Wall St. Journal: "Pandora's Politics"

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Pandora's Politics

The parsing of election results can only set bad precedents.

Monday, November 13, 2000 12:01 a.m. EST

It's becoming clearer by the day that Al Gore's decision to contest the Florida presidential election results has opened up Pandora's box. We can only assume the vice president and his fellow Democrats will enjoy living with the demons they've unleashed.

Two counts by machine in Florida have so far favored George W. Bush, not counting the absentee ballots from overseas that could go either way. Yet now Mr. Gore wants a third count, this time by hand and only in heavily Democratic counties. The Bush campaign has sought an injunction to stop this, on the sensible grounds that hand counts allow partisan election officials to "determine the intent of the voter," as the Florida statute puts it.

Put bluntly, the Gore campaign expects that Democratic vote canvassers will find more Democratic votes than non-partisan machines already have. Any doubt about this should have vanished on the weekend as the nation watched poll officials in Palm Beach County make up the counting rules as they went along.

At first the panel members adopted a "sunlight test," but then for their own obscure reasons they decided to look at the condition of the "chad"--the part of the ballot that would fall off were it properly punched. So we all learned the momentous distinction between a "hanging chad" and the merely "swinging chad," not to mention the "pregnant chad" versus the always vexing "dimpled chad." Once again Mr. Gore is betting on no controlling legal authority.

Not surprisingly, these delphic Democratic chad inspectors found that Mr. Gore had picked up 19 votes, and that this in turn justifies a hand-count of the entire Democratic county. Any guess how many votes Mr. Gore will pick up by the time all four Democratic counties have been hand counted? If it is just enough votes to win, look for the Gore campaign and its media echo chamber to then demand that Mr. Bush pack it in.

Keep in mind that this third recount is not based on a single allegation of vote fraud. Instead, it is based on Gore lawyer Warren Christopher's contention that only these four (conveniently Democratic) counties in Florida had "real irregularities," notably that some 19,000 votes were double-punched for president. But in solidly Republican Duval County, some 26,000 votes were also disqualified on Election Day for double-punching or failing to punch hard enough.

Are these ballots also going to be hand counted? And by GOP canvassers? They certainly should be, as statistical economist Edward Glaeser notes nearby. And we'd expect Mr. Bush to make exactly that request if the Democratic-run hand counts miraculously show Mr. Gore ahead, whatever deadline might have passed. While we're at it, let's have a hand recount of the whole country, with United Nations observers overseeing every state elections board. A country that acts like the Philippines deserves to be monitored like it.

The Gore campaign argues that it just wants a fair vote count. But asked Saturday if the vice president would accept even a hand count that went against him, Mr. Christopher refused to answer, saying the campaign was pursuing "various options." There's no other way to interpret such a statement except as an intention by the Gore team to litigate or obfuscate until they finally get a vote count they like.

Meanwhile, other Democrats are playing the race card. The NAACP dispatched itself to Florida to hold a five-hour public hunt for anecdotes of voter intimidation. These will then be shipped off to that great symbol of national trust, Attorney General Janet Reno. The intent is to coax a Justice Department intervention on civil-rights grounds, which could further tie up the Florida vote. Never mind that a huge black turnout last Tuesday of 16% exceeded the 14% African-American share of the Florida population.

Watching all this has left us more than a little depressed. We keep recalling President Clinton's famous remark to Dick Morris when the Monica Lewinsky scandal first broke. Mr. Morris had taken a poll and found that if the president publicly admitted his behavior he might have to resign. Mr. Clinton replied, "We'll just have to win then." This same anything-goes ethos is now being applied to election law.

The question we'd ask other, more conscientious Democrats is whether this is really the kind of politics they signed up for. The Clinton years have been tough on the Democratic Party's reputation for probity, as Election Day showed. The political benefits of prosperity were cancelled out by voters who wanted to restore some moral accountability to government.

There have been a few signs that at least some Democrats care about more than hanging on to power. Senators Bob Torricelli and John Breaux have warned the Gore campaign about a long legal challenge, only to be rebuked by Mr. Gore's flacks. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich has echoed the senators on TV.

And Bill Bradley, who challenged Mr. Gore in the primaries, told the Washington Post that "When the votes are counted, that should be it. It is a perilous course to try to delay in the expectation that things will be turned around by lawyers. Unless there is something fraudulent or a flagrant violation of law, this should end on Nov. 17." They all said this, of course, before the Gore hand-count gambit became clear.

We are about to find out if we still are a nation of laws, or if the law can be manipulated to steal even the Presidency.

-- eve (eve_rebekah@yahoo.com), November 13, 2000


Yeah. And George Bush did not sign a law in 1997 to allow hand counts in Texas, which in part stated that a hand recount was more accurate than a machine hand count. Fucking hypocrits.

Did the writer conveniently forget that there was republican representation at the hand counts?

-- FutureShock (gray@matter.think), November 13, 2000.

The law in Texas allowed the option of a hand count in lieu of a machine count THE FIRST TIME! Not in perpetuity.

-- Nadine (nadine@hillsboro.net), November 13, 2000.

The first machine recount in Florida was automatic as required by law. It was not requested by either party. The hand recounts in the four Florida counties were the first recounts requested by the Democrats.

-- (hmm@hmm.hmm), November 13, 2000.

When I was a tad in Chad, my favorite TV star was Chad Everett. Then I moved to Chadd's Ford, PA and chawed baccy. Then I returned to Chad and got pregnant. All I wanted to chew was cheddar, Chad's cheapest cheese.

-- (Lorelei@lubricious.lips), November 13, 2000.

This is not a local election. If there is going to be a third recount, it should be statewide - not just in the four heavily democratic counties.

-- Nadine (nadine@hillsboro.net), November 13, 2000.

Perhaps it should, but Florida Law allows the candidates to select the counties they want recounted. If the Republicans want to recount the whole state, or even just heavily Republican counties, they were free to make that request.

-- (hmm@hmm.hmm), November 13, 2000.

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