- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 15, 2000

Before too long a medical journal will probably come up with a name for the deep national depression that is settling in among Americans (or at least Republicans), as they watch their presidential election being subverted by Democratic legerdemain and legal wrangling in Florida. As one of the editorial writers here commented last week, "I don't think I am emotionally prepared for a Gore victory." Those of us who have gone through life with faith in the rule of law and order are finding this a truly disturbing experience. On the editorial page of The Washington Times we already have a name for the new national malaise post-election stress disorder.
Consider some of the examples of election chaos that keep flowing in on top of the ludicrously arbitrary hand counting in selected Democratic districts of Florida and the uproar over the now famous "butterfly ballots" (which are actually so simple that an elementary school class that tried the ballot as a test got it 100 percent right). In New Mexico, yesterday, 500 Gore ballots were conveniently discovered, turning that election count around to Mr. Gore after Mr. Bush had "enjoyed" a lead of all of 17 votes. Absentee ballots from military personnel have ended up in all sorts of places. Some of those posted overseas complain that their ballots were sent by bulk mail and therefore almost didn't get to their destination in time. Other absentee voters have been contacted by lawyers telling them that the postmark on the ballot does not really have to be Nov. 7 because the United States has no jurisdiction over other countries' postmarks. Then there was the amazing case of the two absentee ballots that turned up in Denmark with a private family, in a package with some items they had purchased from a mail order company in Washington state. By now, one halfway suspects a bunch of ballots to pop out of the vegetable drawer in the refrigerator at home.
As focused as we all are on events unfolding here, it is beyond doubt that the American election chaos will have a detrimental impact elsewhere, too. This is deeply serious. The United States is considered throughout the world as the prime example of popular democracy. Through the National Endowment for Democracy, the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute as well as the Carter Center and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, we dispatch election monitors to far-flung countries. Just before the election here, our monitors were in Kyrgyzstan and Azerbaijan. We send election monitors to Bosnia, to Haiti, to the Palestine Authority, to Russia, etc. How much credibility will they have after this debacle?
Under the Clinton administration the work of democracy building has sometimes been done with high-handed preachiness, causing some foreign nations to respond with hostility rather than gratitude. That may be why the 2000 presidential election is being viewed with barely concealed glee in places like Cuba and Russia, whose leaders have volunteered to send election monitors here.
It would in fact appear that the rules that are applied by international election monitors are being violated right and left in the Florida recount. As election observers will tell you, the first task when counting ballots is to separate out those who have not been used, and cut them so they won't turn up later. Next is the task of separating the good ballots from the spoiled, such as those who have been punched twice as 19,000 were in Palm Beach County. After that, the spoiled ballots are set aside and never looked at again. That this process of selection in individual districts is done prior to the publication of any election results is of great importance; once preliminary results are know, the interested parties would be aware exactly how many more votes they need to win. In the Florida recount, that is exactly what is happening. As former Secretary of State James Baker has over and over said of the Democrats, they will keep counting until they get a result they like. Be assured that political parties in emerging democracies in Central Asia or Africa are taking lessons from Gore campaign chairman William Daley.
Then there is the question of voter intimidation. In many countries, voter intimidation can be a question of life, limb or property. In Florida, cases of voter intimidation cited have been frivolous by comparison, someone stationed on a corner too close to the voting area, for instance, or someone appealing for a vote in the name of Jesus. In Kyrgyzstan, there were cases of students having their passports confiscated before the election, and only returned when they had voted the right way. The world of difference between the two kinds of "intimidation" will not be noted by those who might retort, "well, Americans have voter intimidation, too."
American democracy sets standards throughout the world. That is one additional reason to get this election right.
E-mail: helle.bering@washtimes.com

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