My Turn: Florida election claims still shaky

Posted: Wednesday, December 12, 2001

A year ago today, the Supreme Court took the matter of choosing our president out of the people's hands. The day they ordered the recount to stop was a nightmare for some of us. We are not necessarily "Gore partisans," as the New York Times labeled us. We are democracy partisans. We worry that the clock stopped for American democracy that day, which followed on weeks of determined, sometimes bullying efforts to prevent a normal recount in Florida.

Now the eight media organizations that hired the University of Chicago to examine the Florida ballots have told us, flatly, that Bush would have won anyway. True - they noted in the fine print - Gore would have won a statewide recount, under any consistent standards. But in real life, they claimed, Bush would have won.

A few questions spring to mind: Is it true? And why did they lead with this scenario, which anyway the Supreme Court said was illegal? Why rehash an old Miami Herald story, when they promised theirs would be different? Why not lead instead with what might have happened had the Supreme Court ordered the count to continue past Dec. 12, under one statewide standard?

The first question is easy. No, Bush would not have won that recount. The conclusion is based on a false assumption - that only the undervotes would have been counted. But the presiding judge, Terry Lewis, says he was inclined to include the overvotes where voter intent was clear - where the voter marked a name and wrote in the same name, or circled it for emphasis. The study found 873 more of these for Gore than Bush. They would have put Gore over the top without any chads, case closed.

The question of why the consortium played it the way they did is harder. They excluded not only all the overvotes, but hundreds of undervotes their own study found that the real life Palm Beach and Broward canvassers had missed; accepted hundreds of illegal absentee ballots the Times had discovered earlier; and in various other ways twisted themselves into a pretzel to reach a desired conclusion, in the face of a pile of ballots telling another story.

People want to trust the New York Times. But admittedly the paper was in a tough spot. Can you imagine the headline at this late date "Gore Would Have Won"? If they'd been brave enough to run that one, maybe they'd have been brave enough to tell the real story: that this election was not even close.

The really interesting number that the consortium found, which should have been front-page headlines, is that incompetently (or all too competently) designed ballots and other assorted problems cost Gore about 46,000 votes. That is a larger number than we realized. If tens of thousands of voters lost their voices because of faulty ballots in a third world country, would the United States have accepted their leader as democratically elected? Or suggested a revote, and international monitors?

This is why some Americans are still angry about the recount. We think that at the very least all the salvageable ballots should have been counted. The press is spinning when it claims that Bush would have won by a hair, but the bigger scam is pretending that the contest was even close. The sheer numbers of discarded ballots tell us that the initial network call for Gore, based on exit polls, was accurate. Floridians told the pollsters whom they voted for.

Only one member of the consortium, the Palm Beach Post, located in the heart of the hurricane, looked at those large numbers and ran with the real story: "The wrong man became president of the United States in January. That isn't an opinion. It's a fact. History will draw its conclusions as to whether the country benefited from the mistake."

Some Empire readers may think the country benefited. Most of the people I know emphatically do not. Still, people should understand that it was a mistake; and that anyone defending Bush's policies by claiming that, after all, we chose him last November (as a recent letter writer to this paper tried to do), is on very shaky ground.

Nina Mollett is a longtime Fairbanksan-Juneauite who has been writing essays and articles for Alaskan publications since 1972.

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