Thomas Sowell

ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT facts about the Florida election has been ignored in most of the media: There was nothing unusual, much less unique, about the election in Florida. It was like elections all over the country, year after year.

There are always ballots which cannot be counted for one reason or another -- millions of them nationwide. There were more of them in Republican counties in Florida than in the Democratic counties where so much noise, so much spin and so much litigation has been unleashed. These plain facts are like the elephant in the middle of the living room that everyone pretends not to see. What has been happening in Florida after the election is a contrived crisis, used to justify recounts and re-re-recounts, in a desperate hope of winning after losing.

A telemarketing firm was used by the Gore operatives to seek out voters who had any conceivable reason to be unhappy about the voting. If you contacted enough people who went to the Super Bowl, you would find some who were unhappy about their seats, the food, the sun in their eyes, or whatever. It is hardly surprising that the telemarketers came up with some voters who didn't bother to read the plain instructions, written in big letters -- and who therefore either messed up their ballots or were not sure afterwards whether they had done it right.

After collecting such voters in a few heavily Democratic counties, the Gore camp trumpeted this into a national crisis via the media. But utter silence reigned over similar voters in Republican counties, whose votes counted only if they were perforated correctly and read by the voting machine. Yet this has been done under the guise of "making sure that every vote counts"!

Worst of all, a very large segment of the public has bought the spin. Even Florida Supreme Court justice Barbara Pariente responded to charges that this was a grossly unfair way to conduct an election recount by asking why Governor Bush had not requested a similar recount in the rest of the state. In other words, why didn't he do something unprecedented too? More generally, why don't all candidates turn all close elections into legal extravaganzas after the fact?

In future elections, maybe they will. What made Justice Pariente's question so petty and prejudicial was that the issue before the Florida Supreme Court was not Gore versus Bush, but whether elections and recounts are to be conducted even-handedly and in accordance with the law. Even Florida's Democratic attorney general expressed misgivings about the legality of using "a two-tier system" of counting votes one way in a few Democratic counties while counting them differently in the rest of the state.

Thomas Sowell

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

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