Just you wait, they thundered in December. Some day, someone is going to count all those uncounted ballots in Florida and then the TRUTH will come out.
Well someone did attempt to count those ballots -- several someones, actually -- and now, drum roll please, we can say with absolute confidence that ... we know nothing more than we knew last Christmas.
This should not come as any sort of surprise. We have known since Nov. 8 that the margin of victory for George Bush was smaller than the margin of error. This was pointed out at the time by sane observers like the president of Johns Hopkins University. Under such circumstances, the only reasonable course was to go with the winner of the two machine counts. But Gore hoped that with enough mischief, spin and selective counting, he could reverse the outcome.
Even now, few have absorbed the lesson that when the margin of victory is smaller than the margin of error, certitude is impossible. The major newspapers, including The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the Chicago Tribune are bulldozing ahead, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars poring over paper ballots hoping to find the "true" winner of the 2000 election.
The Miami Herald/Knight-Ridder/USA Today team published its inconclusive results last week. Here is what they found: Even if the Supreme Court had not intervened to halt the third recount in Florida, George Bush would still have emerged victorious. This presumes that Broward and Palm Beach counties, which had already completed hand recounts, would not be included. On the other hand, if Broward and Palm Beach had been counted a fourth time, using the loosest possible standard of evaluation (i.e, every dimpled chad equaling a vote), Gore would have won.
"Some would say that (uncertainty) makes the whole effort futile," Mark Seibel, a Miami Herald editor told The Washington Post. "I think it just tells you something about the kind of elections equipment we have."
Maybe Florida should invest in new equipment and maybe it shouldn't, but new machines would not change much in the case of another squeaker election. Florida law, as we all learned last year, permits hand recounts when the machines produce a close race. And hand recounts are inherently imprecise. As the Miami Herald/Knight-Ridder/USA Today survey just rediscovered, "canvassing boards ... had difficulty maintaining uniform standards of judging ballots throughout a process that involved scores of people, hundreds of thousands of ballots and intense deadline pressure."
While the exact outcome in Florida will never be known, Democrats do have a point in reminding Republicans that Al Gore won half a million more popular votes than George Bush. Whenever Republicans become complacent about present arrangements, they might want to reflect that with Ralph Nader's total included, the left got 52 percent of the popular vote in 2000.
On the other hand, many Democrats are descending into delusion. Here is the florid Barbra Streisand in her letter to Sen. Tom Daschle. President Bush, she wrote, "stole the presidency through family ties, arrogance and intimidation, employing Republican operatives to exercise the tactics of voter fraud by disenfranchising thousands of blacks, elderly Jews and other minorities ..."
These charges have been circulated since November, and they have now achieved the status of history in the minds of many Democrats, particularly African Americans. Yet in the months since the election, not a single fact has emerged to support this fable. There never was any attempt at voter fraud. There never was an attempt to suppress the votes of blacks, either by intimidation, roadblocks or failing properly to count their ballots. This was all invention -- and poisonous invention at that. As for the butterfly ballot that apparently confused some number of elderly Jews, it was designed by a Democrat and approved by the Democrat dominated county.
That Al Gore was willing to further inflame the already painful suspicions that many blacks harbor about whites -- just to advance his ambition -- is the mark of a mean, low spirit. For that, but by no means only for that, the nation is very, very fortunate that the better man won.