the outrage in Washington, imagine the self-righteous fury
of the US Government-funded "democracy watchdogs,"
if in addition to "winning" the election, the
candidate coming in second received the handful of votes
that put him over the top in the state presided over by
his brother. The United States would charge fraud and demand
fresh elections. Washington would indignantly recall its
Ambassador and threaten sanctions. The US media would be
on hand with chilling stories of vote rigging and nepotism.
Any further elections, the US Government would warn, must
be under the auspices of such reputable and disinterested
bodies like the US-funded International Republican Institute,
the US-funded-National Democratic Institute, the National
Endowment for Democracy, US AID, and Freedom House. In the
view of these venerable organizations the US electoral system
is self-evidently the best in the world, the one lesser
countries should seek to emulate.
F. Will, who can of course always be counted on to whip
himself into a lather about all manner of brutes and dictators
dismissed criticisms of the electoral college system:
"There never has been an Electoral College victory
by a candidate who lost the popular vote by a substantial
margin." Well, that’s all right then. If you lose by
an insubstantial margin, you can still be President. What
is an insubstantial margin? "Only simple-minded majoritarianism,"
Will scoffs, "holds that ‘the nation’s will’ would
be ‘frustrated’ and democracy ‘subverted’… were an electoral
vote majority to go to a candidate who comes in a close
second in the popular vote count. In such a case, the framers’
objective a President chosen through state-by-state
decisions would be achieved." This, of course,
is rank pomposity and nonsense. First, when people vote
for President they choose the leader of the nation as a
whole. It is only when they vote for Senators and Congressmen
that they decide who best will represent their State’s interests.
Second, how can it be democratic for a candidate who may
have received less than 50 percent of the state’s popular
vote to take all of the state’s electoral votes? Slobodan
Milosevic should have introduced the American electoral
system into Yugoslavia. He would have stayed in power and
kept George Will happy at the same time. Kentucky Senator
Mitch McConnell made the drearily predictable defense of
the Electoral College system on the grounds that it elevates
the significance of small states: "If we did away with
the Electoral College, an awful lot of states would never
get a visit from a presidential candidate." But this
is already the case. In election after election, the largest
states California, New York and Texas are
all but ignored by the candidates. Moreover, very few states
are ever seriously in play. Most elections boil down to
a fight over half a dozen states. Would it be so terrible
if candidates were forced to campaign in states where, well,
many people resided?
Recently, the Wall Street Journal website, indignantly
reported that Russian parliamentary deputies had proposed
sending observers to the US to monitor the Presidential
elections. The deputies also suggested the establishment
of a foundation "to preserve democracy in America,"
as well as a Voice of Russia radio station modeled on Voice
of America. The Wall Street Journal writers were
obviously not amused by this. Yet the Russians were obviously
giving us a taste of our own medicine. It is extremely annoying
to have other countries lecture us on our shortcomings.
Others have much to learn from us, while we have nothing
to learn from anyone. "It’s worth juxtaposing this
feigned concern for American democracy," spluttered
the Journal, "against the shoulder shrugs that
the most blatant violations of democratic rights much closer
to home receive in the Duma and the Kremlin these days.
Russia’s record when it comes to real threats to democracy
But the United States has little to be smug about. The Florida
vote already seems to be at least as tainted as anything
that allegedly took place in the recent elections in Yugoslavia.
Three lawsuits have been filed in state and federal court
challenging the results of the election. In Florida 19,000
votes in Palm Beach County have been disqualified because
they were "double-punched." Voters intending to
vote for Vice President Al Gore found the ballot so confusing
they ended up voting for Pat Buchanan instead. Buchanan
got 3,407 votes in the county, as against 789 votes in neighboring
Broward County and 561 in Miami-Dade County. Voters in Palm
Beach County have now filed a lawsuit claiming they were
deprived of their voting rights on account of the confusing
design of the ballots.
surprisingly, Gore campaign chairman William Daley fully
supports the lawsuits: "Already citizens of Florida
who believe their votes were discarded and did not have
the opportunity to participate fairly in this process, they
will go to court. And I would assume that the courts will
take a serious look at what may be an injustice unparalleled
in our history." Daley has now called for a hand recount
of the ballots in Palm Beach, Dade, Broward and Volusia
counties some 1.78 million votes. Dade County includes
Miami; Broward is home to Fort Lauderdale; Daytona Beach
is in Volusia. Kendall Coffey, a Democratic attorney, has
suggested holding a new election in Palm Beach County. Nebraska
Senator Bob Kerrey has called for fresh elections in all
of Florida. Shades of Voijislav Kostunica or Alejandro Toledo!
Secretary of State James A. Baker III, representing George
W. Bush’s interests in Florida, calls for respect for Constitutional
proprieties even if it means thwarting the democratic will
of the people of Florida. Baker claims the Palm Beach County
ballots had been reviewed before the election by both campaigns:
"There were no complaints until after the election….
And let me tell you something else about that ballot: That
ballot was posted, as required by Florida law, in newspapers
and public places all over the state of Florida. Not one
complaint was received about that ballot, which… was approved
by a Democrat who was elected. A Democratic election supervisor
approved that ballot. And we haven’t heard one gripe about
that ballot until after the voting took place." Daley
responded by attacking the Bush campaign for its supposed
insouciance about "the disenfranchisement of thousands
of Floridians." "If the will of the people is
to prevail," Daley declared, "Al Gore should be
awarded a victory in Florida and be our next President."
Speaking of Vice President Al Gore, he has hinted that perhaps
the entire electoral system of the United States needs to
be called into question now that he is so near the
Oval Office of course. "What is at issue here is the
fundamental fairness of the process as a whole," he
declared on Wednesday, "Because of what is at stake,
this matter must be resolved expeditiously but deliberately
and without any rush to judgment."
there are other doubts about the Florida vote. Black voters
allege that state troopers, who had set up a roadblock near
a polling station, deliberately harassed them. The National
Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
is demanding that Attorney General Janet Reno launch an
investigation into "reports that black voters were
turned away at one Florida polling place because of an alleged
ballot shortage, that some received inoperable ballot cards
and that others were disqualified by election officials
who claimed their race did not match official voting records."
According to the Rev. Jesse Jackson, missing ballot boxes
and voter intimidation kept members of minorities from voting.
The NAACP claims to see "a pattern of deliberate attempts
to suppress the level of African American votes."
there are stories circulating about five ballot boxes at
three elementary schools and at a gated community in Palm
Beach County. One box contained miscellaneous papers and
no ballots. A clerk allegedly told police ballots had been
taken out of the box and put in another one. Another ballot
box was discovered to contain notebooks. A polling booth
volunteer claimed the locked ballot boxes were used to carry
supplies. And now the Republicans are threatening to demand
a recount in Iowa and Wisconsin. The fight over the election
could drag on for months. Happily for us, neither Vladimir
Putin nor Jacques Chirac is demanding that these issues
be resolved quickly, on point of sanctions being imposed.
whatever happened in Florida and whatever the inequities
of the Electoral College system, they pale into insignificance
compared to the conspiracy of the two main political parties
to exclude everyone else from their exhilarating division
of money and the spoils of power. No other country imposes
so many hurdles on third parties. The most important events
in the election calendar are the televised debates. Yet
only the candidates of the two main parties are allowed
to take part. The Commission on Presidential Debates stipulated
that debate participants had to enjoy 15 percent support
in the polls. 15 percent is well beyond the reach of any
politician without the financial resources of a Ross Perot
who can buy up hours of media time.