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Rule One: Count Every Vote | The Nation

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John Nichols

John Nichols

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Rule One: Count Every Vote

Politics is a game played by rules. And the most important rule regarding close elections is that you don't win by being conciliatory during the recount process. Indeed, the only way a candidate who trails on election night ends up taking the oath of office is by refusing to concede and then confidently demanding that every vote be counted -- even when the opposition, the media and the courts turn against you.

That is a rule that Al Gore failed to follow to its logical conclusion in 2000, and that John Kerry did not even attempt to apply this year. Both men were so determined to maintain their long-term political viability that they refused to fight like hell to assure that the votes of their supporters were counted. That refusal let their backers down. It also guaranteed that, despite convincing evidence that the Democrat won in 2000, and serious questions about the voting and recount processes in the critical state of Ohio in 2004, George W. Bush would waltz into the White House.

Maybe someday, if the Democrats really want to win the presidency, they will nominate someone like Christine Gregoire. Gregoire is the Washington state attorney general who this year was nominated by Democrats to run for governor of that state. She is hardly a perfect politician -- like too many Democrats, she is more of a manager than a visionary; and she is as ideologically drab as Gore or Kerry.

But Gregoire had one thing going for her, and that was her determination to win.

When the initial count showed her trailing Republican Dino Rossi by more than 200 votes, she refused to accept the result. Certain that there were Democratic votes that had yet to be tallied, she demanded a recount. The second review showed her trailing Rossi by 42 votes and -- as in the 2000 fight over recounting presidential ballots in Florida -- the Republicans accused Gregoire of traumatizing the state by continuing to demand that every vote be counted. "It's time to move forward," chirped Rossi, who ridiculed Democratic demands for a fuller, sounder recount. Rossi claimed that Gregoire wanted to count and recount the ballots until she was declared the winner.

In a sense, Rossi was right.

Gregoire did want to keep counting until she won. But, of course, that is the point of the recount process: If you think that the votes are there to assure your victory, you keep demanding that they be counted and tabulated. This is the fundamental rule that neither Gore nor Kerry ever quite got.

As Christmas approached, the pressure on Gregoire to back off was intense. But the Democratic gubernatorial candidate and her supporters continued to press for a full review of the ballots -- paying more than $700,000 for another count and going to court to defend the principle that every voted counts and every vote must be counted.

Two days before Christmas, with a go-ahead from the state Supreme Court, Gregoire got a full count. That reversed previous results and gave her a 130-vote lead over Rossi.

The fight may not be over yet. Rossi is crying foul. But the likelihood is that, in Washington state, the Democrat, not the Republican, will be taking the oath of office in January. There are two reasons why this is the case. First, Christine Gregoire got more votes. Second, she demanded that they be counted.

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John Nichols' book on Cheney, Dick: The Man Who Is President, has just been released by The New Press. Former White House counsel John Dean, the author of Worse Than Watergate, says, "This page-turner closes the case: Cheney is our de facto president." Arianna Huffington, the author of Fanatics and Fools, calls Dick, "The first full portrait of The Most Powerful Number Two in History, a scary and appalling picture. Cheney is revealed as the poster child for crony capitalism (think Halliburton's no bid, cost-plus Iraq contracts) and crony democracy (think Scalia and duck-hunting)."

Dick: The Man Who Is President is available from independent bookstores nationwide and by clicking here.

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