monitoring and criticizing the conduct of elections all
over the world, the US Government happily tolerates gross
political abuses here at home. When it comes to Yugoslavia
and Peru the United States demands that scrupulous public
officials count ballots. In America, however, voted are
counted not by disinterested public officials but by political
operators. There is no uniform voting or counting procedure.
States and even individual counties follow their own laws
and regulations. Thus Republican Florida Secretary of State
Katherine Harris rejects requests from Democratic counties
to include the result of hand recounts in the Presidential
vote totals. "The reasons given in the requests are
insufficient to warrant waiver of the unambiguous filing
deadline imposed by the Florida Legislature," she declares.
No one takes seriously her claim that she is following Florida
law, and not the wishes of W. in Austin. Meanwhile, Democratic
Attorney General of Florida Butterworth also Gore
campaign chairman in Florida instructs Palm Beach
County to ignore her and to go on hand counting.
to the Associated Press, "In Florida, the canvassing
boards, which manage recounts and certify results, are composed
of a county judge, the county elections supervisor and the
chairman of the county commission. All are elected."
Palm Beach County canvassing board voted 2 to 1 to conduct
a full manual recount. The board’s two Democrats voted in
favor, the Republican voted against. Democrats and Republicans
disagree even on what should count as a vote. Florida state
judge, Jorge Labarga, has ruled that it is up to the county
canvassing board to decide which ballot markings should
count as votes. This was in response to a motion brought
by local Democrats arguing that ballot sheets with indentations
only, or "dimples," should count as votes. According
to the judge, the board "has the discretion to consider
ballots and to accept or reject them" if they are attached
at all four corners and have been poked at. What counts
as a vote is a matter of "discretion" and
that in turn depends on which party holds a majority in
the canvassing board.
to former Carter Administration official and veteran foreign
election "monitor," Robert A. Pastor: "The
United States is at the most primitive level. I mean, it’s
below Nicaragua and Haiti in the sense that it doesn’t have
a national election commission and that the composition
of the Federal Election Commission is made up solely of
members of the parties." The FEC is divided evenly
between Democrats and Republicans. The one issue on which
the two parties are in absolute agreement is to keep out
farce of the so-called "absentee ballots" is yet
to come. It is reported that in Wisconsin, college students
voted twice once by absentee ballot and once in Wisconsin.
to Secretary of State Katherine Harris, in Florida absentee
ballots do not even have to have a postmark dated November
7 or earlier. "With regard to the status of overseas
absentee ballots," she explained the other day, "they
must have been executed as of last Tuesday. They must bear
a foreign postmark as provide in Section 101.62(7), and
they must be received by the Supervisors of Elections by
midnight Friday. They are not required, however, to be postmarked
on or prior to last Tuesday." In other words, people
are free to vote after the results of the Presidential elections
are known. As Mickey Kaus points out: "To vote after
Election Day…you don’t even have to fake the postmark date.
You just have to get a witness to fib for you about when
you filled the ballot out, and find some fast mail service."
Besides how hard is it to forge a postmark? And what do
you do about illegible postmarks or mailed in ballots that
have no postmarks? Not surprisingly, this turns out to be
yet another issue left to the "discretion" of
county officials. The Washington
reported the other day: "County officials say many
of the envelopes containing… late overseas absentee ballots
lack a postmark. The law requires a postmark or other documentation
to prove a ballot was mailed no later than Election Day.
‘It’s really up to the canvassing board to decide whether
we can accept them without a postmark,’ said Trish Stamm,
absentee ballot clerk in Alachua County, where she said
there are 56 late-arriving overseas absentee ballots waiting
for Friday’s count." "Discretion" is breaking
out all over. According
to USA Today "of the 302 outstanding in
Hillsborough, 57 have been received since Nov. 7 and are
waiting to be counted…. [O]f the 57 overseas ballots that
have come in, a dozen have illegible postmarks and two were
postmarked Dec. 2…. Whether and how those 14 ballots will
be counted remains to be determined."
is appointed winner of Election 2000, it is hard to see
what it means given the staggering scale of the spoiled
ballots. About 180,000 roughly 3 percent of
Florida’s voters last week had their ballots discounted.
Some chose more than one candidate. Some failed to vote
for President. Some did not punch their ballots hard enough.
In the 1996 Presidential elections, 2.5 percent of the votes
were discounted. 2.5 percent! Most elections are decided
by margins much smaller than that. Spoiled ballots work
to the advantage of Republicans. One can see this in Florida.
Of the Florida ballots that did not register a vote for
President, 85,466 came from counties Bush won and 94,468
from counties that Gore won. Democratic voters are almost
certainly less competent than Republican voters. The Democrats
generally do well among those not smart enough to figure
out a ballot paper and among those too weak to vote properly.
According to exit polls, of the 5 percent of voters who
have no high school degree 59 percent went for Gore and
only 39 percent for Bush. Of the 22 percent of voters who
are 60 and older 51 percent went for Gore and 47 percent
for Bush. This explains George W. Bush’s reluctance to sanction
hand counts. It would eliminate the Republicans’ built-in
Florida fiasco is a fitting end to a mind-numbingly boring,
issueless campaign. As always, the smaller the stakes the
fiercer the fight. The 2000 Election campaign was one of
the bitterest in recent memory. Yet it was also about nothing.
Two smaller than life figures fought for the right to reside
in the White House, to fly around on Air Force One, and
to act as national toastmaster in chief. A Bush Administration
will be very much like a Gore Administration. Whoever is
President, there will almost certainly be a recession as
well as another impeachment trial. Partisans of Al Gore
tried to fool the American people into believing that huge
issues were at stake. Alec Baldwin threatened to leave the
country. Gloria Steinem warned that a woman’s right to an
abortion was about to disappear. But Americans were not
buying. They sensed that the celebrities cared little about
abortion, and even less about Social Security. They were
after one thing only: continued access to the White House.
This is what the fight between Bush and Gore was really
about. Who will have access to the Oval Office? Will it
be oil barons and corporate CEOs? Or will it be movie and
media types? May the fight over "dimples" and
"pregnant chads" long continue!