One hundred years from now, what will historians say about the consequences of the
Presidential election of 2000? I hope the following:
In the year 2000, even before a winner of the presidential contest was finally named,
representatives of the media along with partisan Democrats and Republicans announced
their intentions to hand count every Florida vote. Party hacks and media bosses said that
they would take advantage of Florida's liberal "Sunshine Law" to get access to all the
ballots. The Democrats thought the hand count would prove that Al Gore won
the Presidency. The Republicans thought the hand count would only prove that it
was impossible to divine the true intent of a voter who left a "dimpled" chad on a punch
ballot. The media bosses thought the hand count would be a ratings booster on
par with the O.J. Simpson and Clinton impeachment trials, two well-known media
obsessions of the time.
But before the first ballot was counted, a group of wise citizens came up with another
idea. During the Clinton impeachment trial, they argued, the Democrats kept repeating
the mantra that it was time to "move on." The wise citizens thought that this was sound
advice as regards the ballot count, but they also realized that they were living in a
time period when it was difficult to move on until "closure" had been achieved.
How to achieve closure? The wise citizens proposed that all of Florida's ballots be
taken from storage in Tallahassee, transported to the coast, and dumped in the Gulf of
Mexico. Without having the ballots to obsess over, the wise citizens argued, the country
could finally "move on" to the business of the nation.
The "Dump in the Gulf" proposal made a big splash. So popular was the idea that
the wise citizens added a further proposal: that on the first Tuesday of November in
each non-Presidential election year, citizens gather at the site of the ballot dumping as
part of a national day of atonement for all historical voting abuses. The day would be
called "Clinton Harris Atonement Day," or CHAD, named after the Democrat most
despised by Republicans (Bill Clinton), and the Republican most despised by Democrats
(then Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris). Clinton and Harris were perfect
symbols of the petty partisanship produced by the United States election laws of the
The CHAD caught on and soon became a popular national holiday. Each year,
citizens gathered at the coastal site and listened to speeches about the ways Americans
had historically been denied the right to vote or had the power of their vote minimized-
poll taxes, literacy tests, property restrictions, gender and racial discrimination,
confusing ballots, onerous ballot access laws, "winner take all" elections that made it
near impossible for third party candidates to win, and many others. Those gathering
would pledge to protect and defend democracy, then dive into the Gulf as a symbolic
reenactment of the great Florida ballot dumping of 2001.
But the Clinton Harris Atonement Day did not only focus on the negative. Citizens
began discussions of ways to improve America's antiquated election procedures. As
early as 2001, citizens wrote to their representatives and demanded consideration of HR
5631, a bill introduced by Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Jim Leach (R- IA) that required
study of pro-democracy reforms. Soon, citizens developed persuasive proposals for
pro- democracy measures like instant runoff voting, proportional representation,
weekend voting, and voting via Internet and mail.
Thanks to the CHAD, by the middle of the twenty-first century the United States had
finally developed electoral laws respecting the right of every citizen to participate
equally and fairly. Voter turnout began to increase, and for the first time in American
history it became possible for third parties such as the Greens and Libertarians to have an
impact on the political system without being labeled "spoilers" by the Democrats and
Republicans. By the year 2050, the United States had finally become the role model of
citizen participation and democracy always dreamed of by early reformers like
Wisconsin's Bob LaFollette.
Dumping those Florida ballots was a controversial proposal in the year 2000. But by
doing it, the United States was able to avoid a prolonged partisan and media induced
obsession with minutia and get on with the business of making the United States into the
great democratic republic it had always promised to be.
Tony Palmeri teaches at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. He can be reached at Palmeri@uwosh.edu