The 1-2-3 of it all

Posted: Nov 29, 2000 12:00 AM
Right after the declaration by Florida's secretary of state that Gov. George W. Bush of Texas was the winner of the state's electoral votes, the people in Austin raised the question: What should we call thee? There was a slight delay from the sanctum sanctorum, then the reply: You are to continue to refer to him as "Governor" Bush.

Exactly the same thing happened to Sen. John F. Kennedy the morning after he won his election victory. "How should we refer to you?" one reporter asked at close hand. The pause. Then, "Call me Mr. Kennedy." He dropped "Senator." Dubya wasn't quite ready to drop "Governor" because of course it remains a hypothetical possibility that next Jan. 20, they will still be referring to Dubya as "Governor," when Al Gore is sworn in as president.

This is unlikely, though there is much cross fire ahead. John Podhoretz, in his column in the New York Post, gave a day-by-day account of what the Gore people need to do to invalidate the finding of the secretary of state. It is a most tedious process, for reasons political, judicial and biological.

Political procedure now casts the Gore people, who are objecting to the appointment of the Bush electors, as plaintiffs. They are going to the circuit court in Florida and saying: We propose to prove to you that the secretary of state violated Florida law by failing to count this, by counting that, by failing to grant more time to them, etc.

How are lawsuits of that kind heard? You have to have witnesses. And you have to have depositions. And you have to have arguments. To do all of that under the constraints of federal law (Dec. 12) is a strain in the best of times, and of course the decision of the lower court would be subject to appeal.

Meanwhile, the Florida Legislature is predictably going to say something on the order of, "Remember us? We're the people who are supposed to decide what the law is in the state of Florida. Well, here is one law effective this minute." And they will come up with the Bush electors that Gore Inc. is fighting against in the lower state court. But such a law needs to be approved by the governor of the state, who -- an Italian opera librettist could have written this -- is the brother of the Republican candidate and has recused himself from hand-to-hand participation in post-Election Day process, though the librettist might have thought it entirely appropriate for Jebino to do something for his brother post-election, making up for what he failed to do for him pre-election.

But the devil is in the details, and without a governor's signature, six days go by. On the seventh day, it's official -- which is still time for the great electoral count of Dec. 18; but the whole process is a little unsteady on its feet pending action by the Supreme Court of the United States.

On what issue? Basically, on the sovereignty of the Legislature of the state of Florida, given that, under the Constitution, electors are to be appointed "in such manner as the legislature thereof may direct."

Nobody is around charging that the Florida balloting officials were withholding votes from blacks, Hispanics, women, illiterates or anybody entitled to vote under federal voting-rights laws. The U.S. Supreme Court is being implored, on the contrary, to interpret the intercession of the Florida state courts as an interruption of legal (and of course, constitutional) activity by the state to issue and pursue its own declarations having to do with election procedures. The Supreme Court's proper role here is to say: The Florida Legislature has the right to declare the circumstances in which the secretary of state may appoint electoral victors. If Florida wants to move into the new year with impeachment proceedings directed against sitting judges, or for that matter against legislators, they are free to go ahead, but should not interrupt the casting of electoral votes for the U.S. presidency on Dec. 18.

But let us hope that someday, before the end of the next century, a great big bonfire will be lighted, perhaps by the National Brotherhood of Electoral Epistemologists, and casket after casket of sealed ballots will be cremated. Otherwise we will have continuing history on the order of what sprang from the pistol found on Sacco and Vanzetti. Another Woodstock typewriter used by Alger Hiss. Another grassy knoll behind which the true killer of JFK hid. At least the nut-chaser, in this case, would face the job of hand-counting a million or so ballots, and where would he/she publish the findings, besides The Nation magazine? And who would believe them? The same readers.