Voting problems in Florida this year were off the charts

My turn

Posted: Tuesday, December 05, 2000

A couple of local Republicans have written in to say that Al Gore should give it up. I've been trying to understand their viewpoint, which is so radically different than my own, and it dawned on me: from their perspective, Al Gore is just trying to find a few extra votes in a close election.

While from my perspective, the initial exit polls showing Al Gore the winner in Florida were correct, but something went very, very wrong in that swampy place. Thousands upon thousands of mostly Democratic voters in Florida for one reason and another were unable to register their choice for president. Along with the New York Times editorial board and a new Miami Herald study and even Pat Buchanan, I've concluded that if the votes were tabulated fairly, Gore would be the clear winner. Therefore, if Gore edges even marginally ahead in a hand recount, I'll feel that in an underlying sense, justice was done.

Many things went wrong for voters in predominantly Democratic districts - college students, for example, found that their campus polling place was closed and were directed to a new place off campus where their addresses turned out not to be on file. I can't lay out the whole argument in this small space. There are always problems, but the number of problems in Florida this year was off the charts.

However, the Palm Beach case to me is the most painful of all because it has given rise to all these anti-Semitic jokes about elderly Jewish voters. I sympathize so much with these people who were disenfranchized on election day. The problem was not merely that the ballots were confusing. We've all seen those ballots on TV and we all laugh that we could have figured them out. But Rabbi Richard Yellen, who has written eloquently on the problem, and who I spoke with on the phone, said that when they discussed this in his congregation, some people were laughing too, until they figured out that there seem to have been two different butterfly ballots. Some of them were merely a bit confusing, but others were misaligned, so the arrows on the brochures did not line up with the holes on the ballots. It was nearly impossible to vote for Gore no matter how young and smart you were.

Now most of those votes can never be recaptured. So Al Gore, who finds it hard to concede precisely because he knows he really won, has to depend only on the undercounted ballots. The manufacturers of those machines say they were designed for speed, not accuracy, and the ballots are designed to be counted by hand in a close election. The punch card machines used mostly in the Democratic counties reject ballots at a rate three times higher than the optical scanning machines used in Republican counties in Florida. The votes should have been hand-counted statewide as Al Gore proposed and the Florida Supreme Court offered - when there was still time. But at least the counties with the less reliable machines should be hand-counted. Otherwise, the Republican counties with their better machines are given an unfair advantage, enough of an advantage in this close election to tip the scales.

All over the country, in local, state and federal elections this year, hand recounts have proceeded, no muss, no fuss, no press circus. Part of that razor-thin margin Bush holds over Gore in Florida is itself due to hand counts in selected Republican counties within a couple of the days of the election! The GOP chairman in New Mexico wrote a few days ago in requesting a hand tally in a county there: "There is, of course, no other way to determine the accuracy of this apparent discrepancy, or machine malfunction, other than the board reviewing the votes by hand."

So this is not about some newly discovered Republican principle that hand counts are too subjective. No, this extraordinary and so far successful campaign to prevent a full accounting of the Florida vote is about winning at any cost.

If George Bush takes office without a fair count of the votes, he will never be accepted as legitimate by millions of Americans, and count me among them. But more importantly, COUNT THE VOTES!

Nina Mollett has lived in Alaska since 1972. She went to graduate school at UAF, received a degree in Resource Economics, and in 1998 accepted a federal job in Juneau.

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