Let's Elect by Counting, Not Spinning or Suing
Gore should take a lesson from Nixon
Over the past hundred years, Americans have elected 13
Republican Administrations and 12 Democratic ones. Power could
not be more evenly divided. American presidential elections are
essentially a flip of the coin. This time the coin landed on its
The system was never designed for such a fluke. The last time it
happened--in 1876--the deadlock was resolved by a corrupt deal that
ended Reconstruction. The closest we have come to the edge in
recent years was 1960, when Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago was
credibly accused of widespread fraud and corruption in throwing
Illinois to John Kennedy.
How rich that Daley's son, Gore campaign manager Bill Daley,
should now stand before the cameras decrying an unfair election
outcome. Richer still that Gore should now be counseled to take a
lesson in statesmanship from Richard Nixon, who conceded the 1960
election rather than go to court and inflict incalculable damage
on the stability and legitimacy of our presidential system.
Gore's grounds for action are far weaker than Nixon's. After all,
there have been no serious charges of Republican misconduct, just
voter confusion over a ballot--the "butterfly" ballot (in use, by
the way, in Daley's Cook County)--designed and approved by
Democratic Party officials.
"Democrats hoping to tilt Florida to Al Gore," reported the
Associated Press on Nov. 10, "scoured the state for examples of
alleged election irregularities." Hence the parade of Gore
supporters eager to testify on camera to their inability to read
a ballot. Hence the sit-ins and demonstrations, the legal action
and partisan pressure--in essence, the postelection election
campaign. Such maneuvers, intended to alter the result of an
election after the balloting, are the kind of spectacle one
expects in a banana republic. Win or lose, Gore's threats of
protracted political and legal action to overturn unfavorable
results constitutes a reckless endangerment of the American
In a system as durable but delicate as America's, elections are
determined by counting, not spinning or suing. Legitimacy and
social peace are maintained not just by law but also by
convention. The understanding we share is that all balloting is
flawed. When 100 million people go to the polls, there will
inevitably be errors, omissions, confusions. But we all agree--in
advance--to accept the verdict of the numbers (barring fraud, of
course) because we assume that, first, in the end the
irregularities will cancel themselves out, and that, second, once
the challenges begin, the challenges will never end.
The Democrats seem prepared to order revotes and recounts in
Democratic counties of Florida until the numbers come out right.
Yes, there were 19,000 double-punched ballots in Democratic Palm
Beach. But there were many times that many spoiled ballots
statewide. Are we now going to settle elections based on the
intent of the voter rather than his action? What next? Follow
every election with voter interviews to determine how many wish
to repunch their ballots?
For more than 200 years, we have agreed that a ballot cast
settles the issue. However the final, authorized vote comes out
in Florida, the candidate with the lower number should do a
Nixon: pick up the phone and show some grace.