Imagine if George W. Bush had lost Florida because thousands of conservatives
in heavily Republican Lee County mistakenly voted for Socialist Workers Party
candidate James Harris? Does anyone really believe Bush would concede?
What a mockery of democracy if Bush is elected thanks to liberal Jewish
voters, some of them holocaust survivors, who mistakenly voted for Pat
Buchanan--the man who urged Reagan to close the Justice Department office
pursuing Nazi war criminals living in America and visit Bitburg Cemetery in
Germany where Nazi officers lay buried.
The stakes are a lot higher than accepting the outcome of a game after a
disputed foul call. Basketball games don't decide who makes lifetime
appointments to the Supreme Court or policy on Social Security, the
environment or national security.
We've got time to do this right. The anachronistic Electoral College doesn't
meet until December 18. We aren't "leaderless." Bill Clinton is President
until Inauguration Day, January 20.
Weeks of uncertainty now are far better than years of uncertainty later.
The possibly illegal Palm Beach County ballot has confusing punch dots for
every candidate except Bush at the top and the Natural Law candidate at the
bottom. The ticket of Al Gore and Joe Lieberman, the first Jewish vice
presidential candidate, is listed second on the ballot, but the second punch
dot corresponds instead to Buchanan. Even Buchanan says many of his 3,400 odd
Palm Beach votes, about a fifth of his Florida total, aren't really his.
Voters say precinct workers refused them assistance and erroneously denied
them replacement ballots when they made a mistake. The 19,210 ballots thrown
out in Palm Beach for double voting are not mystery ballots--most of them are
marked for both Gore and Buchanan.
Florida voters aren't sore losers. Election Day complaints started pouring in
to election officials and reporters hours before Florida became decisive.
Serious allegations elsewhere in Florida have gotten less press, among them
that Black motorists were stopped by state troopers on their way to the
polls, registered Black voters were told they weren't on the rolls or that
they had already voted in person or by absentee ballot when they had not, and
polls closed early with people still waiting. NAACP President Kweisi Mfume
said that as early as 3 pm on Election Day they had gotten so many complaints
they deployed 200 additional volunteers in Florida.
Last spring, Black voters upset with Governor Jeb Bush for executive orders
eliminating affirmative action in university admissions and state purchasing
marched on the state capitol, vowing to "Remember in November." Blacks turned
out in record numbers to vote last week, but many say they were turned away.
There is legal precedent in Florida and elsewhere for reversing unfair
election results. In my home state of Massachusetts, Rep. William Delahunt
lost, and then won a congressional primary in 1996 after punch ballots were
recounted by hand.
MA Secretary of State William Galvin said if Florida votes are hand counted,
"They're going to discover that tens of thousands of punch cards were not
read by the machines because the voters were unable to punch a clear hole."
The sample recount results prompting Palm Beach County officials to call for
a countywide hand count have borne this out.
Bush's attempt to stop the hand recount is based on fear, not law. Bush is
not giving back the presidential votes he gained from hand recount in New
Mexico, and he signed bipartisan Texas legislation in 1997 declaring that "a
manual recount shall be conducted in preference to an electronic recount."
Let election procedures run their course in Florida and other states. Voting
irregularities must not be rewarded.
The bolder democratic solution would be to have a national runoff for
President. Let's see who Americans want now that everyone knows their vote
Speed is not of the essence here, democracy is.
Our democracy would suffer long-term damage if Bush took office after losing
the popular vote nationally and winning a Florida election that did not
reflect the will of the people.
Holly Sklar (firstname.lastname@example.org) is co-author of "Shifting Fortunes: The Perils
of the Growing American Wealth Gap."
Copyright 2000, Holly Sklar