How desperate is the Bush campaign about the possibility it may lose a manual recount of Florida’s vote?
Just look at how nakedly hypocritical its behavior has been over the weekend. As they mouth platitudes about the “rule of law” and the “good of the nation,” the Bush Leaguers are doing everything within their power to do everything it could to prevent a fair and orderly end to the vote-counting mess that this election has produced.
For example :
Bush claimed throughout the campaign that he was the candidate who “trusted the people,” while his opponent, Al Gore, trusted Washington. How then to explain the fact that in order to stop a legal-mandated hand-recount, under Florida law, Bush has gone to a federal court to try to have Florida’s local laws struck down as unconstitutional.
Meanwhile, Florida’s Secretary of State, Republican Katherine Harris, a Bush campaign co-chair and a Bush delegate to this summer’s GOP convention in Philadelphia, has announced that she will certify the result on Tuesday with or without a finished recount in any of the counties, thereby ensuring by executive fiat that the pro-Bush count is not overturned.
Bush’s representative, former Secretary of State James Baker, insists that less accurate than the count and recount already performed by laser-beam vote-counting machines. “Human error, individual subjectivity and decisions to ‘determine the voter’s intent’ would replace precision machinery in tabulating millions of small marks and fragile hole punches,” he said.
How then to explain that Governor George W. Bush of Texas signed the following law in 1997 : “If different counting methods are chosen under Section 214.042(a) among multiple requests for a recount of electronic voting system results, only one method may be used in the recount. A manual recount shall be conducted in reference to an electronic recount.”
Baker claimed in his Saturday press conference that “The vote in Florida has been counted, and the vote in Florida has been recounted. Gov. George W. Bush was the winner of the vote, and he was also the winner of the recount.”
In fact, as any number of Constitutional lawyers have pointed out, Baker does not appear terribly familiar with Florida law. Baker’s argument precludes even the possibility of any successful challenges by voters who feel that the Palm Beach County’s now notorious “butterfly ballots” muted their ability to make their votes count.
Bush and Baker may not like it, but the fact is that the voters will have a strong case if they want to take it to court to ensure that their voice is heard. Here is the relevant Florida election statute. “If a court finds substantial noncompliance with statutory election procedures,” the Florida Supreme Court wrote in 1998, “and also makes a factual determination that reasonable doubt exists as to whether a certified election expressed the will of the voters, then the court ... is to void the contested election even in the absence of fraud or intentional wrongdoing.”
Baker and many pro-Bush pundits, have also repeatedly cited the allegedly admirable examples of Gerald Ford refusing to contest the 1976 election, and Richard Nixon’s acceptance of the 1960 tally. In the latter case, in particular, it was understood by everyone that Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, the father of Gore campaign chief William Daley, had probably engaged in voter fraud to “vote the graveyards” of Cook County to give the state of Illinois to the Democratic ticket. Both of these arguments rely on the U.S. media’s historical ignorance.
Bush and Baker may not like it, but the fact is that the voters will have a strong case if they want to take it to court to ensure that their voice is heard.
In the first place, neither election was remotely as close as this one. Carter beat Ford by nearly 1.7 million votes and by 56 votes in the Electoral College. With Nixon and Kennedy, the popular vote was much closer, though again, Kennedy still creamed Nixon by 74 votes in the Electoral College. Flip Illinois, and you still have a strong Kennedy victory. What’s more, the history of that race as it is being wholesaled in the media is more myth than reality. Nixon’s troops did vigorously contest the results. Republican senators asked for recounts in 11 states just three days after the election. Nixon aides personally did field checks of votes in almost a dozen states. The Nixon forces, who had their own charges of voter fraud to worry about, brought in U.S. attorneys and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, impaneled grand juries, and filed a host of lawsuits in order to contest the result. All were unsuccessful, and they finally gave up. Oh, and one more thing: Both Carter and Kennedy won the popular vote… just like Al Gore.
The Bush campaign’s court effort to stop the hand recounts moves into federal court in Miami on Monday. NBC’s Dan Abrams reports.
Again, nothing is terribly surprising about a campaign of either party employing desperate measures as it sees the presidency slipping out of its grasp. The fact that the Republicans are going ballistic in their legal strategy so quickly demonstrates how little confidence they have in their ability to prevail in a fairly counted vote. After all, before their go-for-broke legal gambit, they had already won the battle in the media and appeared to have enlisted most pundits, major editorial writers, and virtually every talking head invited on television to pressure the Gore team into conceding an election he appears to have won rather than pursue its victory by legal means.
This closed-minded consensus devalues not only our own legal and political processes - which, after all were set up to deal with just such questions - but also the voices of the voters themselves. Why shouldn’t the people of Palm Beach and other Florida voters seek a legal remedy to make their votes count if one is open to them? Isn’t that what democracy and due process is supposed to be all about
The entire self-contained debate seems a repeat of our unhappy impeachment experience.
Newsweek reported, according to its post-election poll, “72 percent of adults feel that making certain the count is fair and accurate is more important than getting matters resolved as quickly as possible. And 69 percent say that the recount and the delay are proof that the U.S. electoral system is working, not a sign of weakness.” The entire self-contained debate seems a repeat of our unhappy impeachment experience.
Then, as now, the Republican Party and the punditocracy were united in their belief they alone knew what was in the best interests of the country. Then, as now, they treated with contempt the objections of everyday Americans, the vast majority of whom felt that their democracy was being undermined by a contemptuous elite driven by personal pique rather than any larger sense of responsibility to history or principle. Then as now the Republicans and their supporters in the media have overplayed their hand.
My guess is that most fair-minded Americans will be outraged over the stealthy, anti-democratic tactics employed by the Bush campaign to prevent a fair hearing for Florida’s voter-and for the rest of the nation as well. But will this outrage be heard in the media and by the politicians who can pull the plug on it? The next 48 hours will be crucial, not only to this election, but the integrity of American democracy.
Eric Alterman is a columnist for The Nation and a regular contributor to MSNBC on the Internet.