End It Already!

by Rob Valet | 11/21/00 6:00am

If Al Gore were a man of honor, this election would be over by now. George W. Bush led after Florida's counties reported their machine totals, and his lead has widened now that overseas absentee ballots have been counted. Unfortunately, it seems we will be subjected to recounts and legal challenges that will not conclude until Gore has finagled enough votes to pull into the lead.

It absolutely amazes me that the Gore campaign is irresponsible enough to insist on hand recounts. The reason we use machines to count ballots is that inanimate objects have no political affiliations. Yes, the card-counting machines do miss a certain percentage of votes -- anywhere from one in 10,000 to one in a thousand, depending on whom you ask. Even though the machines clearly did miss enough votes to potentially decide this election (given the numbers of votes cast versus the size of the margin), I still would rather have them do the counting than human beings. Machine error is a random process -- that is, just as high a proportion of votes for Bush as for Gore should be rejected by the machines. When people count, error is subject to their individual prejudices -- the heated disagreements between Democratic and Republican observers as to whether given ballots should be counted underscores how incapable we are of handling this task objectively.

Then there is the issue of the now-infamous Palm Beach butterfly ballots. Yes, they might confuse some people, but they were approved by both parties before the election. For Gore spokesman Bill Daley to go on national television and say that the 19,000 disqualified votes in Palm Beach mean that those voters were unjustly denied their right to vote is outright demagoguery. It is unfortunate that those votes were uncountable because they were double-punched. It is irresponsible, though, to make an issue of a ballot design that both parties approved. Palm Beach used the same ballot design in 1996, and that year about the same number of votes was disqualified because the ballots were incorrectly punched. Where was Bill Daley then to say that those voters had been disenfranchised? Moreover, in this election, a total of 111,106 ballots across the state of Florida registered more than one vote for president. No one is calling for a re-vote in "disenfranchised" counties that happen to vote Republican.

And while I feel bad that some people's votes didn't count because they did not understand the butterfly ballot, I honestly don't think the ballot is that tough to comprehend in the first place. All you have to do is follow the giant, bold arrow to the hole for your candidate and punch it. If you think you should also punch a neighboring hole just to be on the safe side, I quite frankly question your competence to tie your own shoes, let alone participate in the selection of our next president.

I think it is time for the Gore campaign to point all this out to the Gore partisans in Palm Beach who have taken this issue to court (although not surprisingly, lawyers for the Democrats announced yesterday that they are preparing to appeal a circuit judge's decision that he has no authority to order a revote in Palm Beach County). It is also time for Gore to acknowledge what we are already coming to see: hand counts are too subjective for human hands, and those hands operate far too slowly to settle the election in the foreseeable future. On Saturday, Miami-Dade announced it would begin a hand recount yesterday that will take at least another two weeks.

It is not in our country's economic or political best interest to wait that long, even if the final count were fair and unbiased, which it clearly will not be. The Dow has been sliding steadily since Election Day, and yesterday NASDAQ had its lowest close since October 29, 1999. Last Friday, when a lower court let Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris decide whether to certify the vote on Saturday, the Dow jumped within minutes, but later that day, when the state Supreme Court overturned the decision, the Dow immediately declined -- skittish investors may well disrupt the economy unless our political situation stabilizes soon. Meanwhile, even our closest international allies point and laugh as the leader of the free world is being decided by heated arguments over dimpled versus hanging chads in Palm Beach.

It is time, then, for Mr. Gore to accept the initial machine count as the most objective and the most expeditious. Now that all ballots have been counted, including overseas ballots, Gore is down by 930 votes. At this point, it is not in the country's best interest to keep scrounging for votes in a handful of Democratic counties until he finds enough to win.