Relevance of the NORC Florida Recount
In the wake of the controversial 2000 presidential election
and the innumerable charges of corruption and negligence in
the voting procedures throughout the state of Florida, the
message in thousands of disputed and uncounted ballots was
unknown. A consortium of major newspapers and news outlets
spent nearly $1 million and over 9 months to document the
data contained in those lowly pieces of paper of lofty purpose:
the documentation of the will of the American people.
This is not a trivial question, as many members of the current
White House occupants would have us believe. No, indeed, as
the Constitution preamble proclaims, "We the people, in order
to form a more perfect union..." - this nation is of, by and
for the people.
So, those in the news, purportedly interested in the truth,
hired the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research
Center (NORC) to examine approximately 180,000 ballots in
Florida's 67 counties that were uncertified because they failed
to register a "valid" vote for president. These ballots included
those in which no vote was recorded (undervotes) and those
in which people voted for more than one candidate (overvotes).
NORC examined the undervotes and overvotes with no partisan
agenda, simply to record the data contained therein for historians
and politicians to argue over ad infinitum.
That report was ready for release to the consortium's members
in early September. The release of the data was delayed due
to the terrorist attacks. Why the delay was felt to be important
is not clear, since nearly every member of the consortium
has chosen to report a distorted version of the project review
favorable to George W. Bush. Not surprisingly, most papers
have led with headlines blaring that the recount simply proves
what the Republicans have been protesting all along: Bush
unequivocally won fair and square.
These same papers have been consistently uncritical, even
fawning, over Mr. Bush throughout his hapless tenure. In this
time of national crisis and uncertainty, to criticize or question
Mr. Bush's authority is tantamount to treason. Doubtless the
multibillionaire media CEOs are only too happy to have a friend
of vast wealth in the White House and want to make their approval
Unfortunately in the process, they have eschewed journalistic
principles in favor of undigested propaganda and obsequiousness.
If these headlines were actually true however, these papers
would have trumpeted the findings on September 12, in order
to further attempt to validate the shaky legitimacy of Mr.
Bush in a time of crisis. The truth is that the NORC ballot
review shows nothing of the kind. In fact it demonstrates
two important facts rather clearly.
First and most importantly, that thousands of people in Florida
were stripped of their right to choose the president of the
United States, for a number of reasons including outright
corruption, extreme negligence and incredible incompetence.
Secondly, by almost every scenario and standard, it is quite
clear that many more voters intended to cast their vote for
As did the plurality of people across this entire nation.
But this information is not revelation.
The sad fact is that at the moment, these data are mostly
irrelevant. While there are valid reasons to question the
legitimacy of Mr. Bush's ascendance to his throne, it was
always extremely unlikely that any official action would be
taken to correct the mistakes of last November and December.
The events of September 11 have made it even less likely that
the nation would stomach a serious challenge to Mr. Bush's
The fact that Mr. Gore himself has taken the high road and
has voiced no intention of taking steps to gain his rightful
place as president should guide those who would wish for such
a scenario. Mr. Bush has been installed for the time being
and there he will remain. Until January 2005.
But there is another deeper and far more profound reason
that the NORC ballot review is irrelevant. That is because
no matter what it found, no matter how many ballots were actually
cast for either candidate, no matter how statistically insignificant
the margin of difference between the various iterations of
various standards, the awful truth is that Mr. Gore could
never have prevailed in Florida. The Republican Party truly
believes that the ends justify the means, and their solitary
goal was to get one of their own back in the White House.
The fact that they tried to impeach our last duly elected
president, Bill Clinton, on ridiculous trumped up charges
after spending literally billions of public and private funds
to establish lie after lie about the man and every person
he ever knew, should have warned us all that the Republicans
will stop at nothing to get their way.
In Selection 2000, the Republican Party controlled the Florida
election process and all the relevant decisions via their
lackey and chief Bush campaign manager, Secretary of State
Katherine Harris. Her unprecedented involvement in all the
crucial election decisions while simultaneously acting as
the most extreme of partisan operatives was truly criminal.
The Republicans controlled the state executive office through
governor and candidate's brother Jeb Bush. They controlled
the heavily Republican state legislature. They controlled
the media. The only body they didn't control was the Florida
State Supreme Court, whom they maligned after this court attended
to its duty to interpret the state laws.
There was no circumstance under which this cabal of self-righteous
zealots was not going to ensure that a Republican slate of
electors was sent to place their electoral votes in Mr. Bush's
column. The fact that the entire election hinged on the Florida
electoral votes only made their determination more pronounced,
their actions more indefensible.
The Bush team accepted hand recounts in Republican counties
and objected to them in Democratic counties, going so far
as to send roving mobs to disrupt the recount processes in
progress. They insisted on illegally counting overseas votes,
claiming disingenuously that the Gore camp wanted to disenfranchise
military personnel, when evidence is overwhelming that military
personnel were encouraged to illegally send in ballots AFTER
election day. Yet, the Republicans disputed votes in Jewish
and African-American communities without a flinch of conscience.
The long list of the Republican hypocrisy and questionable
behavior is appalling.
