Florida showdown

Posted: Nov 13, 2000 12:00 AM
Here is the beginning of wisdom on the electoral jam.

(1) In competitions, somebody wins. That means that somebody loses.

(2) Margins of victory can be interesting, suggestive, worth probing for a number of reasons. But they have nothing to do with the question of winning and losing.

(3) In athletic contests it is nowadays not unusual for a skier or a runner to win by 1/100th of a second. Using round numbers, 100 million Americans voted, one-half going to each of the two major candidates. Winning or losing by 300 votes in a political contest in which 6 million voted is to win or lose by less than 1/10,000th of a point. That kind of thing happens all the time in sports.

(4) We are not engaged in a national plebiscite on the Electoral College system. Both of the candidates have sworn to uphold the Constitution, and it decrees how new presidents are to be selected. Those who wish to amend the Constitution are entirely free to do so. See Article V. And set aside a couple of years to get it done.

(5) The single question that properly occupies us is what was the recorded vote in Florida. This is a different question from, What would the vote have been in Florida if (a) Nader wasn't running, (b) Buchanan wasn't running, (c) voters gave more time to deliberating over the ballot they used, or (d) voters had given more time to deliberating the leverage of a vote on that day, in that state.

(6) Accordingly, procedure is king. Nothing else counts, or should count. Procedure asks a relatively simple question: How did the voters mark their ballots on Nov. 7?

There is some pretty gross ideological opportunizing going the rounds. A full-page ad in The New York Times splashes in. The signers include Rosie O'Donnell, Gloria Steinem, Bianca Jagger, Arthur Miller, Toni Morrison, Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman. What are they asking for? Hint: Two of the signers, Harold Evans and Harvey Weinstein, spent election evening in the company of Bill and Hillary.

What the so-called Emergency Committee of Concerned Citizens 2000 asks is that we acknowledge Al Gore as almost certainly the elected president "by a clear constitutional majority of the popular vote and the Electoral College." But there is no such thing as a "constitutional majority of the popular vote."

Well, they know this, but they have a nifty suggestion: "new elections in Palm Beach County as soon as possible."

Who would be allowed to vote? All qualified voters, including those who hadn't voted on Election Day? When would we hold that special election? How much money would the candidates probably spend in trying to woo that vote --they've already spent about $2 billion. Well, if it is all going to hang on another election, limited to one county in Florida out of 67, what would the spending be there?

There are 659,000 qualified voters in Palm Beach County, 64 percent of whom voted on Tuesday. Those who didn't vote join the 50 percent of Americans who didn't vote. But if the future of the universe hangs on their vote, the absentee voters might think better of it. Whom would they vote for? Should there be a Palm Beach presidential debate? Three debates?

Friendly critics of the American system have got into the act. London's Daily Mirror informs its readers that America is "a laughingstock." An editorial in the London Times says that we are "a parody of democracy"; an op-ed writer in the same paper says that we "have given hope to dictatorships everywhere." That sober critic of the American ways thinks it's much better to do elections the way the Brits do. In 1945 this meant dismissing Churchill in the middle of the Potsdam summit conference with Stalin and Truman and sending in a successor.

The Daily Mirror has a suggestion which the Emergency Committee of Concerned Citizens 2000 would surely endorse: "The simplest thing might be for President Clinton to be asked to stay on for another four years." Right. Another possibility would be to send Clinton to the UK and let him govern there for four years. Would anybody notice the difference?

Just remember: Procedure is everything. Due process. That is all we need to know. If Bush won by 327 votes, that is enduringly significant.