Democratic Underground

The Relevance of the NORC Florida Recount
November 19, 2001
by Ramsey

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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 known.

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 Mr. Gore.

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 office.

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 us all.

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 agenda.

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.