- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 14, 2000

VENICE, Calif. We're in the twilight zone, and it's getting late.

As goofy as the Florida circus may seem to others, from here, thousands of miles distant, in this fruit-and-nut capital of Southern California, where bankers commute to work on skates and doctors make house calls on scooters, it looks like something mere goofiness can't explain. Southern California, where a man has to be on urgent business on this most remarkable week in decades, suddenly seems sober and sedate by comparison to that other state that may have been lying too long in the sun.

The man on the next stool at Ruby's Diner, spreading cream cheese and blackberry jam on a breakfast bagel, has the most judicious suggestion since the election: "We don't need a constitutional amendment abolishing the Electoral College, but a constitutional amendment excluding Florida from our presidential elections. If those old biddies are so senile or so stupid that they can't punch holes in paper, why should their votes count?"

But they do vote and their votes do count, so in the Alice in Wonderland that the maps call Palm Beach County it makes sense that election judges count the votes until they get the result they want. Two times, three times, as many times as it takes. Just pick out the most promising precincts and count away. Fishing, after all, is the favorite sport in Florida.

Everything is turned upside down, but we can't say we weren't warned. The Democrats, radical feminists, gays, lesbians, Hollywood liberals, vegetarians and various mediacraties of press and tube have been warning us for years about what could happen if religious folk ever take over an election. So Al Gore, a dropout from a seminary who insists he never does anything without considering "what would Jesus do," picks a running mate who spends the campaign preaching Orthodox religious values, and we get an election that hangs on the Hadassah vote in a county of the near-dead in South Florida.

The Republicans have been reluctant to use the word "fraud," though James Baker, the spokesman for George W., suggests that "hand counting" offers opportunities for "mischief" that the machines don't, necessarily. On the other hand, Earl Long, the late governor of the great state of Louisiana who wanted to be buried in Louisiana "so I can continue to participate in politics," once boasted that with a little practice "I could make any voting machine ever built play 'Home on the Range.' " The Democrats in Florida seem to have had a little practice of their own, and it hardly takes a incredulous man to suspect they're capable of a couple of verses of "Way Down Upon the Suwannee River."

The counting in Florida has looked, if not suspicious, at least imaginative since early on election night. For hours early in the night no one without access to the Associated Press or the Internet could keep up with the popular vote, in Florida or anywhere else, because the network airheads are capable of managing only one obsession at a time and they were obsessed with the electoral vote. They awarded this early to Al Gore.

In Austin, as television viewers will recall, George W. and his aides were livid, because they were following the popular vote and it was going George W.'s way through most of the evening. With 85 percent of the vote counted, George W. had a lead of more than 120,000 votes, and it was about this time that the networks, relying on the Voter News Service count, reconsidered their award of Florida to Al Gore and returned the state to the "Too Close to Call" column. Soon after, the Bush lead began to evaporate with something close to the speed of light.

For one example, a ballot box in one precinct in Broward County, south of Miami and a Gore stronghold, remained uncounted for several hours as the tally sheets showed the Broward count as 99.84 percent complete. It remained that way until nearly every other precinct in the state was counted. No doubt a timely coincidence.

When the first recount, a statewide tally as required by law, began the next day, there were cautions from both Democratic and Republican veterans of recounts past that the results were unlikely to change very much. Said one official: "They just never do. A vote here, a vote there. It's rare for a result to be reversed."

But Palm Beach County is turning out to be the county that could. Al Gore picked up more than 800 votes in the first recount, and Democratic officials there, with no hint of embarrassment, merely suggest that it was the work of those senile or stupid constituents who couldn't punch a hole in a piece of paper even with the help of a machine. Naturally, they don't describe them quite that way. Other Gore gains, always in counties that he had carried on election night with big margins, have slowly erased George W.'s original 1,784-vote final, unofficial margin.

This astonishes a lot of disinterested observers. "The probability of that many going for Gore is less than one in a trillion," Rand Wilcox, a statistics professor at the University of Southern California, told the Los Angeles Times. "It's very peculiar it's not random. There's something systematic going on."

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