- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 11, 2000

Since Tuesday's presidential election, it has become increasingly clear that the Democratic campaign of Vice President Al Gore has no intention of ending any of its challenges be they political, legal or ostensibly "moral" until Mr. Gore achieves the only result he seems willing to accept.
Mr. Gore and his campaign are playing a dangerous game with both the Constitution and the deeply embedded traditions of two centuries of American electoral history; but neither the Constitution nor the traditions seem to concern the Gore campaign at all. By itself, this would be a frightening prelude to any possible Gore-Lieberman administration. Coupled with the reprehensible actions of the Clinton-Gore administration to thwart legitimate inquiries into pervasive fund-raising corruption related to the 1996 presidential election and several other scandals, Mr. Gore's current power-seeking actions are particularly disturbing.
Mr. Gore's "moral" claim to the presidency derives from the fact that he has maintained a nationwide lead over George W. Bush in the popular vote. Indeed, he and his advisers have been relentlessly leveraging this fact in pursuit of their political and legal challenges to the election. Constitutionally, however, Mr. Gore's razor-thin popular-vote advantage is utterly irrelevant to the election of a president. Mr. Gore was happy to acknowledge as much a week before the election, when it appeared that only he had a chance to win a majority of votes in the Electoral College while simultaneously losing the popular vote to Mr. Bush. In any event, with as many as several million absentee ballots, a majority of which has traditionally favored Republican candidates, still remaining uncounted across the nation, does anybody seriously believe that Mr. Gore would abandon his excessive political and unprecedented legal challenges to the election if Mr. Bush eventually moved ahead in the popular vote totals?
Regardless of how Mr. Gore's "moral" challenge plays out, he seems determined to press an endless number of political challenges, which, disturbingly, have become increasingly selective. Given the debacle that transpired election night as the television networks completely discredited themselves in their self-appointed roles as state-by-state arbiters of electoral votes, no fair-minded person would question Mr. Gore's retraction of the concession he had conveyed to Mr. Bush in a telephone conversation after the networks had, perhaps prematurely, awarded Mr. Bush the 25 electoral votes of Florida. With fewer than 1,800 votes or less than three-one-hundredths of 1 percent separating the two candidates among the nearly 6 million that were cast for them in Florida, Mr. Gore could hardly be expected to concede the presidential election over a state whose election laws required a mandatory recount under such circumstances.
With the exception of an estimated 2,000-3,000 overseas absentee ballots that remain uncounted, Florida's mandatory statewide recount has, according to a county-by-county unofficial appraisal by the Associated Press, confirmed Mr. Bush's advantage, though it has reportedly been reduced to 327 votes. Florida's secretary of state will certify the official results from the statewide recount on Tuesday. However, when it became apparent that Mr. Gore would fall short on the statewide recount, his campaign immediately began petitioning a handful of Florida's 67 counties to conduct a second recount by hand. Florida law does not mandate recounts by hand regardless of how close the election is. Nevertheless, Mr. Gore's campaign pressed its political challenge by selectively choosing only those mostly urban counties that were likely to add to his column, disregarding the heavily Republican counties likely to add to Mr. Bush's total.
The strategy is clear: No longer interested in a fair recount, the Gore campaign pursues only its own self-interest, seemingly determined to continue its political challenges until it obtains the results it desperately wants. Obviously, Mr. Gore is less concerned with constitutional finality than he is with achieving the power that gives his life meaning.
As unacceptable as it is for Mr. Gore to pursue another recount that is selectively designed to benefit only his interests, the vice president has made it clear that his pursuit of power will not end if that recount fails to achieve the only goal he considers acceptable. Virtually guaranteeing that the failed political challenge would soon evolve into a legal challenge, William Daley, Mr. Gore's campaign chairman, declared Thursday, "Let the legal system run its course." Mr. Daley pledged that the campaign "will be working with voters from Florida in support of legal actions to demand some redress."
What Mr. Daley has in mind is an unremitting legal onslaught against any perceived irregularity in Florida's electoral process. In particular, he will be contesting a ballot used in Palm Beach County, which, as it happens, was designed by a Democratic election official, approved by the state, distributed in advance to all registered voters and published in local newspapers before the election. The style of the ballot in question it is known as a "butterfly" ballot because it lists candidates on both sides of the holes voters must punch to make their selection had been used in previous Palm Beach County elections. In fact, it is commonly used in Mr. Daley's native Cook County in Illinois. Significantly, neither the current Palm Beach County ballot nor its identically designed predecessors ever elicited a complaint from the Democratic Party until after Mr. Gore had received fewer statewide votes than Mr. Bush.
The Gore campaign is making much of the fact that 19,000 Palm Beach County voters apparently punched two holes in the ballot's presidential selection area, thus invalidating their votes. Democratic partisans also claim that they inadvertently voted for Patrick Buchanan of the Reform Party. Neither assertion stands up to scrutiny. In the 1996 election, which attracted fewer Palm Beach County voters, about 15,000 people double-voted. In Tuesday's election, 96 percent of Palm Beach County voters successfully filled out a ballot whose supposedly flawed design will now be used in court in a ludicrous attempt to force another presidential vote in the county. As for the 3,704 votes Mr. Buchanan received an amount that Democrats consider to be far in excess of the intentions of the county's voters it's worth noting that Mr. Buchanan received nearly 9,000 votes in the 1996 Republican primary and Reform Party candidate Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996 received 76,223 and 30,739 votes, respectively. Such "irregularities" in no way require another county-wide election to remedy. Moreover, note well nobody has alleged fraud, and no evidence of fraud has surfaced. Fortunately, Mr. Gore's irresponsible legal challenge has not received the endorsement of a host of far more honorable Democrats who have more in mind than Mr. Gore's rise to power. Former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta told The Washington Post, "Both sides need to step back, let the recount come in and accept that final judgment for the sake of the country." With the the statewide recount still in process, former Democratic Sen. Paul Simon, who himself pursued the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988, told The Post, "At this point, there is not a feeling of disgust yet, but if it drags on too long, there will be." Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey, who sought his party's presidential nomination in 1992, told The Post that each candidate has to say, "I can't take extraordinary measures" such as unprecedented legal challenges "to win this thing because it might hurt the country." Democratic Sen. John Breaux told the New York Times that the right thing to do "is to count the votes and respect the decision," without pursuing lengthy litigation. No less a Democratic partisan than New Jersey Sen. Robert Torricelli, who as chairman of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee helped to defeat four, and perhaps five, Republican incumbent senators on Tuesday, told the Times, "There is going to have to be a very compelling case for anybody to take this into a court of law. It's a downward spiral. It may begin in Florida, but it can go to other states, and ultimately the presidency of the United States should not be decided by a judge."
There is still time for Mr. Gore to step back from the constitutional abyss. He should accept the official results of the mandatory recount, which will be released Tuesday. Then he should wait for the overseas ballots to be counted on Friday. The convergence of those results should determine which candidate should receive Florida's 25 electoral votes, thereby becoming America's 43rd president.

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