Let me just say this: the United States Presidential Election should not be decided on a technicality (this ballot is flawed, the voter was confused, or this absentee ballot doesn’t have a postmark) or by a court (supreme or any other).
Courts should make rules about how an election can be run, or determine if there was fraud or a violation of those rules, but they should not be deciding who wins the election.
I write this on Saturday, long before any decision has been made in this matter, and I am growing irritated by this process. The longer this continues the more it polarizes the country. The hand counting of ballots is an example of something that will tear this country apart: frankly I don’t believe the Democrats who say there is no fraud or flaw in the process, and I don’t believe the Republicans who imply that Democratic counters with long fingernails are surreptitiously punching Gore holes in ballots. Both are extreme views. But the hand counts open us up to that and turn this election into a partisan battle. What the Gore camp has never proven is that there is any reason for hand counting millions of ballots. For hand counts to be needed, the Gore camp must prove that there is bias in the machine count. Just because the machines rejected some ballots does not invalidate the election: there’s no evidence to show that the machine didn’t reject just as many Bush ballots as Gore ballots. That’s the whole point of machines. They may be wrong, they may even be wrong on a lot of ballots, but those errors average out in favor of all the parties. Unless Gore wants to argue that Gore voters are dumber than Bush voters and thus more likely to fill out ballots in such a way as to confuse the machines, there is no reason to suspect that a statewide hand recount would produce any different result than the machine count (barring any mischief, of course). Sure, the exact numbers might be different, but overall, the results would be the same.
So, you say, if Bush will win anyway, why not go ahead and do a statewide manual recount? Four reasons:
1) A manual recount will take a very long time. Currently it looks like it will take until after Thanksgiving to finish the counts already in progress, and that’s for just 1.7 million votes. Most likely those counts aren’t valid anyway, since every precinct is applying its own rules to the counting process, and without consistent standards, a court will throw out the results. That could mean it would take into next year just to count the ballots, not even getting into the dozens of lawsuits that are guaranteed to follow.
2) A manual recount is incredibly messy. We’re just seeing the tip of iceberg so far. Both parties have lots of lawyers and are going to go to extraordinary lengths to press their cases, and with the hand count process so complicated, irregular, and full of human error, it could literally take months or even years to figure out the mess. For instance, though the counting process is monitored by a Democrat and a Republican, on questionable ballots — the only ones that matter — the arbiter is the local canvassing board, which in Democrat counties, is made up of a majority of Democrats (and presumably the reverse in Republican counties). Both sides have a lot to lose in the hand count process, but Gore, of course, has no other option (he has already lost on the machine count).
3) It’s against the law. Now I know to most lawyers laws are just technicalities, but they do matter. There are rules to this game. Florida law says a party must request a hand count within 72 hours of the election. That time has long past and while Gore requested hand counts in certain Democratic counties, Bush did not. Accepting the results of hand counts in just the Gore counties would be patently unfair and America would not stand for that. The hue and cry would drown out the voice of any court in the nation that tried to support that crazy idea. If Gore wants “every vote to count” it must literally be every vote: Republican as well as Democratic. Sure, the Florida Supreme Court could determine that a statewide hand recount is necessary, but that’s more time, more complexity, and more expense for Florida. A statewide recount would be almost as complicated as a new election! Frankly, my feeling is that if hand recounts are ordered, that means that they must be more accurate than machine counts, and therefore, every state in the country must recount all their votes by hand. After all, we must count every vote. I am serious: why is Florida the only state that gets special attention? Doesn’t my vote in California count? New Mexico was won by less than 500 votes. A number of other states were also narrow victories. If Florida gets a hand recount, every state should do the same. It’s only fair. In fact, all future elections should be decided by hand counting: I mean, if we can’t trust machines with this election, why should we trust them in future elections? (Note: A nationwide hand recount, of course, would require a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court, not the Florida Supreme Court, which only has jurisdiction in Florida.) I say this only so the Florida Supreme court understands the seriousness of their decision: they could be writing election law for the new century.
4) There is no need for a manual recount (we have the results already). In short, Bush won. He won on election night. He won on the recount. He won after the absentee ballots came in. Enough. Let’s be done with it. Half of American didn’t vote at all, and of the half that did, they were evenly split between the two parties. That means America will accept either of these men as President. All we need is a good reason. If Gore cannot prove that there was any fraud or bias in the machine count, then he has lost. That has to be the standard on which the Florida Supreme Court decides whether or not to accept the hand recounted ballots. Gore needs to just pack up and bow out gracefully, and begin planning his 2004 campaign.
Let me conclude by saying that America will not tolerate this indecision much longer. It’s divisive, irritating, and insulting to our Constitution, our Founding Fathers, and every American who loves this country. I had hoped this mess would be over this weekend and I was distressed to find out it was not. The Florida Supreme Court has no business in this case, unless it is to simply uphold the law and rule that the hand counts were without cause and will not be included in the final tally. I pray that is what will happen, and quickly, because if it does not, we are going to see a long, technical, and extremely partisan legal battle, regardless of whatever the votes say. Remember, the longer this goes on, the more reluctant each candidate is going to be to bow out, especially if it goes on long enough to damage the person’s political career: he might see this as his only chance to be President and risk everything. If you thought Iran-Contra or the Clarence Thomas hearings or Bill Clinton’s impeachment were bad, you haven’t seen nothing yet. This is getting ugly, really ugly, and we’ve only seen the eyebrow of the monster.