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Jewish World Review Nov. 23, 2000/ 25 Mar-Cheshvan, 5761

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker
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Consumer Reports


The answers aren't
so complicated

http://www.jewishworldreview.com --
FIFTEEN DAYS into this pestilential election, my data sifters are terminally clogged and my periodic ophthalmic migraines have become chronic. I no longer know who's in charge, which rules we're following or who's on what base. Forget who's winning.

My confusion over the score is rivaled only by my confusion over why we're having so many problems or why we need a state Supreme Court to settle them. The election questions seem relatively simple, and the answers equally so.

Technically, the question posed Monday to the Florida Supreme Court by the Gore campaign was whether a circuit court was correct in its ruling that Secretary of State Katherine Harris did not act arbitrarily in enforcing the state's ballot-count deadline.

Translated for real people, the question really asked was this: Is it OK for us to include votes that were cast incorrectly -- or not cast at all but that seem to indicate a preference -- and counted after the deadline, by humans under prejudicial, unregulated, inconsistent conditions, instead of by the machines for which they were designed, contrary to all logic and rules of common sense?

The answer should be obvious to anyone who hasn't succumbed to toxic chad syndrome: No, it's not OK. There never was a good enough reason to extend the deadline because there never was a good-enough reason to hand-count the votes in the first place, if you can remember back that far.

It is true that Florida law permits the hand-counting of ballots in cases of machine malfunction or evidence of fraud, but there's no convincing evidence of either. To say that machines malfunctioned because they didn't count "pregnant chads" -- punch-card ballots that are merely indented with "dimples" rather than detached -- is a mischaracterization. The machine didn't count pregnant chads because the machine knows what we don't: Pregnant chads are incomplete ballots and therefore are non-votes. Besides, surely pregnant chads didn't occur only in Palm Beach County, like some localized infection. For all I know I impregnated a chad in South Carolina, where I voted, and authorities are looking for me.

Additionally, to say that ballot-counters should be able to guess how voters really intended to vote by reading a "dimple" is, yes, "Kafkaesque," as even Democratic lawyers noted in their Supreme Court brief. But mostly it's idiotic to suppose that we might guess a voter's intent.

There's a good reason why states went to machine-counting ballots, which is that humans make prejudicial mistakes. Machines also make errors, but they aren't errors of bias and can be assumed to be fairly distributed across the political spectrum.

A basic understanding of fair play -- not to mention respect for the law -- presumes that you don't arbitrarily change the rules mid-game, altering deadlines or guessing at voter intent. These are simple things. Also simple is the notion that deadlines are, well, deadlines. If overseas ballots -- even those of military personnel -- fail to arrive by the deadline, they don't get counted. It's not a subjective judgment; it's just the rules.

Making elections fair and ensuring the absence of such subjective judgments is precisely why we have a system of rules, why we should have left Florida's alone, and why, should the Supreme Court rule in Gore's favor, we'll surely regret having invited the courts to make exceptions that could cast all future elections into question.


JWR contributor Kathleen Parker can be reached by clicking here.

Up

11/21/00: The devil -- or is it really Nurse Ratchet? -- in Mr. Gore
11/16/00:In the end, the winner may be loser
11/13/00: Eliminate popular vote -- at least in Palm Beach County
11/07/00: Lesser of 2 evils? It's more like the lesser of 2 lies
11/02/00: Latest Jones' saga exposes a big irony
10/31/00: Hate-crime legislation and anti-Bush ad are flawed
10/26/00: Taking it to the streets
10/23/00: Headlines blur fiasco of family
10/13/00: Forget polls: Bush passes turtle test
10/06/00: Feminism: A cup that's half full?
10/04/00: Election-year reality check: Abortion is here to stay
09/29/00: For Gore and Hollywood, the mirror has two faces
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09/11/00: Do Steinem's wedding bells sound feminist death knells?
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08/21/00: Dems manufacture emotions at convention
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11/01/99: Women Can't Hear What Men Don't Say
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09/14/99: Fathers' group seeks to right inequities
09/09/99: Son now has a license to grow up
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08/26/99: For better boys, try a little tenderness
08/24/99:The ABC's of campaign questions
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08/03/99: Unemployment? Not in this profession
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07/22/99: Tragedy tells us what's important
07/19/99: Study denouncing fathers sends danger signals
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06/20/99: The voice remains -- as always -- there beside me 06/16/99:Stating the obvious, a new growth industry
06/14/99: Calling for a cease-fire in the gender war
06/10/99: We owe children an apology

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