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Jewish World Review Nov. 17, 2000 / 19 Mar-Cheshvan, 5761

George Will

George Will
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Consumer Reports

Slow-motion larceny -- IN HIS CAMPAIGN to follow in the presidency a man defined by moral turpitude, Al Gore promised, "You ain't seen nothing yet." Now we know what he meant. Credit him with a promise kept.

Credit also his farsightedness in entrusting his campaign to Mayor Daley's son, for whom the manufacturing (literally the making by hand) of votes is a family tradition. Credit also the artistry--and audacity; it is being televised--of William Daley's mechanism for manufacturing votes in Florida.

His advancement of the family craft is in manufacturing votes not before or during an election as his father did, but for days--weeks, if permitted--after the election. The desperation of George W. Bush's failed request for a federal court injunction to stop Daley's mechanism--a third, this time manual, count--indicates that the election probably will soon be stolen unless the Florida secretary of state's 5 p.m. deadline, which is statutory and which she stressed last Thursday, holds.

The Gore campaign's mantra is that on Election Day their man won the votes cast but not the votes counted. However, that formulation erases a distinction crucial to the integrity of elections. A vote is not simply anything done by anyone handed a ballot. A vote results only from the proper use of a ballot. Gore's postelection strategy has been to make more and more elastic the standards governing proper use of a ballot. The goal is to give wide latitude to the conscious or unconscious bias of ballot counters.

Although Bush and his advisers agonized about what they knew would be a severe public relations problem in going to federal court, one stark calculation trumped all others: They believed, with certitude and correctly, that unless an injunction stopped the manual count, they would lose the presidency.

They knew obtaining an injunction was quite unlikely. However, seeking one would at least plant a predicate for an appeal on constitutional grounds after the manual recount. The appeal would allege that the right to vote of all other Florida voters, 6 million of them, had been abridged, without due process and in denial of equal protection of the law, by the supposed solicitude of some Democratic counties for a few thousand voters who botched the marking of their ballots and may have wanted to vote for Gore.

Also, Bush's advisers hoped that the appeal to a federal court might make those conducting the manual recount more cautious about making partisan decisions. Remember, the Palm Beach counters began by changing, in a way favorable to Gore, the criterion for deciding when a punch hole has been punched.

Besides, partisanship by the counters, although a problem, is not Bush's principal problem. That is the grinding arithmetic produced by Daley's mechanism--a recount confined to Gore strongholds. The counters, given enough time, will inexorably produce a Gore victory.

Until the secretary of state affirmed the statutory deadline for certifying the election returns, Gore's minions were loudly demanding strict compliance with Florida law. But as this is written, they were seeking judicial help in suspending the law that would truncate their process of concocting Gore votes.

This third count is standardless, with counters having untrammeled discretion in examining ballots. They are surmising the intent of unknown voters who incompetently punched ballots--in Palm Beach County, about 19,000 such voters. What must be the thoughts of the more than 431,000 county voters who mastered the less-than-Einsteinian challenge of marking their ballots correctly?

Republicans everywhere, seething as they watch slow-motion larceny, wonder why Bush's campaign did not demand manual recounts in counties he carried handily and where there were large numbers of disallowed ballots. For example, Bush carried Duval County--Jacksonville--152,098 to 107,864 and there were 26,000 such ballots. However, Bush officials noted that those ballots were disproportionately cast in precincts that voted heavily for Gore.

This is why Bush had fewer Florida recount options than Gore had: All over Florida, people who had a difficult time correctly marking a ballot were much more apt to be trying to vote Democratic than Republican.

"Technicalities should not determine the presidency," said Daley as he ignited a process to give Gore the presidency on the basis of decisions about whether a particular ballot punch hole was precisely where it should have been, and when chad--a bit of paper clinging to a punch hole--reveals the intent of an unknown voter. Daley, who learned the lesson at his father's knee, and Gore, who learned it from his patron and soulmate, Bill Clinton, understand the political advantage that accrues to people incapable of embarrassment.

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