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Archive for Wednesday, November 15, 2000

Democratic dispute

November 15, 2000

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The 2000 presidential election is one for the books, but it's not more than the nation can weather.

One Associated Press story on Tuesday referred to the "presidential campaign that wouldn't die." The election of 2000 certainly is one for the history books and has prompted some interesting revelations about the American electorate and the election process.

The disputed presidential campaign has stirred strong emotions among many Americans who normally profess only a passing interest in politics. People who hardly expressed a preference before the presidential election now are vehemently supporting either Al Gore or George W. Bush. If the candidates had inspired such loyalty before the election, perhaps the outcome would now be more clear-cut.

It's often noted in the newspaper business that the most difficult day to pick the front-page stories is when there is no compelling news. It's hard to pick among the mediocre choices. One wonders whether the same principle might apply to the 2000 presidential election, in which some voters found it difficult to find compelling reasons to support any of the candidates on the ballot.

This election also has been a vivid reminder that casting and counting ballots is not an exact science. Imperfect people cast imperfect ballots that may or may not clearly indicate the intent of the voter. Ballots are counted by machines that make a certain number of mistakes. The margin of vote-counting error that is acceptable in most elections suddenly becomes a major issue when the margin of victory is so small.

In Florida, Gore supporters called for votes to be recounted in counties expected to produce strong Democratic results. Bush probably should be entitled to do the same in strong Republican counties. Maybe ballots for the whole state of Florida should be recounted by hand.

So, carry that rationale across the nation. Should votes in every state in which the election was close be recounted, perhaps by hand? Should another election, a run-off between Bush and Gore, be scheduled? In a normal election year, such questions are never pondered.

It's a wonderful country that can allow such questions to be discussed. It's important to remember the context of this election controversy. Americans clearly are riled by this turn of events, but no militias are being raised and no violence seems imminent. The nation is working through a process that may eventually be decided in the courts, but America still is confident that the dispute will be settled peaceably.

This challenging election also is likely to produce a challenging term of office for the next president. Whichever candidate emerges as the election victor will face an almost evenly split Congress and move into the presidency with virtually no mandate from the voters. It will be a weak position from which to inspire and lead the nation, but it's a situation the nation is sure to survive.

Perhaps that is the overriding lesson of the 2000 election. There may be weaknesses among voters or candidates, but the republic still is strong.

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