Planet Waves | An To The Republicans... | By Steve Bergstein


And to the Republicans
For Which They Scam

By Steve Bergstein
Planet Waves Digital Media

<><><>Raise your hand if you feel cheated by this year's presidential election. If your hand is not raised, you are probably a Republican who believes the votes were counted, then recounted, then hand-counted ad nauseam, and the Supreme Court did the right thing in halting yet another hand-count. Yet even partisans should appreciate that what happened in Florida on November 7 was a reprehensible mess. Here are the thoughts of a Nader voter who has no love for Gore.

<><><>The Republicans did everything in their power to avoid a full re-count. Although Texas and many other states recognize that manual re-counts are the best way to determine who really won a close election, Republicans were the first to file a lawsuit to halt the manual re-count right after the election. Forget about whether the Florida Supreme Court fairly extended the re-count deadline in rejecting the Bush lawsuit. Applying age-old rules governing the interpretation of conflicting statutes, that Court quite logically held that the Florida Secretary of State -- a Bush partisan -- abused her discretion in halting the first manual re- count. By aborting the manual re-count (which the Florida Supreme Court re-activated) Republicans in Florida wasted precious time as canvassing boards had to pull all-nighters to complete the count.

<><><>And, deciding it could not comply with the Florida Supreme Court's deadline, one county, Miami-Dade, started and then stopped the recount. (And who can forget the Republican activists who stormed and harassed the recount office in Miami, demanding that they "shut it down.") Sad irony that the United States Supreme Court ruled in Bush's favor, in part, because there was no time to devise fair re-count procedures. This would not have been a problem if the Republicans really cared about determining who got the most votes in Florida.

<><><>Republicans should be ashamed of their party. GOP leaders (including Govs. George Pataki and Christine Whitman) mocked efforts to re-count the votes and joked about chads. They could not have possibly believed in their heart that something was wrong with a manual re-count. Republicans also joked that if elderly senior citizens in Palm Beach County can navigate all those bingo cards at once they can figure out the butterfly ballots which gave the anti-Semitic Pat Buchanan far more votes in this largely Jewish community then he plainly deserved.

<><><>Republicans also complained that Democrats were playing dirty in trying to discern the intent of the voter. But can you imagine how Republicans would have reacted if Democratic officials broke the law in tampering with absentee ballots for their candidate? Republicans got away with this, ensuring that thousands of such ballots were processed in an election that Bush won by only a few hundred votes.

<><><>Equally strange was the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision favoring Bush. Seven Justices on that Court are Republicans who typically favor "states' rights," except in this case. The conservative majority -- which rarely offers a broad reading of the Equal Protection Clause -- held that standardless recounts violated equal protection even though no precedent was specifically on-point and the five Justices (like their four dissenting colleagues) thus could have reached a contrary result.

<><><>Yet, although this was not an issue in the case, according to the Nation magazine, one wealthy county in Florida (which sided with Bush) had the benefit of optical scanner voting machines which detect the vote 99.2 percent of the time. Counties that favored Gore were stuck with the outdated punch card ballots which everyone agrees will fail to record numerous "undervotes." Over 100,000 undervotes were tabulated in an election decided by only a few hundred votes. Since Supreme Court held in 1973 that the Equal Protection Clause does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of wealth, the rich-poor issue never surfaced.

<><><>The Court wrote that all votes are equal. Yet the even its proponents agree the Electoral College grants voters in less populous states more clout than in New York and California. The Electoral College is an outdated relic, devised because the Founding Fathers did not trust the people who might vote irresponsibly. That is why we vote for electors who, in turn, select the President for us. Nothing prevents an elector from voting for another candidate contrary to his pledge. And this year, the unthinkable happened: the Electoral College winner did not win the popular vote. Something is seriously wrong with this process.

<><><>Something is also wrong with the State of Florida. The events over the past month confirm that Florida is a third-world country that threw the election into limbo. Except that, thanks to Florida, now we know electoral reform is badly needed in this country and that an untold number of elections in that state might have gone the other way had anyone been paying attention. Florida's ballot machines are screwed up and the Legislature threatened to install its own electors if things did not go their way. That surely would have ranked as among the most partisan and brazen acts in recent political history. Minority voters complained about harassment at the polls, and some dolt approved the butterfly ballot that shifted votes towards Buchanan. Republicans altered the absentee ballots that largely supported Bush. Florida's governor is Jeb Bush, George's brother. As governor, Jeb is partially responsible for Florida's pathetic electoral bureaucracy. This is what goes on in other countries, except that it happened here.

<><><>The shenanigans in Florida leave us with a President that -- it is generally agreed -- has neither the attention span to sit through long meetings nor the intellectual curiosity to master complicated policy issues. Republicans were so anxious to take back the White House that they nominated someone with limited government experience and a famous name. Texas may be a large state with many Democrats that Bush won over, but Democrats in Texas are not the aggressive liberals Bush will have to contend with in Washington. Bush's greatest strength is that he can get along with people and has a winning personality. But the election should not have been a referendum like "Survivor," where the candidate with the snappiest personality wins.

<><><>Apart from giving national speeches and photo ops, the President heads an Executive Branch that sets and implements policy every day. Gore's detractors actually mocked his mastery of the issues even though he has taken an active interest in perhaps the most important issue of the new millennium -- global warming. If you think Bush can survive by delegating to staff and policy advisors, think back to the Reagan years when that management model caused a scandal (Iran-Contra) predicated on the President's claimed failure to know what was going on in the White House.

<><><>The worst is yet to come. News organizations are planning to count the ballots themselves. What if the result irrefutably shows that more voters in Florida intended to vote for Gore than Bush? How America reacts will be an important test of conscience.++

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