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Jewish World Review Nov. 13, 2000/ 15 Mar-Cheshvan, 5761

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker
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Consumer Reports

Eliminate popular vote -- at least in Palm Beach County --
HYSTERICS urging elimination of the Electoral College, which was conceived in part as a buffer against just such hysteria, are wading through the wrong swamp. Clearly, what we need to eliminate is the popular vote.

At least we should consider barring the popular vote in Palm Beach County, where more than 3,000 citizens say they accidentally voted for the wrong man (Patrick Buchanan instead of Al Gore) and 19,000 others voted for two presidential candidates.

The ballot -- which was created by a Democrat, circulated and approved by a Republican and published in a local newspaper in advance of the election -- apparently wasn't quite clear enough. Many voters say they realized (after the votes were counted) that they had punched the wrong hole.

I know just what they mean. I said the same thing upon exiting the SAT. I meant to blacken the space next to the correct answer not the wrong one. I'm still considering suing the Educational Testing Service for making those multiple-choice questions so darned tricky.

If eliminating the popular vote is too radical, we might consider some measure of voter qualification. I'm not recommending that we return to the days when property ownership was a prerequisite to suffrage. But surely there's some middle ground between supremacist, slave-owning, brute-colonizing, culture-confiscating, wife-owning, child-beating White Male Voters and morons?

Perhaps a voter IQ test is in order. We wouldn't ask tough questions such as, "How many people can serve as president of the United States at one time?"

Or even try to trick citizens with a nebulous "True/False" question: "Social Security is a federal program."

Rather we might administer a short quiz to determine whether voters have a clue. Even though the need for such a quiz has been amply demonstrated by the Palm Beach outcry, other supporting evidence abounds. Just this morning I was talking to a confident female voter who cast her ballot for George W. Bush because, she said, "I really liked the idea of a lockbox." (Is that the one that comes with the little pop-up ballerina?) Hello? Testing, one, two, testing.

A compassionate columnist, I'm willing to make adjustments for Palm Beach County voters, something similar to the drivers-license tests in which we ask drivers to identify the red, octagonal sign with the word "Stop" painted in large, white letters.

A sample question might look like this:

"When you see a black arrow next to your candidate's name, pointing toward an adjacent circle, what do you do?"

A. Punch a hole in the circle next to my candidate's name as designated by the pointing black arrow.

B. Punch a hole in the circle next to the guy's name I can't stand and wouldn't vote for in a million years.

C. Punch myself in the eye and sue the Election Commission for not warning me that sharp objects in the hands of idiots sometimes follow the path of least resistance.

D. Sue the state of Florida for allowing me to vote despite clear evidence that I'm not qualified.

The same ballot used in Palm Beach County, by the way, was presented to first and fourth-graders at Sockwell Elementary School in Bossier City, Louisiana, as an experiment. Not one of the 22 fourth-graders was confused. Only three of 19 first-graders picked Buchanan's circle instead of Gore's.

Anyone can understand the dismay of voters realizing that they had cast the wrong ballot, but mistakes happen. They're unfortunate and, yes, consequential. But Palm Beach County voters -- more than 400,000 of whom did manage to negotiate the ballots -- were not cheated, as Gore apologists insist.

Nor were they disenfranchised. Nor are they victims, except perhaps to the extent that they are participants in a grade-inflation culture that tolerates excuses for mistakes rather than insisting on competence in the arena and sportsmanship in defeat.

JWR contributor Kathleen Parker can be reached by clicking here.


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