Thomas Sowell

THE FLORIDA SUPREME COURT has disgraced itself and undermined election laws, not just for this election in Florida but for future elections across the country. Any future losing candidate in a close election now knows that he need only create enough noise and confusion, and then shop around for sympathetic judges.

On the eve of this election, no one in his right mind would have thought that it would be decided by hand-counting ballots in three counties in Florida and machine-counting the other 64 counties. It is not just a question whether dents on a ballot should count as votes, but whether dents should count as votes in heavily Democratic counties, while only perforations count as votes in the rest of the state.

Amid all the pious talk about wanting every vote to count, the Florida Supreme Court has not lifted a finger to enable the military ballots from overseas to be counted. Nor does the pious statement by Florida's Democratic attorney general that he would like to see the military ballots counted have the slightest effect, because he has no authority in this matter, and local Democrats who are counting the votes are disregarding his words. The attorney general knew that his words would not change the vote-counting, but it was a clever political ploy to sound sympathetic to the people serving in the military overseas -- while continuing to disenfranchise them on a technicality.

This whole post-election free-for-all could be called "Ploys R Us." These ploys have even included trying to corrupt the electoral college itself by digging up dirt on Republican members of that college and then contacting them to try to "persuade" them to vote for Gore, even though they were elected to vote for Bush.

The legal issue before the Florida Supreme Court was not how ballots were counted. The legal issue was whether Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris abused her discretion by not extending the statutory deadline to allow time for hand counting. This was not Ms. Harris' deadline. It was the deadline established by law. Although she had the discretion to extend it -- as, for example, when there are hurricanes, floods or power outages -- discretion doesn't mean anything if anyone who asks for an extension has to get it.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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