- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 16, 2000

Well, this was the week when the American people learned all over again how messy, nasty and dirty a close presidential election can be.

Far from the idealized, flag-and-bunting, Norman Rockwell image of ordinary, public-spirited citizens counting clear, hand-written ballots one by one and proudly declaring a winner on Election Night at the little red school house, alas we've learned anew that the voting process can be twisted and even downright dishonest.

A congressman once said that making legislation was a lot like making sausages. The final product can be wonderful but you would not want to see how it was made.

The same could be said of some elections, or at least the one in Florida where the outcome of one of the bitterest political battles in memory will decide who will occupy the White House for the next four years.

Some of the things we've learned from this experience have come as shock to many of us, even those of us who have been covering elections for a living for decades. Like what?

Well, for example, the huge number of votes that are routinely thrown out of election counts because of double counts where the voters chose more than one candidate, or undercounts, where they chose no one, or in the case of thousands of disputed ballots in Florida, where the impression on the ballot was not made clearly enough to express the intent of the voter.

This is at the heart of the political war that is now being fought for Florida's pivotal 25 electoral votes. The Election Night vote count, conducted by machine, understandably discarded all of these presidential votes tens of thousands of them.

However, this did not happen just in Florida. It happened in most states. Discarded votes are a natural part of the process. Voters make mistakes when they vote, and each ballot has to be correctly filled out or it is not counted. That's part of the responsibility that each voter has, not only to show up and vote, but to follow the instructions and fill out their ballot properly. Sample ballots are available, so there is no excuse here.

But as we have seen in Florida, there are still plenty of complainers, usually when the vote is very close and their candidate loses. Tens of thousands of ineligible votes were also thrown out in Florida in the 1996 presidential election, but there was no hue and cry among Democratic voters then because President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore won the state.

The difference now is that last Tuesday's election showed that George W. Bush won narrowly and an automatic statewide recount confirmed that victory, giving him the 25 electoral votes he needs to win the presidency.

So now Mr. Gore is attempting to overturn that result by demanding that many of these discarded ballots be counted by, in many cases, "divining the intent of the voters," sort of like the way that Johnny Carson as the turban-headed "Carnac" used to divine the question when given an answer.

But the Gore campaign does not want another statewide recount, just a partial third recount in four very heavily Democratic counties where they figure they have a good chance of divining enough intentions to turn defeat into victory.

Bear in mind, that discarded votes hurt both candidates almost equally. For Republican-heavy Duval County, which went for Mr. Bush, officials threw out 21,942 ballots because the voters had checked off more than one presidential candidate.

But the Bush campaign does not want another recount or to pore over the discarded ballots. Their position is simple. There has been a vote, there has been a recount, and that should be the end of it. Most of the 67 counties have sent their vote counts in to the state for certification and it should be left to the Florida secretary of state to declare the winner and certify the Bush electors as required by state law.

Unfortunately, Mr. Gore's attorneys are seeking to block the secretary of state's authority and to extend the state's deadline for a week or even several weeks to permit Gore partisans in the Democratic counties to turn enough discarded ballots into the margin of new votes Mr. Gore needs to move ahead of Mr. Bush.

Let's not mince words here. This an attempt to steal this election by winning in the courts what could not be won at the ballot box and through the procedures that are set forth in state law.

No one can know how this will end. Americans are an impatient, let's-get-this-over-with kind of people, and Mr. Gore knows that they will not tolerate an extensive period of delay for transparently personal political gain. My guess is that the Bush forces will do better on appeal than they have in the first round of legal challenges, and that in the end this blatantly illegal attempt to manipulate the political process will fail.

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