Election 2000: Reforms are needed
You know what they say about “the best laid plans.” We thought we would be sailing into the eastern Caribbean where Christopher Columbus made his first landfall in 1492. Instead, we ended up in the southwestern Caribbean where Columbus made his fourth and final voyage to the New World in 1502.
Unfortunately, we are no closer to learning his true nationality and must leave that mystery for a subsequent voyage into history. But we did learn a great deal about why some Floridians had difficulty casting valid ballots on November 7th.
One reason why Floridians cast so many absentee ballots is because at any given time about half of Florida’s population appears to be at sea on cruise ships. Of our over 1,700 fellow passengers, the vast majority were from Florida and the majority of them were what one might call: longevity-challenged.
We spoke at length with several of the less longevity-challenged who had voted in Palm Beach County on November 7th. They told us the polling places were festooned with huge signs advising voters to remove their ballots from the Votamatic ™ machine and to examine the back of the ballot to make sure that all of their stylus punches went completely through and left no pieces of paper hanging out. Making sure they completed their ballots properly was the responsibility of the individual voter.
And that was the crux of the problem on November 7th. Sad to say, but there are a large number of people, both young and old, who either never could or are no longer able to follow a relatively simple set of voting instructions. Like it or not, the act of voting contains two components: deciding for whom to vote and then having the cognitive and motor skills to be able to translate that decision into a ballot capable of being read by the voting apparatus.
When the U.S. Supreme Court was hearing argument as to what kind of fair and uniform voting standard might be applied in a recount, Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor hit the nail on the head when she opined that the standard in effect in Florida on November 7th seemed, in retrospect, to be the most fair and uniform. After all, the voters in all the counties across Florida voted under the rules in effect on that day. The fact that about two-to-five percent of machine-read ballots are rejected by the recording devices is another matter that needs to be fixed, nationwide, before 2004.
Clearly, this nation needs a uniform voting system for federal offices – a fact brought out by the closeness of this particular election. Part of that reform should mandate that all states count all of their absentee ballots. Currently, when the winner of the Electoral College is clearly evident from votes cast in voting booths, many states do not bother to count all of the absentee ballots they receive.
Absentee ballots (especially from the military) tend to favor conservative candidates. With the popular vote margin between Gore and Bush only about 300,000 votes, those millions of apparently never-to-be-counted absentee ballots might award the popular vote to George W. Bush. Evidently, we will never know.
The pointless effort by The Washington Post and other liberal newspapers to try to prove Al Gore won Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade Counties rather than try to find out if George W. Bush won the national popular vote via absentee ballots is a prima facie case of liberal media bias.
Rev. Jesse Jackson complains minorities were turned away from the polls. Yes, those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder change abodes more often then the middle class. And, the economically-challenged often fail to keep their voter records up-to-date. When poll workers can’t find a person on the voting rolls, that person, irrespective of skin color, is turned away.
Next week: the Electoral College and why it will remain in place.
William Hamilton, a nationally syndicated columnist, is a former professor of history and political science.