- The Washington Times - Friday, March 9, 2001

Only yesterday you couldn't buy a decent bottle of champagne in any Democratic precinct anywhere. Everyone had put down a cellar to prepare to celebrate the evaporation of George W. Bush and all around him.

Democratic ladies were out shopping for gowns to wear to Hillary's presidential inaugural, Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle measured Denny Hastert's and Trent Lott's offices for new carpets, Jeb Bush and every Republican in Florida were measured for nooses and the Rev. Jesse Jackson saddled up to ride the crest of a new wave of civil-rights outrage back to respectability. And Democrats couldn't wait to recount Florida.

What a difference a month makes.

George W. Bush is on his way to winning his tax cut, a tax cut and a congressional triumph big enough to give him the momentum for more to come. The Clinton scandals have so demoralized Democrats that they're beginning to talk about their prospects for 2002 in the past tense, Hillary has become a national joke and Jesse Jackson is beginning to crowd Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart in the pantheon of shyster preachers.

Not only is the recounting in Florida not going well George W. picks up votes every time another recount is finished the more everyone looks into the stories of oppression of black voters there ("worse than Selma," Jesse Jackson assured us) the more it looks like the only thing it's worse than is the hype over how we all melted, drowned or froze with the dawn of the millennium. Nobody's seen a Y2K bug in months.

What we had in Florida, we were told only yesterday, was a conspiracy (probably hatched by 140-year-old Confederate soldiers) to deprive blacks of their voting rights in the year 2000.

This was to be accomplished in two stages. Roadblocks would be set up near polling places to delay black voters until it was too late to vote, and, here's the diabolical part, punch-card voting machines would be employed to confuse the few blacks who could manage to trickle into the booths before closing time. In the event, the scheme was so successful that only twice as many blacks voted in 2000 than in 1996.

Now two professors have completed a study that demonstrates how Election Day 2000 was, from Jesse Jackson's point of view, worse than he could imagine. Everything he has been saying about punch-card voting is a lie.

Martha Kropf, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and Stephen Knack, an associate fellow of the Center for Institutional Reform at the University of Maryland, conclude that "there is little support for the view that resource constraints cause poorer counties with large minority populations to retain antiquated or inferior voting equipment." Stripped of professor talk, "it's not poor blacks being mistreated, but prosperous whites."

The derelict machines, if that's what they are, are in counties with large Republican majorities. Blacks actually tend to live in the counties with the latest technology, and in fact it's Hispanics who are more likely to vote with punch-card machines. But that's because most of them live in Los Angeles County, California, where the machines are well thought of and nobody wants to get rid of them.

Not only that, say the professors, counties with punch-card machines tend to show higher incomes, higher tax revenues and larger populations than counties with more modern equipment, and, statistically speaking, the presence of large black populations significantly reduces the probability that such counties will employ punch-card machines. Other than that, Jesse was right.

Maybe this will teach him to beware of reckless racial profiling, but we shouldn't count on it.

County voting officials far from Florida are puzzled by the hype over punch-card voting. "What we need to do is get away from the hysteria and start thinking about how we educate the voter better," says Connie McCormack, the elections registrar in Los Angeles County, who presides over the 37,000 punch-card machines that collect the votes of 4.1 million Angelenos.

Ernest Hawkins, the registrar of Sacramento County, California, and the president of the National Association of County Clerks and Election Officials, is not so much puzzled as defiant: "I'm not getting rid of them."

Punch cards have drawbacks, but optical scanners are no better and touch-screen voting needs refinement. "It's foolish to do a wholesale changeover from punch cards just because of the difficulties in the last election," says Julie Anne Kempf, the superintendent of elections in Seattle.

Hysterical foolishness or not, hysteria and foolishness may be all the Democrats have going for them. It's enough to make a frustrated Democrat wave the Confederate flag.


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