Presciently, Bush's chief recount lawyer and spokesman James
Baker, voiced the sentiment many of us have felt all these
months: "It is a sad day for America and the Constitution
when a court decides the outcome of an election." Of course,
he was speaking about a Florida Supreme Court decision to
interpret conflicting state election laws in favor of a recount
under the principle of counting every vote possible. Mr. Baker
had no objection whatsoever to an unauthorized court, the
US Supreme Court, interfering for his candidate though. Because
as it turned out, they controlled the United States Supreme
Court as well.
Filled with a pack of pathetic partisan climbers and sadly
fatigued conservative ideologues so paranoid that they might
not be replaced by an equally narrow-minded compatriot, the
court majority belied every principle of justice and ideology
each had steadfastly represented over decades of previously
noteworthy careers. Each justice has now earned a place in
history as one of the Felonious Five, the court majority that
usurped a presidential election for petty partisan and personal
reasons in defiance of the standards of justice and the principles
of the Constitution they were sworn to uphold.
As Justice Stevens said in his dissent: "Although we may
never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner
of this year's Presidential election, the identity of the
loser is perfectly clear. It is the Nation's confidence in
the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law."
The lesson we should take from the Florida debacle, the
ensuing confusion, the judicial coup and the installation
of possibly the most incompetent man to ever hold our nation's
highest office is one of fundamental importance. The very
foundations of our democracy have been shaken and undermined.
This happened rather quietly and with relatively little strife.
That should frighten each and every citizen of this country,
whether they are pleased with the ends these means produced
or not. There is not one Republican who would not feel equally
betrayed if Al Gore had been so questionably appointed president
as we Democrats feel about the events that placed George W.
Bush in the White House. It cannot be the case that one standard
may be used for those you favor and a different standard for
those you oppose.
Certainly this approach may achieve a desirable short term
goal. A Bush in the White House. Oil drilling in the Alaskan
wilderness slipped onto a defense bill. Approval of an ultraconservative
judge willing to strike down a woman's right to choose. But
ultimately, this tactic will backfire, and will be used against
Such arbitrary expediency will inevitably erode the foundations
of our government, undermine our democratic principles and
destroy our entire system. What will replace it can only be
some form of autocracy, its specific composition depending
upon the prevailing special interest groups at the moment
of the collapse.
We have learned that when we go to the polling place on election
day to cast our vote and participate in our democracy, there
is a very good chance that out vote will not count at all.
We should all fear the day that the average person decides
that participating in this democracy is not worth the time
and effort, and the ONLY people going to the polls are radical
political extremists from either side of the spectrum. We
are dangerously close to that scenario now, when barely 50%
of registered voters ever actually place a vote, untold numbers
never bother to register, and nationwide 57% of jurisdictions
experienced "major problems" in conducting the 2000 election.
The systemic flaws in the mechanism our collective voice
are at epidemic proportions. Yet those who have benefited
from this corrupted process are loathe to fix it. The Republicans
in particular understand that their influence would suffer
if the people truly spoke. They prefer the archaic vision
of the founding fathers, from an era when only white men of
property were permitted to have a voice in the government,
because this is the only way to ensure the very existence
of their narrowly defined party.
Since last year's election, local contests in New York and
San Francisco have demonstrated persistent problems regarding
the accuracy and integrity of vote tallies. Why is it that
we can send a man to the moon, but cannot count the vote of
each individual who makes the effort to cast one?
It is not lack of ability, but lack of interest and lack
of political will to know the will of the people. Those who
benefit from the obliquity of the process prefer to keep it
that way, making it easier to manipulate and obscure the truth
when it doesn't suit them.
There is nothing difficult, and certainly not subversive,
about establishing a federal mandate that all states adopt
a uniform method of deciding election results in order to
clarify and simplify the electoral process and minimize the
error. Indeed this would seem to be a highly laudable goal.
The Republicans, of course, oppose the idea. Their reasons
are typically disingenuous.
Too much federal government over the states? Sorry, but the
Republicans abdicated all loyalty to federalism when they
accepted the US Supreme Court's decision to override a state
court's decision in a state election process. Too expensive?
Can the foundations of our democracy ever have too high a
price? Besides, remember the airline bailout the right-wing
just enthusiastically endorsed? That was pretty expensive.
Interestingly, anyone challenging Mr. Bush at this moment
of national crisis is being labeled "unpatriotic". What a
ridiculous notion. The US Supreme Court knowingly granted
Bush the presidency on December 12, 2000. Terrorists attacked
the United States on September 11, 2001. These two facts are
and always will be true, true and unrelated.
As Trent Lott opined in 1998, "We can support the troops
without supporting the president". The right to dissent is
the most basic freedom our nation was born out of. High ranking
Republicans, all the way up to Lynne Cheney and Ari Fleischer,
want to stifle dissenting voices that question their conservative
What of the day when their kind is once again in the minority?
Of course, the Republicans will never experience the oppression
they perpetrate, because the Democratic Party will not try
to silence the voices of their opponents. We will however
stand up for democracy and oppose those who wish to destroy
it. The ends do not justify the means. The means are the ends.
And now, with the NORC report, while we may not have the means
to right the wrongs of Selection 2000, we have the ammunition
to fight for justice and fairness in the future.
Because we cannot allow this nation to suffer another stolen
election. History will vindicate Al Gore and illuminate his
statesmanship, while George W. Bush will be remembered as
a usurper whose greed and arrogance clouded his judgment.