We know what they’re afraid of. Cut through the Republican verbiage that has clogged the airwaves and courts and you find one simple but disturbing point: They fear an accurate vote count because it might prove that Al Gore has the votes to be fairly elected President.
That’s been their concern since election night, when they began their drawn-out process of obstruction, and if they succeed in once again killing the manual count through their US Supreme Court appeal, George W. Bush’s victory will stand as a low point in the annals of American democracy.
The indelible impression left on our history will be that Gore won both the popular and electoral vote and that he and the voters were cheated out of that victory by a US Supreme Court dominated by political ideologues appointed by Republican Presidents. If the Justices cared a whit about the sanctity of the vote, they would have let the manual-counting process decreed Friday by the Florida Supreme Court continue. If that had resulted in a Bush win, we should all have gracefully acknowledged his victory.
Bush, who lost by more than 330,000 in the popular vote–what most of us grew up thinking of as the real election–may now squeak by with an electoral college win resulting from a ruling by the right-wing-led US Supreme Court. During the campaign, Bush cited Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas as his judicial role models, and he has been amply rewarded. Legal gobbledygook has replaced reason when the mere act of fairly counting the votes of the citizens is halted to suit the political agenda of the party that appointed the majority of the Justices.
In a close election, a manual count of all votes not counted by the antiquated voting machines is a statutory mandate in many states, including Florida and Texas, and should have been the common-sense demand of both candidates in Florida. If that simple standard–accurately and fairly counting all of the votes to ascertain the intent of each voter–had been asserted in a bipartisan manner, there would have been no reason for the subsequent confusion and the never-to-end questioning of the legitimacy of our next President.
Instead, unprecedented rancor will mark the next years of our politics, mocking all efforts at bipartisan cooperation. This will be particularly true in battles over the judiciary, which, more than ever, will come to be viewed widely as a partisan tool.
The Florida election will always be too close to call in a manner that would leave partisans of both sides totally satisfied. Whoever loses will feel ripped off, but the denigration of the Florida Supreme Court and of Gore’s legal challenges by top Bush Republican spokesperson James Baker has gone too far. Twice now he has smeared the motives of Florida Supreme Court justices for daring to come to conclusions not to Baker’s liking. Yet he reached a new low Friday in disparaging the right of a presidential candidate–who has won the national popular vote and is only three electoral votes from victory–to ask for a judicial review of the obviously deeply flawed Florida election results.
Get real. Both Baker and Bush know they would do the same had the results gone the other way. Yet they self-righteously abandoned civility when the nation most needed it. There are no villains in this election, only imperfect machines and people, but the Bush camp has vilified the Gore camp for daring to seek a fair adjudication of such matters.
We are still a nation of laws, and it was unconscionable for Baker to blast Gore for appealing to the Florida state high court at the very time Bush’s lawyers raced to the federal courts in an unseemly departure from the GOP’s commitment to states’ rights. In Baker’s view, the problem is not that we have a razor-close election and flawed voting procedures, but rather that Gore dares to assert his legal rights: “This is what happens when, for the first time in modern history, a candidate resorts to lawsuits to overturn the outcome of an election for President. It is very sad. It is sad for Florida. It is sad for the nation, and it is sad for democracy.”
Hogwash! What is sad is that tens of thousands of African-American and Jewish voters in Florida were systematically denied their right to vote by poorly drawn ballots, malfunctioning voting machines and unhelpful voting officials. What is sad is that election officials in two counties turned over flawed Republican absentee ballot applications for corrections by Republican Party officials but did no such favors for Democrats.
What would be most sad–indeed, alarming–is if a partisan US Supreme Court proves to be an enemy of representative democracy.