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Jewish World Review Nov. 21, 2000 / 23 Mar-Cheshvan, 5761

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell
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Phony issues in Florida

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- INCESSANT CLAIMS by Vice President Al Gore and his spokesmen that they want "every vote to count" is belied by everything the Gore camp has done in Florida.

If the Democrats really wanted every vote to count, then they would have started a manual recount all over the state, not just in heavily Democratic areas. If Gore wants every vote to count, then why has one of his lawyers been sending instructions to other lawyers for the Democrats, throughout the state, on how to challenge absentee ballots from military people overseas?

Some countries where these military personnel are stationed do not follow American postmarking practices, so this technicality can be used to disqualify military absentee ballots, which are expected to be heavily for George W. Bush. According to the Associated Press, more than a thousand overseas absentee ballots were thrown out last Friday and one Florida county "rejected 117 of its 147 overseas ballots."

If Gore and his people want every vote to count, then what are they doing contacting Republican members of the electoral college, to try to get them to switch their vote to Gore, even though these electors' constituencies voted for Bush? The "quiet intelligence-gathering" by the Gore camp on these electors' backgrounds, reported in the November 16th Wall Street Journal, suggests implicit blackmail to force electors to betray their trust, in order to avoid having their personal embarrassments made public, as the Clinton/Gore administration has done with others.

The magic phrase "hand recount" has been thrown around as if these hand counts are more accurate than the machine counts. Machines may miss some ballots that were not properly punched, but at least they miss Republican and Democratic ballots impartially. But hand recounts are open not only to subjective and partisan "interpretation" but also to mishandling, both accidental and deliberate. A Democrat in Palm Beach County has had a ballot-punching machine confiscated. It was found in his car after he had denied having it.

Things like this are no doubt among the reasons why the Florida law does not provide for a hand count of ballots. It does not preclude them, but Florida's Secretary of State is given the discretion to allow deviations from the legally prescribed rules only in case of such unusual situations as floods, hurricanes, power outages and the like. She does not consider ballots spoiled by the voters to be in that category. Incidentally, despite all the noise made by the Gore camp about nearly 20,000 ballots being disqualified for this reason in heavily Democratic areas, even more ballots were disqualified for the same reason in heavily Republican areas.

But the facts will never stop the accusations that Secretary of State Katherine Harris is being "partisan" because she is a Republican. Practically every government official belongs to one party or the other, but that does not make all their actions partisan -- especially in the case of Ms. Harris, who is following legal advice from lawyers known for being Democrats. It has been reported on MSNBC that Gore operatives have threatened an investigation of Katherine Harris's life that would supposedly make the Whitewater investigation look like a tea party.

But such gross attempts at blackmailing a public official produce little notice, much less outrage, in the media.

Corruption of the legal processes, by blackmail or character assassination or other methods, has been standard procedure in the Clinton/Gore administration. Their worst legacy may be the notion that "everybody does it." Everybody does not do it. But more people will do it if Clinton and Gore continue to get away with it.

There are two very different questions that can too easily get confused with one another. One question is whether the present system of machine counting of votes is the best way. That is a question to be dealt with after this election is settled and before the next election takes place.

The other question is whether this election shall be conducted according to the rules laid out and agreed to in advance by both sides or according to new rules and procedures created by those who lost. If the latter, then all future elections will be challenged and dragged through the courts by whoever loses. For all practical purposes, we will no longer have election laws.

We will have tentative agreements that will not be worth the paper they are written on.

JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author of several books, including his latest, A Personal Odyssey.

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate