Everybody knows all the networks blew it on election night, first declaring that Florida had been “won” by Al Gore, when some precincts were still open, and then, hours later, declaring that George W. had “won” it, and the election.
What most people don’t realize, however, is that the media, especially TV, has gone on adding to the distortion. That’s largely because of the impact of their second, far more horrendous election night error. Their premature anointing of Bush as president-elect has distorted our perception of what has happened since.
And this seriously threatens to corrupt, or at least taint, the outcome.
George W. Bush has been more or less sketched as the “leader,” the man who has been on the edge of winning all along, and whose final victory seems just short of inevitability. The vice president’s supporters are repeatedly asked if pressure is building on their man to concede defeat, get out of the way of progress, etc.
That has spurred pimple-faced yo-yos to hold up “Sore Loserman” signs, and leading Democrats to wonder whether the time has come for Gore to give up.
Well, he shouldn’t. There is nothing mean-spirited in trying to make sure you get a fair count in an election.
Gore, incidentally, has called Bush twice to meet with him in a gesture of national unity, something that might have been good for the jittery stock market. Both times he was spurned by the shrinking shrub. And the evidence seems clear that Al Gore really won this election elsewhere in this nation and that more voters in Florida, too, at least meant to vote for him.
Few newspapers have given their readers a running scorecard of how the nation voted. So here’s how it stands: Gore won 50,133,912 votes, and carried states with 267 electoral votes. Bush got 49,805,216, and 246 electoral votes. That’s the electoral total outside Florida — close, yes, but here, the winner is clear.
With each passing day, Gore has increased his national lead as absentee ballot counting continues. Nevertheless, if cosmetic counter refugee Katherine Harris has her way, Bush will be certified as having “won” Florida by 537 votes.
That would give him 271 electoral votes, making him president. Yet that result would be extremely dubious. What we do know is that the punch-card system is an incredibly bad and wildly inaccurate way of recording and counting votes.
Thousands of votes evidently weren’t registered because a little piece of cardboard (the infamous “chads”) didn’t fall completely off the card. Interestingly, Gore gained about 1,500 votes in the first machine recount, largely because more of his chads fell off the second time they were passed through the machine. That’s what the hand-recount was all about, complete with the fighting over whether to count votes where “dimpled” chads had been poked, but not hard enough to knock them all the way off.
Why did Gore gain more votes than Bush? Did this prove Democrats were more limp-wristed? Nah. They mainly hand-recounted counties that voted Democratic. Would odds favor Bush gaining more “dimpled chad” votes in Republican counties? Probably.
Who, then, really got more votes in Florida? Odds are we’ll never know. The closeness of the result and the flaws in the system make certainty impossible. But the vice president would have been the clear winner except for the “butterfly ballot.”
Something like 19,000 votes were thrown out in Palm Beach County, because in nearly every case, someone voted by accident for both Gore and Pat Buchanan.
Nobody can give them a second chance. But we can take the time to make the national election result as fair and accurate as possible.
So what if it is a few more days or even weeks? The Russians don’t appear to be coming across the polar ice cap, and there are no bread riots in the streets. Getting this right is more important than worrying about whether Dan Rather is bored. That is, unless you think it doesn’t matter which of these guys is president.
There are, incidentally, some deluded leftists who want Bush to win. They think that will guarantee Democrats retaking both houses of Congress in 2002 and the election of a genuine progressive president four years from now.
If that sounds awfully familiar, that’s just what they thought when Ronald Reagan was running against Jimmy Carter too.
Human Rights and Royal Oak: Last week, Royal Oak Mayor Dennis Cowan showed why he doesn’t belong in a leadership role. He refused to vote for a fairly tame human rights ordinance because it included a clause protecting residents from discrimination on a number of factors, including “sexual orientation.”
That’s similar to an ordinance culturally conservative Grand Rapids has. But Cowan and three of the other six commissioners weaseled out, voting instead for a nonbinding “advisory referendum” that may cost the city $25,000 or so.
Human rights are human rights, and ought to be affirmed everywhere. The repellent bigots of the American Family Association say the ordinance would “legitimize unhealthy and illegal behavior,” which is garbage. My own personal orientation, which I cannot help, is to find adult women desirable, but nobody suggests that means I have the right to jump on them in the Royal Oak post office.
As Marie Donigan, a voice of eloquence and reason on the commission, noted, the job of representatives in a democracy is to pass laws and make decisions. As she argued, a referendum also means “our community will be inundated with literature, most of it filled with lies but all of it designed to scare the heck out of people.”
Cowan and his cowards passed the buck anyway, billing the city for their own spinelessness. So here’s an idea: If Royal Oak has to spend money on another election, why not combine the ordinance vote with a mayoral recall?Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for the Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org