Respecting the System

by Andy Edwards | 11/13/00 6:00am

Last week's election will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the most interesting and controversial in American history. It symbolizes that despite the power granted to the government and its officers, the ultimate power still resides among the people, and most especially amongst those who vote. The legal battles have begun, although I find it hard to believe that any court will overthrow the results of an election or order a reelection. There seems little recourse available to those residents of Palm Beach County, Florida who may have mistakenly voted for Patrick Buchanan. There is no way to know who voted for whom and the ballot -- while ridiculously confusing -- was approved by both parties. It appears that incompetence, and not corruption or fraud, is to blame for the confusion.

Since very few elections have been this close, many states and counties have become rather careless in how they run elections. There is no reason paper ballots should be used in the twenty-first century. With the technology available today, the outcome of a presidential election should not come down to how well punch holes are aligned. Although elections are state run entities, there must be some federal oversight to ensure states election methods are competent, especially in regard to the presidential ballot. Fundamentally, public officials and various bureaucratic agencies failed to scrutinize the Palm Beach County ballot and failed to realize the confusion it could cause. At this point, it looks like the true will of the people of Florida will never be known because of technical glitches and governmental incompetence. The events in Florida over the past week reveal an archaic system of voting which leaves many Americans and much of the world in doubt of the true will of the people.

Election 2000 has been everything and more the media could have desired. They have made a ridiculous fortune from campaign advertisements and had a horse race last month of campaigning. Despite having two rather bland and uninspiring leaders to choose from, it has become one of the closest races in our nation's history, providing the media with plenty of "news." The issue of the Electoral College has also emerged as a major controversy. It appears that George W. Bush will likely be the fourth president to be elected without winning the popular vote. Many cry that this is not democratic and that the Constitution should be changed. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the electoral college, it must be respected. Our Constitution establishes this country as a republic and a representative democracy. The Electoral College, added at the urging of Alexander Hamilton, adds another layer of federalism with popular opinion represented on a state by state basis via electors. These electors are assigned in a winner takes all basis in most states (except Maine and Nebraska) and in many states are bound to the popular vote of the people. However, even those who are unbound have rarely ever gone against the popular will of their state.

The electoral system is part of our Constitution and is just as much of an institution as any other aspect of government. Whether we like it or not is entirely irrelevant at this juncture. Its existence and ways, as with all parts of the Constitution are far more important and powerful than our short-term desires. Both candidates have accepted the system, although Al Gore is probably in total disbelief of its results. They respect the rule of the law and sought the office of the presidency because of their esteem for it.

The final outcome of this election is still in doubt, what with votes in some areas of Florida being recounted again and absentee ballots still being tabulated. It is clear we need election reforms to ensure that people will not be disenfranchised because of electoral incompetence. Perhaps there will be a great outcry for reforming/eliminating the Electoral College, but regardless of the initial popular outcry, I believe people will ultimately respect this institution which has been in place for over two centuries. No system is perfect, and our Constitution itself is an evolving document. As it states, it was established, "in order to form a more perfect union." To this day we are engaged in the never-ending process of perfecting that union. This election may or may not result in the altering of the Constitution, but in selecting our leaders, running the government and living our lives in accordance with it we are forever strengthening both the Constitution and our nation.