In Texas, vote-counters routinely count a dimpled chad as a vote for the candidate because it clearly establishes the voter’s intent.
Three weeks ago, that sentence would have been gibberish, a sure sign that the writer had lost his mind. But I offer it today as the key point in the debate about who should be President and as proof positive that the Bush camp is being, to put it politely, disingenuous. Both Texas and Florida law hold that a voter’s intent is all important in determining how a vote is counted. An indented ballot–the now-famous dimpled or pregnant chad–has been interpreted in states, from Texas to Massachusetts, as proof that the voter intended to vote for a particular candidate.
All the Florida Supreme Court has done, by a unanimous vote, is to affirm that the manual count is legal, just as it would be in Texas. So what’s the fuss? Why are all of the Bushies yapping about the possibility of a stolen election, given that what county election officials are now doing in Florida has long been the common practice in their candidate’s home state?
George W. Bush is acting as if he believes the presidency is part of his natural inheritance. Otherwise, why wouldn’t he gracefully play out the hand that the Florida Supreme Court has dealt and accept Al Gore’s offer to agree to support the decision of the voters as announced in four days, a decision that is still most likely to go Bush’s way?
Even with the dimpled chad ballots included, Bush may be the next President, ambiguous though his victory may be. He did, after all, lose the national popular vote by more than 250,000 votes, which would make him the first loser since 1888 to squeak through in the electoral college. But our system requires that, if that happens, he be granted the awesome powers of the presidency, in which case we should all give him the respect due to the occupant of that office.
By endorsing the manual count, the Florida Supreme Court made the best of a bad situation. The Bush team is solely responsible for not exercising its right–after Gore asked for recounts in several counties–to request hand counts in those counties where Bush could have picked up more votes. Instead, Bush and his aides have done their best to obstruct the fairest way to recount legitimate votes in disputed counties, and they have muddied the waters with their attacks on manual counting as some sort of Democratic plot. It isn’t, as demonstrated by the widespread use of this device to check the fallibility of machines throughout the nation. Imperfect, yes; devious, no.
And what about the other voting irregularities in Florida, most of which seem to have cheated Gore? The case of the Republican campaign helpers in Seminole County who were allowed to work in the registrar’s office–some up to ten days–adding required information to thousands of absentee ballot applications that would have been disqualified; the flawed butterfly ballots in Palm Beach County; the tens of thousands of ballots of black voters around Jacksonville that were rejected because of a confusing ballot that led to double-punching.
The Gore campaign decided against asking that the outcome of the election be held up pending an investigation of those cases. Gore also stated that he wouldn’t accept any electoral college votes cast for him by Bush electors in any state, and will willingly accept the results of the count underway in Florida as a final disposition of the presidential race, no matter the outcome.
The Bush camp appears ready to accept that result only if its man is the victor. Toward that end, it is willing to trample on the cherished Republican principle of states’ rights by appealing to the US Supreme Court to overturn Florida’s highest court. It has also threatened to use Florida’s GOP-controlled state Legislature to undermine the court, making a hash of the principle of an independent judiciary.
The Bush blitzkrieg against the Democrats for exercising their right to ask for a manual count betrays the bipartisan cooperation that Bush promised during the campaign. It is neither candidate’s fault that this, the most closely contested election in over a century, has proved so difficult to call.
Bush probably will win the electoral battle, but he will only emerge as a true winner by taking the high road now and joining Gore in pledging to be bound by the vote totals as reported to the secretary of state in keeping with the Florida Supreme Court’s order.