Let It Stand


Our presidential election is confused enough already, but the honorable thing to do is to count the votes we got, find out who won, and let it stand. The alternatives are all just as "unfair" as the current situation. Gore is a petulant, whiny, child.

Nothing Is Unusual

There are always irregularities in an election. In most races, there are thousands of ballots cast incorrectly, thrown out because of mistakes, lost, miscounted, or otherwise not counted "correctly". Normally, this is ignored, because it doesn't make much of a difference. In this race, it looks like a few hundred votes will make a difference, due to the arcane functionings of the electoral colloge.

The focus is currently on a ballot used in Palm Beach county, Florida. The ballot in question was reviewed and approved by a number of members of both parties. Samples were sent out to registered voters. People have talked about "last-minute changes", but a friend of mine has seen a faxed copy of the sample ballot, and it looks just like the final one - except that the holes aren't on it yet.

The ballot is different from those used elsewhere in Florida, because Palm Beach has a larger than average number of elderly voters who have trouble with the small print typically used. This resulted in a two-column format. Allegations have been made that this violates Florida law, but the law in question discusses where people mark an "X" by hand on a ballot not intended for use with a voting machine, not where people punch holes in a punch card.

More specifically, the focus has been on the unusually high number of votes Pat Buchannan got in Palm Beach this year. Well, it doesn't look that odd to me; Palm Beach has a lot of registered Reform Party voters, and Pat Buchannan has gotten a lot of votes there before, even in primaries (which have, typically, much lower turnout than actual elections do). Furthermore, the number of people reported to have complained that they got confused, and punched the wrong hole, is about ten thousand - roughly three times the 3,407 votes Buchannan actually got.

Finally, we have the "personal accounts". A woman proudly proclaims that, even though she has a doctorate, it took her several minutes to figure out how to use the form. In several minutes, you could draw the form. I just don't believe it; no one is that stupid. Furthermore, a friend of mine tested the ballot on his children, age 8 and 10. Both were able to vote for Gore on the first try. The 8-year-old had to be told how to spell Buchannan, but both picked him out correctly on the first try too.

Much has been made of 19,000 ballots thrown out because two holes were punched. Well, in the last election, about 15,000 ballots were thrown out for that reason, and turnout was higher this year.

In short, nothing is sufficiently unusual to raise legitimate suspicion of foul play.

The Alternatives Are All Worse

All of thatdoesn't change anything. We don't overturn elections because of the thousands of votes that are lost, misread, or otherwise botched. Indeed, precedent is that we will let even fairly egregious cheating (such as Kennedy's 1960 win) stand, because the alternatives are all worse.

Gore is about to show us the worse alternatives.

First off, we could try to have a second vote. If we do it just in Palm Beach, the voters in Palm Beach are being allowed to reconsider their votes based on what everyone else voted. That's not fair to any of the other voters.

We could re-do the vote in the entire country. With time for absentee ballots taken into account, this would probably take longer than we have before we have to have someone in office; even if it didn't, it would be a totally new election, and we don't do these over procedural flaws that only affect a tiny fraction of the vote, even if that tiny fraction may be decisive.

We could try to guess what the vote should have been. In an early effort, a group of election officials in Florida picked a stack of hand-written ballots which had been declared invalid due to illegibility, and went through them looking for possible votes for Gore. Oh, they were Democrats. Nice non-partisan move.

We can do all sorts of things. None of them are fair. None of them are improvements over what we already did.

We could file lawsuits. People are doing this. What, exactly, do they expect to accomplish? We have a very short timetable on which to have a result. If the Florida electorate isn't decided, no one gets a majority of the electoral college votes, and the House of Representatives will elect the next President. Fine by me.

Gore Played Games Too

There are all sorts of allegations of irregularities elsewhere in the country. Ballot boxes allegedly uncounted in Iowa. Gore campaign staff offering packs of cigarettes to homeless people who would come and vote. Many states were exceptionally close. Should we recount every state in which any irregularities were noticed? Should we invalidate ballots we think may have been influenced? Where do we stop?

Gore Is Being A Petulant Child

Finally, it comes down to this. Our elections are always flawed. We know this. (In fact, a mathematician has proven that all voting systems will be unfair at least some of the time.) We know that the flaws are normally much smaller than the difference between candidates, but in a close election, yes, indeed, the election will be decided by some amount of chance.

This is fair. Frankly, the American people don't have a strong preference for Gore over Bush. For crying out loud, people voted based on which candidate was funnier on the talk shows in the last week or two. It doesn't matter that much.

Gore should accept that the system is important in and of itself, and accept that, if Bush wins, that's the way the cookie crumbles. I think it's been made fairly clear that Bush has already accepted that, whatever the outcome is, he won't go filing frivolous suits, he won't stage demonstrations, he'll just accept that the race was close enough for any real preference to be lost in the noise.

Some of the people who voted for Gore would like a chance to reconsider. Gore is not behaving in what seems like a Presidential manner. The President must be able to accept that we don't always get what we want, and you can't just sue and sue until things go your way.

Please, both of you. Let the results stand, whatever they are. Draw comfort from the fact that your opponent, should he win, will not be able to claim any sort of a "mandate" from the people. But please, let us get on with our lives.

I hope Bush wins; he has shown a willingness to unite and cooperate. Gore has already made it clear that the premise of his interaction with the rest of the world is an "us vs. them" mentality. He will fight for us. He will fight against us. He will fight, fight, and fight... even his own people, his own system, his own government. We do not need this kind of division at a time when we are already so stridently divided. If you lose, Mr. Gore, please accept it with something approximating good graces. Would you really like to be known as a worse loser than Richard Nixon, who graciously allowed the country to go on with things when Mr. Daley handed Kennedy an astounding number of deeply implausible votes? Nixon, for all his faults, was willing to give up a possible chance to be President, knowing that fighting would only hurt the country.

Comments? Questions? Email seebs@plethora.net.