The election: hanging by a chad

Posted: Nov 16, 2000 12:00 AM
"The Election Crisis" screamed the New York Times full-page ad. "The outcome of last Tuesday's election," began the ad, "is threatening to produce a constitutional crisis. This threat must be addressed with utmost solemnity and fairness to sustain the legitimacy of our national political process." Who placed this ad? Why, the Emergency Committee of Concerned Citizens 2000. Call them ECCC. ECCC continues, "Vice President Al Gore has apparently won the popular vote for President. Voting irregularities in Palm Beach County, and elsewhere in Florida, suggest that as many as 19,000 Gore votes may have been nullified ... In short, there is good reason to believe that Vice President Gore has been elected President by a clear constitutional majority of the popular vote and the Electoral College." A bit presumptuous, given the uncertain state of the election. But what to do, what to do? "We therefore," says ECCC, "call upon the Florida Election Commission to explore every option, including scheduling and supervising new elections in Palm Beach County, as soon as possible. Nothing less, we believe, can preserve the faith of the people upon which our entire political system rests." Ah-h-h, we get to the punch line. New elections. Never mind that an election consists of a snapshot in time, a moment that a new election is incapable of duplicating. What about the Ralph Nader voters? Given that Nader voters stand accused of "giving" the election to Bush, how many Nader voters would vote the same way? And imagine the campaigning, money and attention rained on Palm Beach County in the event of a new election. No mistake. The Gore-Bush 2000 presidential election outcome faces uncertainty and second-guessing. But a "crisis" means a rudderless situation, where no rules exist. America possesses a Constitution that outlines procedures, however cumbersome, to follow. The Electoral College meets, and the vice president announces the winner. While scholars and pundits debate the specifics, the Founding Fathers designed a course that, in the most extreme circumstances, leads to the Supreme Court. Not exactly a banana republic. Over 100 million Americans voted in this last contest. We now eagerly watch the developments in Florida. But does the typical American consider this a crisis? The latest polls find Americans intently watching the election developments, but few seem genuinely concerned. A recent poll showed only 15 percent consider the country in a "crisis," many of them probably falling for the ECCC/media-driven hype. Most call this razor-close election, and the resulting fall-out, simply something that happens from time to time. None of this, of course, concerns our friends at the ECCC. And just who is the ECCC? The bottom of the ad gives a "partial list; list in formation," including Robert De Niro, Bianca Jagger (can she vote?), Paul Newman, Rosie O'Donnell, Gloria Steinem, and Joanne Woodward. Your basic list of down-the-middle, non-partisan, impartial, good-government types. The ECCC calls for new elections, "To preserve the dignity and legitimacy of American democracy, it is essential to remove any hint of inaccuracy in the final result." To "preserve" the dignity? What dignity? First the networks declare Florida for Gore, even though polls remained open in the western part of that state, to say nothing of much of the rest of the country. Then, no, Florida goes back into the undecided column, after which the networks place it in the Bush column. But no, again, the networks now declare Florida too close to call. So tight remains the race that some Florida voters claim they mistakenly voted for Pat Buchanan while using the allegedly confusing "butterfly" ballot. And in Palm Beach County, a machine kicked out 19,000 ballots, sparking demands for a "manual recount" to determine the intent of voters with rejected ballots. But how to determine the voters intent? Well, you examine the chad, a piece of paper the voter punched out. If the "chad" did not fall, or is swinging, or pregnant, or dimpled, then that chad may or may not be counted. Kind of. Never mind that the official sample ballot for Florida contains a page marked "Voting Instructions." It clearly says, "Note: If you make a mistake return your ballot card and obtain another." And in bold, capital letters, set in a large typeface, this sample ballot says, "AFTER VOTING, CHECK YOUR BALLOT CARD TO BE SURE YOUR VOTING SELECTIONS ARE CLEARLY AND CLEANLY PUNCHED AND THERE ARE NO CHIPS LEFT HANGING ON THE BACK OF THE CARD." Let's simplify. The state of Florida held an election. Voters received instructions. A machine -- possessing no emotions, no partisanship -- counted the votes. The machine recounted the votes. If the machine kicked out the ballot, the ballot shouldn't get counted. Something that happens at every election. It's that simple. So relax, ECCC. The state will endure. Chad happens.