"Broward County officials said 6,686 ballots were not counted because the computer did not recognize any selection in the presidential race. In some cases, Democratic Party officials said, voters may have selected a candidate without dislodging a tiny paper rectangle called a chad, which can block holes and make the choice unreadable by tabulation machines that flash a light through ballot holes."
--- from MSNBC, 11/11/00
In case you haven't noticed, this is starting to get real ugly. As Sunday dawned over the hand-counters in two Florida counties -- and brought with it tales of bickering within election commissions, new evidence of uncounted and/or miscounted ballots in additional counties, and evidence of significant errors within the individual precincts being hand-counted -- the not-so-pretty picture before us for this second "Election Day Week 2000" is coming into focus.
As more than one commentator has observed, we are indeed on the verge of a complete system meltdown in Florida, and on the verge of a national political crisis whose magnitude should be a source of grave concern for us all. As we drift now, there is no good outcome in sight.
If the Bush partisans have their way -- as a result of their remarkable declaration-of-war decision Saturday to petition for a court injunction to stop all manual recounting -- the Texas governor will take this nation's highest office under the most impossible of circumstances, having stifled vote recounts in the state where his brother is governor, after finishing second in the national popular vote. If, on the other hand, the Gore forces prevail in Florida -- when all the counting and recounting is completed -- the Republicans seem prepared to put forward another series of legal challenges to the vote totals in other states, and to render a Gore Administration as illegitimate as the one they might claim as their own.
Although this may come as a shock to both camps, there are people in this country -- at this stage, perhaps even a majority -- who care less about who wins the Presidency than they do about how we can, as a nation, get out of this mess with a few shreds of national dignity and some sense of justice having been served. For that group, of which I'm happy to claim full membership, the sensible path forward is becoming increasingly clear. We need to have another national election. Now.
Try to put the dead-heat in Florida in perspective. Just how close is the current 300-vote "margin" between the candidates? Well, fill up the Pyramid for next Friday night's opening U of M basketball game against Temple. Then poll each and every attendee as to their presidential preference, and tally up the ballots. If the +19,000-seat Pyramid were a microcosm of Florida, George Bush would be the victor by a slim margin. How slim? One vote. At this stage there is one full-house-at-the-Pyramid's basketball fan's vote in the difference. Just think about that for a minute.
As you do, surely you will come to understand just how absurd it is to "force-feed" an election result in Florida upon the American people. Folks, much as the Founding Fathers would be disappointed, there is no result in Florida; it is a statistical dead heat. For the Texas governor to claim victory is preposterous; for the Vice-President's partisans to hold out for "victory" is equally silly. Florida is now and forever shall be a draw, a split down the middle where the margin of error inherent in any system of counting will always exceed the actual margin between the candidates. The sooner we all recognize that fact, the better off we'll all be -- and the quicker we'll be able to move on to finding a real solution of our political dilemma.
Here's what we should do. I do admit, my proposal calls for considerable amounts of statesmanship from both Republicans and Democrats, who are having a nearly impossible time right now being civil, let alone civic. That's why I'd call upon former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford to be the co-chairmen of an ad hoc Committee for Political Responsibility that would be charged with implementing the following:
* In light of the fact that it is now statistically impossible to declare a winner in the Sunshine State, both parties would agree to a "draw" in Florida, with the state's 25 electors split accordingly. (Yes, I know 25 doesn't divide by two, but bear with me on this; as you'll see, the identity of these electors is largely irrelevant.)
* When the Electoral College meets to vote officially for president on December 18th, Presidents Carter and Ford meet with them, along with representatives of both parties, who instruct their respective slates of electors to vote for a postponement of that vote until Tuesday January 2nd. Unprecedented? Sure, but after last week, what else is new?
* On Tuesday, December 19th, an election run-off between Governor Bush and Vice-President Gore is held, nationwide, using (one would hope we've learned something from this counting debacle) standardized ballot procedures that are uniform throughout the fifty states. Sorry, Ralph; this is a simple two-candidate ballot. Call it a run-off, if you will. Call it a frog. Just get it done.
* The winner of each state's votes in this run-off election gets the votes of the Electoral College representatives of that state, regardless of those electors' political affiliation, a procedure that has previously been agreed upon by both parties, and confirmed by Presidents Carter and Ford.
* When the Electoral College reconvenes on January 2nd, it selects the next president of the United States, in accordance with the state-by-state popular vote. Sure, our new president has to hustle, picking a cabinet, etc., before his January 20th inauguration. But after all he will have been through by then, that process should be a piece of cake.
Strange? Certainly. Unprecedented? Of course. Legal? Maybe just barely, but I think so. And, of course, as I've said, the whole scheme presumes a level of concern for the overriding national interest that neither the Republicans nor the Democrats have been terribly good about manifesting the past few days. Presidents Carter and Ford will have to do some real arm-twisting.
This may be our best and only chance to come out of this mess in one piece. Any other outcome risks dividing the country in a way not seen in modern times. Moreover, the formation of a Carter/Ford Committee for Political Responsibility has the advantage of being apolitical at a time when the political atmosphere is so badly poisoned that nothing productive can come from letting things proceed according to existing law.
Besides having the advantage of being fair to both sides, this proposal also recognizes (to paraphrase Winston Churchill) that the extraordinary circumstances we find ourselves in demand extraordinary solutions. To simply throw up our hands and let "nature" take its course is irrational, irresponsible, and quite possibly a critical first step towards the destruction of our democracy.
[Kenneth Neill is the founder and publisher/CEO of The Memphis Flyer.]
(You can write Kenneth Neill at MEMFLYKEN2@aol.com