Recount Counterspin

Recount Counterspin

The recent election has shown that election reform is necessary to preserve our democracy.


A few items should have received more (some!) emphasis in last week's media recount reports (we will continue to expand on these points in the coming days, on the IPS/Nation web site):


The will of the people was not reflected.

Just so we don't forget: The purpose of an election is not to have a horse race for the entertainment (and enrichment) of the media and the political class; the purpose is to express the will of the people, to give the consent of the governed. Under that standard, Bush really lost the election.

The prevailing Florida standard for counting votes is very clear: "no vote shall be declared invalid or void if there is a clear indication of the intent of the voter." There were more than enough overvotes with clear voter intent to change the outcome. They were supposed to be counted from the beginning; and if that had been done, Bush would not have won. So let's point out the elephant in the Lincoln bedroom-doesn't that make Bush's victory illegitimate?


African-Americans were screwed again.

Sadly, everyone seems to agree on this point. Even more sadly, it does not seem to alter the response to the Florida vote. More than thirty years after Jesse Jackson first met Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis had his head beaten on the bridge at Selma, African-American votes still count less than white ones.


Poor votes count less than rich votes.

Unlike many Florida counties with large numbers of poor voters, many of Florida's wealthier counties were fully equipped with "second chance" optical scan machinery at the precinct level, thus significantly decreasing overvoting by wealthier voters.


Literacy is not supposed to be a precondition for voting.

This should be particularly true for President, since most Americans get their information on the candidates from TV. Yet the ballot-design problems that changed the outcome of this election were directly related to lack of attention to literacy issues and voter education by public officials.


Katherine Harris's "false felon purge" changed the outcome.

The media consortium dealt only with the votes themselves in recent coverage, thus allowing Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris and her troops once again to escape responsibility for a $4 million program to purge felons from the voter rolls. As detailed by John Lantigua in The Nation, this publicly-funded purge resulted in the illegitimate denial of the franchise to thousands of Floridians, a disproportionate number of them black.


The Supreme Court's intervention was improper and unethical.

The media consortium repors let the Supreme Court off the hook too easily. Antonin Scalia's own logic, on behalf of his four Court cronies, demonstrates that the Five should be forever thought as unprincipled, partisan meddlers.

Remember what Scalia wrote, when the stay was issued on December 9, 2000? "The counting of votes that are of questionable legality does in my view threaten irreparable harm to petitioner [Bush], and to the country, by casting a cloud upon what he claims to be the legitimacy of his election." That turns out to be precisely wrong, according to this media study–for if only the undervotes had been counted, this report shows Bush would have won, thus adding to his legitimacy (a point some of the dissenters tried to make).

In other words, Scalia intervened because he feared a Gore victory. The fact that he was wrong about the undervotes does not cancel out the Court's crime in stopping the vote count prematurely. Their names–Scalia, Thomas, Rehnquist, O'Connor, Kennedy–should live on in the Judicial Hall of Shame. A bad guess does not cancel out an unethical ruling.


The nation still needs profound electoral reform.

Finally, the recount reports underline the urgent need to pass fundamental election reform before Congress adjourns. Punch cards must be eliminated; optical-scan machinery must allow second chances at the precinct level; ballot design should not be left to local election officials, who may be partisan, incompetent or just poor designers; the right to provisional voting should be universal; voting rights should be restored to felons who have served their time; poll workers need training; bilingual polling must be insured and voter education should be a serious and well-funded public obligation.

It has been a year, and despite all the big promises, the blue-ribbon commissions and the media hoopla, most states have not acted. Florida has acted, but far from sufficiently. And Congress has not yet passed a bill, though there is still time.

Election reform should not be a casualty of terrorism. In fact, deeper, more self-sustaining democracy should be one of our responses to terrorism.

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