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A Date To Remember

The Florida Supreme Court Weighs In

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, November 22, 2000.

A day of actual importance. As of this writing, at 0330, the Florida Supreme Court has stated that the hand counting in three Florida counties can continue. This is seen as a victory for Gore, although in reading the decision, there looks to be ample evidence that, by law, there wasn't too much else that the Justices could do. They hammered the Republican Secretary of State in Florida, Catherine Harris, who clearly was not acting as a disinterested bystander when she dismissed the recounts, preening before the cameras, perhaps because she was cochair of the Bush campaign in her state.

Ironically in all this, it may be academic. There has not been a rush of new counts for Al Gore, although Bush's lead in this state has dropped to just over 600 votes. He can still lose the election by the standards he set down, has admitted it, and previously vowed to accept the verdict after the recounts. No such luck from the Bush camp. Salivating rather unattractively for power, the Republicans have all but said they will not accept any verdict except those in their favor. This is bad enough, but I contend their incompetence in the Florida recount debate pretty much matches their previously low standard in the Clinton impeachment fiasco. They are clearly not qualified for a presidency.

They lost before the Supreme Court because it is clearly within the rights of any candidate in a close election to request a hand recount, which is a process so clearly superior - if slower - than the machines that George W. Bush approved this exact method in his own state just last year. The Republicans had the same right, and should have, as a matter of simple procedure, requested recounts in those counties they might have been shorted in. Better, they should have joined Gore in requesting a state wide hand ballot counting. There is nothing nefarious in that. And they might have profited. Their candidate might have been shown to have won the state, and they might have picked up some votes to dilute Gore's annoying majority of national votes. But under Baker, the Republicans thought that by acting in what they thought was presidential, the tide of public sentiment would sweep Bush into the nation's heart. While Gore was thinking on his feet and acting decisively, Bush held photo ops with his pseudo cabinet. Whatever the intent, it came across as playacting and rather silly. Further, Bush has had to be called back from his Reagan photo ops clearing brush on his ranch to reply to Gore initiatives, looking and sounding like a spokesman just handed a script, an apt description of the face Republicans hoped to hang on their old regime.

Nothing the Republicans have done is more reprehensible than to imply that the Democrats wish to disenfranchise the military vote. This sweeping generalization is based upon the fact that of about four thousand mail-in ballots, about a third were disqualified by voter mistakes in the process. This is interpreted by the Republicans in the same good fellowship that had Bob Dole once claiming all wars are started under Democratic leadership. Because George Bush avoided combat during Vietnam, and his running mate avoided serving whatsoever, the Republicans have lost their previously icky claim to being the most patriotic party. Gore is the only candidate who has served anywhere near combat, and volunteered for the work. But worse, the claim is wrong. All overseas ballots are not military. Some belong to those of dual citizenship, which in Florida is primarily Israel and Latin America. Further, according to those who handle the votes in Florida, nothing this year has been handled out of the ordinary, excepting that for the first time in memory, the overseas ballots are important.

There are several lessons we can learn from all this, and I think we can all agree that there need to be some changes. These are my suggestions. It ought to be required that all votes for national office is accomplished the same way: by popular vote either in the voting booth or by write in ballot. The Electoral College, probably the last remnant of the slavery issue still intact, needs to go. All mailed ballots need to be received by Election Day. The national ballot in Florida will look exactly the same in Alaska. States and counties can have their own ballots with that same caveat. Everyone in Boulder County will vote on those issues on ballots that look the same.

Second, no government office holder can serve on a party election committee. Not just the Catherine Harris of the world, but any politician in office must refuse to head up a state committee for his party's national candidate. Roy Romer did it in Colorado. Every politico does it. We have just seen how wrong this previously innocent pastime can be. And third, new voting machines that allow the weak, old, and careless to not leave hanging, dimpled, pregnant chads. If this fiasco ever happens again, it will be deserved. Let's not.