Fla. may certify winner tomorrow; court battle likely
A group of six government professors met yesterday for a panel discussion on the unfolding story of this year's unique presidential election.
Richard Winters, Lynn Vavreck, Roger Masters, Lynn Mather, Nancy Crowe and Dean Spiliotes each focused on different aspects of the election, ranging from statistics to litigation.
Vavreck, a specialist on voting patterns and a statistics professor, began the panel with the question "Palm Beach: Is it Fair?"
She said that over- and undercounts (ballots that are marked twice or not marked at all) have always been a part of elections, but that "we care about them very much this time. Never before have they been decisive."
According to Vavreck, the marred ballots in Palm Beach, Fla., should be considered irrelevant in this election, but that reform of the voting process is necessary for future elections.
To make the voting process more fair, Vavreck suggested randomizing the order of names on the ballot in Florida (which is already done in most states), teaching citizens how to use voting machines prior to election day, using computer ballots and using lever machines rather than punch cards.
She also said research showed both over- and undercounts are more common in Democratic rather than in Republican precincts. She did not explain why this might be, but said one of her students had asked "Is it because Democrats are dumb?" In conclusion, Vavreck said, "what the American people need to do is agree on a level of error we can live with."
Masters opposed Vavreck's ideas. He said that "speed was not the question" and that legitimacy is what matters. He said that two different ballots had been printed in Palm Beach, the second one being difficult to understand, and that this could be attributed to "accident or a dirty trick." He said he admitted the possibility that fraud was involved in the Palm Beach mis-voting.
According to Masters, the media is not focusing enough on the historical context of this election. He said that the 2000 election was similar to the Hayes versus Tilden election of 1876, in which Tilden won the popular vote, but Hayes was elected by the House of Representatives. The legitimacy of the Hayes/Tilden election, like the 2000 election, was in question.
Masters said, "under no circumstances should the federal government determine which votes should be counted," because there would be a clear conflict of interest. The state and local government of Florida has the right to decide how to deal with the marred ballots, according to Masters.
The next two speakers, Mather and Crowe focused on the courts and the numerous lawsuits that have been filed thus far. Crowe said, "America has a long history of going to court for political issues," but that neither candidate should think that the courts will be the deciding factor.
A back-room deal, in which Gore and Bush negotiate a quiet compromise, would be the most effective solution to the issue.
She said, "the hot poker of personal ambition leads to going to court" and that the courts prefer to make compromising decisions on political issues.
She also said that the American people have an expectation of "total justice" that does not take into account the "politics of rights" that often surround court decisions.
Mather said the Palm Beach ballot lawsuit is not likely to go very far because the plaintiffs are unable to find a judge willing to take the case. Likewise, Bush's lawsuit that claims that hand recount violates the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment, is weak and likely to fail.
Mather also said, "basically the Florida law contradicts itself and doesn't make sense."
Spiliotes concluded the discussion by saying that "bowing out gracefully and coming on strong again in 2004" would be the best thing for either candidate to do, but that this seems unlikely to occur. He also said that a unified government, in this case with a Republican House, Senate and President, has historically not been a good thing for the country.
In the student questions that followed the discussion, all panelists agreed that a re-vote was not a legitimate option and would probably be unconstitutional. No remedy for the current Palm Beach situation was offered, but Crowe said the debate has had a positive effect on voting citizens, by raising our awareness of the political process.
Masters concluded with the comment, "passion is what politics is all about."