreme Court overturn the Florida Supreme Court and rule that votes counted after November 14 should be ignored, that decision in turn will be hailed as bringing "finality" and "closure" to the process.
So that’s Tweedledee. What about Tweedledum? Al Gore wants every vote in Florida counted except for those that may not have been cast for him. The intent of the voter is all-important when it comes to deciphering the slightest indentation on the so-called "dimpled Chad," but not when it comes to the absentee ballots. No postmark? The vote shouldn’t count. In Seminole County, Republican Party workers corrected incomplete applications for absentee ballots. They didn’t fill out the ballots, mind you. But it may have been a violation of the law. State law requires absentee voters to supply identifying information themselves, including a voter ID number, when asking for an absentee ballot. An "independent" lawsuit launched by a Democrat asks that all 15,000 absentee ballots cast in Seminole County be disqualified because there is no way to ascertain which ones involve applications altered by GOP workers. Bush received 4,797 more votes than Gore in the absentee ballot count in Seminole County. Gore has raised no objections to this summary disenfranchisement of 15,000 Florida voters.
In Miami-Dade County Gore is not interested in a complete hand count. He only wants to pore over the tiny little marks on the 10,000 ballots rejected by the machine. But, as Mickey Kaus has pointed out, "there are…more overvotes than undervotes, and a hand count could change an overvote to a vote (e.g. a voter scrawls ‘I punched two holes but I want to vote for Bush’ on the card) or a vote to an overvote (e.g. there is both a punched hole and a barely hanging Chad for the same office). If this theory is true, it’s unfair to count only the undervotes, as Gore lawyer David Boies has been urging." Then there was the extraordinary count in Broward County. Like its counterparts in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade, the Broward canvassing board accepted the "dimpled chads" as long as votes for several offices on the ballot were not fully punched through. However, where only the Presidential vote was flawed, the Broward board looked at whether the voter picked candidates from the same party down the ballot and took that as a sign of intent in his Presidential "vote." This, of course, is outrageous. People split their vote all the time. By no stretch of the imagination, can a vote for a Congressman be interpreted as endorsement of the party’s Presidential nominee.
Yet, through his relentless ambition Al Gore has inadvertently undermined the very system that had nurtured him and in which he so desperately wanted to succeed. Suddenly people are discussing the fairness of elections in which people have to make do with ancient and decrepit voting machines. Gore was quite right to talk about the "old and cheap, outdated machinery…usually found in areas with populations that are of lower income, minorities, seniors on fixed incomes." Millions of votes are lost in every election. 2.5 percent of the votes cast in the 1996 Presidential election were discounted. This is how the Palm Beach Post described an inspection of the Palm Beach County ballots: "Several had ragged holes from voters inserting the cards upside-down, forcing the bottom of the card over the red pins at the top of the voting machine. Others had every imaginable puncture on the same card, from precision punches to hanging chads to bull's-eye pinholes that failed to dislodge the Chad"
Gore has never raised any of these issues before because he was perfectly happy with the system. He was perfectly happy to shake down the corporations for cash. He was perfectly happy to do the corporations’ bidding whether on NAFTA or in going to war against the European Union about bananas as reward for Chiquita’s generous campaign contribution. He was perfectly happy to keep third party candidates out of the Presidential debates. He was perfectly happy with the Electoral College system. Why should the votes of Arkansas count for more than the votes of Illinois? What did he care as long as it looked like he would lose the popular vote but win the electoral vote?
Gore has blundered his way into the truth. It is in the interest of America’s elites to have as few people vote as possible. That way they can get to do what they want without too much disturbance. Hence the complex ballots that confuse people. Hence the machines that fail to register votes. Hence the insuperable obstacles to third parties getting on the ballot. Hence the lifelong prohibition on convicted felons a substantial section of the population from voting. The Wall Street Journal, as ever the voice of America’s corporate boardroom, summed up the elite’s view admirably. Writing in OpinionJournal the other day, Kimberley Strassel declared: "We know that a lot of Floridians have no sense of statehood, no pride and no backbone….We watched as Floridians, rather than feel reviled by the dozens of trial lawyers who oozed into Tallahassee to take over their courts, sign the petitions David Boies handed them. We looked at them and thought: These people would be neighbors from hell. We now know, worst of all, that tens of thousands of Floridians are very, very, very stupid. They are so stupid, in fact, that they think being stupid is something to be proud of. Not only were they too dumb to punch a hole either in the correct spot or fully through the card, but they aren’t even embarrassed by their ineptitude. They have actually committed their stupidity to history by signing their name to court documents attesting to their simple-mindedness. This has turned Florida into a national joke."
If people are so stupid, they really should not be allowed to vote at all. Indeed, why have elections at all? People should just do as they are told. And thus our liberal and conservative elites come to the conclusion Bertolt Brecht wrote about sarcastically many years ago: The people have failed us. It is time to elect a new people.
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