Too Close To Call

In the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election, while the dispute over the Florida results was raging and the partisans were hypocritically pretending that their proclamations about “counting every vote” and “state’s rights” were really about principle and not about power, I wrote this letter to remind everyone that more was at stake than the outcome of one election. Since I hadn’t supported (or voted for) either of the candidates disputing the result, it was easier for me than for most so I was in a unique position to comment; but I was also very concerned about the appearance of partisanship in the vote counting process: the starting and stopping and restarting and restopping of vote counting in West Palm Beach as they tinkered with the rules; the selective enforcement or non-enforcement of technical rules that made certain ballots either count or not, depending on who seemed to be favored by the result; the mining for votes by after-the-fact and ad-hoc methods to determine “voter intent” when straightforward counting methods did not yield an unambiguous (or satisfactory) result; the bouncing of authority over the process back and forth between the executive, judicial, and legislative authorities. It seemed the pursuit of some unachievable standard of “truth” and “justice” for this particular result was on the verge of destroying any and all trust in the system.

This letter was submitted to the San Jose Mercury News and the San Francisco Chronicle. It was not published.

10 November 2000

Any large-scale election, no matter how carefully executed, will result in a few strange and contentious results, if only because it depends on the competent and ethical behavior of vast numbers of fallible and corruptible human beings. In most elections, the few anomalies are inconsequential because the margin between candidates is larger than the margin of error.

Unfortunately, this presidential election was the exception: the vote, both in the key states and nationally, was so close that the anomalies may very well make the difference.

In the last few days we have seen some of those anomalies exposed in Florida and have been treated to proclamations from the two sides and their partisans about what would be ‘fair’ and ‘just’, about what would properly reflect ‘the will of the people’. It’s all hogwash. Even if we were to fix those obvious problems, we can all but guarantee that there are more lurking, both in Florida and in other states. We can never ferret them all out and make them all right.

In an election this close, there is no moral victory. Neither candidate ‘deserves’ to win. Neither candidate can claim he is with or against the will of the people; the will of the people is buried somewhere in the noise and is, therefore, unknowable. At this point, we cannot discern justice no matter how many lawsuits are filed or votes recounted. We cannot preserve the integrity of the choice; we must, at all costs, preserve the integrity of the system.

Stop the challenges. Count the votes according to the specific and detailed requirements of the law as it was understood prior to the election and accept the result with dignity and good grace.

© Copyright 2000, 2005, Augustus P. Lowell

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