Thomas Sowell

IF THE SUPREME COURT of the United States had not stepped in to stop the endless re-re-recounts in Florida, George W. Bush might have won a presidential election more times than Franklin D. Roosevelt -- and all in one year. What has been even worse than all the legal and political wrangling that has dragged on for weeks after the election is that there was no real basis for any of it. The Florida justices simply ignored the law in order to step in and impose their own ideas.

It all started with Al Gore's flimsy excuses for doing manual recounts. After George W. Bush won the election in Florida and then won the official recount, Gore had to come up with something to cause a re-recount, under different rules.

First it was the "butterfly ballot" that was supposedly so "confusing" that you had to be a rocket scientist to figure it out. But vast numbers of Floridians had managed to vote for either Gore or Bush on these ballots, without being rocket scientists.

What allowed Al Gore to get a third bite at the apple was that it was within the discretion of the individual county election officials whether or not to order a manual recount when a candidate requested one. Candidates demand recounts where they lost, but Gore demanded a manual recount where he had won -- in heavily Democratic counties. Why? Because that was where he had the best chance of finding Democratic election officials likely to grant his request on flimsy grounds. Since Gore lost statewide, he could have asked for a recount in all 67 Florida counties, but that wasn't what he wanted.

What Gore wanted -- and got -- was a manual recount in a few Democratic strongholds, based on local Democratic officials' guesses as to what dimpled chads meant, while the vast majority of the counties in the state counted only clear perforations of the ballot as votes. That meant freezing Bush's slim majority vote totals in the rest of Florida, while allowing local Democrats in these few counties to go prospecting for more Gore "votes" by counting dents on the ballots as votes.

It is hard to imagine a more grossly unfair method of conducting a recount. Yet, when the Democrats still had not come up with enough new "votes" as the deadline for certifying the election approached, they asked Secretary of State Katherine Harris for an extension of the deadline. She declined to extend the deadline prescribed by law -- as the law gave her the discretion to do.

Thomas Sowell

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

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