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Jewish World Review Dec. 5, 2000 / 9 Kislev, 5761

Betsy Hart

Betsy Hart
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Consumer Reports

Sorriest legacy of election has nothing to do with chads, 'aborted pregnancies' or the electoral college -- IF A VOTER enters a voting booth, puts his ballot on the floor, and proceeds to do nothing but an Indian rain dance around it before turning it in, should canvassing officials still be required to determine that voter's intent?

By the logic consuming the chaotic Presidential election process in Florida, the answer would have to be "yes." And not just by partisan Democrats, but by just about everyone involved in the post-election melee there.

Republicans may argue, correctly, that when a vote can't be read by a machine it almost always means no vote was cast for that office, thus producing an "undervote." (There were almost 11,000 such undervotes for President in Miami-Dade County, which the Gore team desperately wants to count by hand though they were counted twice by machine, and some 1.25 million such undervotes across the country.)

Or, as many have argued, it's simply an impossible task for partisan people to correctly divine the "intent" of the voter by holding up partially dimpled chads to determine whether they are three, six, or nine months "pregnant."

But almost no one argues that it doesn't matter how a person intended to vote - it only matters how he actually voted. In other words, when a voter enters the voting booth it's his responsibility to cast his ballot properly and according to the rules in order to make his vote absolutely clear. In the cases at hand in Florida, those rules told the voters in the counties that used punch-card balloting to make sure the chad was completely punched out.

In the now famous "butterfly ballot" case, in which many voters were not too embarassed to later claim that they "voted wrong," the explanation of how to correctly use the ballot was even sent out ahead of time to the registered voters who would be using them. (Still, if a voter messes up a ballot on election day he may get a new one and do it correctly.)

I've wanted to ask just about every television talking head discussing this issue, particularly those partisan Democrats who keep drooling over the term "voter intent" when they are talking about microscopic scratches on chads, "does the voter have any responsibility whatsoever to vote properly and so make his intent objectively clear?"

Or are voters now the new American victim class? Utterly without responsibility for their actions? The answer for Democrats, at least when it comes to "their" voters, is "yes." But Republicans too have allowed themselves to buy a little too much into the Democrats' scheme.

Actually most jurisdictions around the country to not count so-called "dimpled chads" in punch card balloting. David Boies, lead junkyard attorney for the Democrats has argued otherwise. He's relied heavily on an Illinois case that he claimed required the counting of such ballots when in fact, it was later revealed, that case did just the opposite and disqualified dimpled chads. He's also talked a lot about Texas, where Governor Bush signed a law including dimpled chads in manual recounts. (Funny, until the election I thought Texas was a place where you couldn't breath the air, children were denied medical care, and Governor Bush helped to drag a black man to his death - now it's become a model for how to hold an election?)

Even so, it seems the general reticence around the country about counting ambiguous ballots is usually because the "intent of the voter" can't easily be determined through "dimpled chads," not because the voter breached his own responsibility to make his vote unambiguous.

Some would say this is a fine line, but it's an important one. We still have a responsibility, for instance, to fill out everything from bank forms to income tax forms properly. Yes, it's true that when there are later problems in these instances, even legal ones, "intent" can sometimes - sometimes - be taken into account as a mitigating or aggravating circumstance. But that's only because the person or persons involved can be queried, an impossibility when it comes to anonymous voting. And that's all the more reason why the voter, and the voter alone, has the responsibility to vote properly.

Still, in the Florida election chaos the chant has become "every vote should count" (which really means only ambiguous votes in Democratic counties.) In our age of victimology, few dare say instead: "It's the responsibility of the voter to make his vote one which can clearly be counted."

The production of yet another pathetic American victim class, this time voters, may be one of the sorriest legacies of this election.

JWR contributor Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by clicking here.


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07/11/00: Limiting a child's choices
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06/21/00: It's a bad time to be a boy in America
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01/31/00: It doesn't take a village to raise a child --- it takes a scheduler
01/25/00: Psuedo science and global warming
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12/27/99: Sometimes it matters quite a lot what government thinks
12/17/99: Teens have no inherent 'right to privacy'
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10/22/99: No disaster for women that Dole is out
10/19/99: 'Humanitarian' hypocrites
10/15/99: On a first-name basis with a three-year-old

© 2000, Scripps Howard News Service