November 28, 2000
Al Gore is right to reject the Republican fix in Florida.
The decision by the state's top election official and keen Dubya fan, Katherine Harris, to cancel Palm Beach county's revised returns, ignore numerous other irregularities, and declare the election for George W Bush is only the latest in a series of malign machinations.
The Texas governor's hard-faced cheerleaders have challenged the Democrats' attempts to secure an accurate tally every step of the way. The Bush camp precipitated this crisis by being the first to go to law, then escalated by moving the dispute into federal court. But when court rulings on hand recounts went against them, they resorted to appeals, delay, abuse and pressure on local officials.
Intimidation may have been a factor in the sudden decision of Miami-Dade supervisors to abandon the county's crucial hand recount. The Republicans disenfranchised thousands of people there by insisting on excluding ballot papers where, thanks to outdated equipment, the voter's intention was unclear in a machine count.
They have cynically profited elsewhere from "butterfly" ballots and "dimpled chads" that led yet more thousands of Gore supporters to misdirect or spoil their votes.
More sinister abuses, such as "lost" ballot boxes and discriminatory practices in ethnic minority areas, have in effect been allowed to stand by Ms Harris's decision.
Even as they attempt to celebrate this sullied, unsafe "victory", the Bushmen remain intent on drawing in the nation's highest judicial authority, the US Supreme Court, to buttress their bogus, anti-democratic tactics.
Mr Gore is right to fight on because, simply put, he almost certainly won Florida on November 7 and a fair and accurate return would confirm that view.
All the same, Americans, until now for the most part wallowing serenely in a sea of complacency, must finally be awakening to the prospect of a full-blown constitutional crisis. How else to describe a situation in which the election is over, in theory, but the outcome, in practice, is fundamentally disputed
For consider : the popular vote went to one candidate, the electoral college (possibly) to another.
Congress, like the country, is almost exactly split, politically, ideologically, and geographically.
The executive branch is impotent, the transition is paralysed, and an inauguration boycott is threatened.
Absurdly, Mr Gore or Mr Bush's running mate, Dick Cheney (if he is well enough), could cast a deciding vote in the Senate if the electoral college returns are disputed and, perhaps, deliberately manipulated for partisan reasons.
In Florida, the courts and legislature are at each other's throats as Republican election officials and politicians accuse Democratic judges of bias.
In Washington, a Supreme Court staffed by political appointees whose conservative-dominated outlook was itself a contentious campaign issue is now asked to decide whether the Florida vote was fair.
Each day, the antagonists' language grows more divisive and rebarbative. And still there is no finishing line.
So much for the separation of powers, for all those famous checks and balances.
Even if Mr Bush wanted to do the decent thing, if a final, reliable Florida tally went against him, the Reagan era retreads around him, and business and defence interests beyond, simply would not let him. After eight years, the GOP wants the White House too badly to let go.
Outraged by the Republican fixers, Mr Gore is now far more determined to fight than he was on election night. Despite the uncharted, scary ramifications, he can do no other. If this does not all add up to a constitutional crisis, what on earth does?