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Jewish World Review Sept. 20, 2002 / 14 Tishrei, 5763

Michael Long

Mike Long
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The Florida Lesson

We need better voters, not better machines. | Self-discipline and common sense are remarkable cure-alls but in politics their prescription is rare as, say, candor.

Florida 2002's Reno-McBride election mess was to be expected, because the solutions imposed after the 2000 fiasco were designed to reduce a voter's required qualifications to something below sentience. The solution Florida had thrust upon it by a guilt-spewing coalition of make-believe victims was a system so idiot-proof that any idiot could vote. It turned out, however, that not just any idiot could even find the on-switch. Complexity to create simplicity turned out to be as Orwellian in practice as on paper.

But to pick at the nits of the 2002 system is to ignore the fundamental problem that was too politically incorrect to say in 2000: People ought to be required to follow simple rules to operate a voting machine and, when they don't, their ballots ought to be disqualified. Aside from the occasional malfunctioning machine or cross poll worker, this was the root of the inexcusable delay in deciding the 2000 presidential election.

Americans have just about the right attitude on voting. For instance, low turnouts in democracies are usually a sign of civic health, since large turnouts occur most often when people sense that something is wrong and want to bring about change.

Other voters dwell on the ugly truth that one vote rarely makes a difference. They see that their assumption is right every time the sum of the individual choices that make up their personalities and lives are swept into the pollsters' rubric of "soccer mom" or "blue-collar suburbanite" or "working poor." A single vote in even a local election is almost literally nothing. Do the math: In a 20,000-vote race for town council, a population one-fifth that of tiny Green Bay, Wisconsin, check the winning and losing percentages on the 11 o'clock news. That 0.00005 is you -- five hundred-thousandths of the electorate.

As long as we're pile-driving individual insignificance, consider your vote in the 2000 presidential election, where 105,405,100 votes were counted. Here's your place in the percentage: 0.0000000096. Your vote is 96 ten-billionths of the whole thing.

However, Florida 2000 created a new reason not to vote among even those who do so religiously: It doesn't matter if you follow the rules, because those who don't will be indulged for any reason, causing days and weeks of delay toward an outcome. Careless or even malicious voters can tie the system in knots by not following the rules -- and the drivers of "reform" are shifting the system not only to accommodate but also to encourage such people.

In 2000, results were delayed not because of Republican or Democratic chicanery, but because a bunch of lazy people couldn't be bothered to raise their ballots to the light to make certain they completely punched out a hole in a sheet of paper.

It's not just Florida. Consider the case here in Washington last week, where the election results to re-nominate Mayor Anthony Williams on the Democratic ballot were accepted by the public not on the basis of a vote count, but on the basis of a Washington Post exit poll. The election was largely write-in, and election workers expected that even a majority of voters would not clearly write the name of their choice. The two highest-profile candidates were Mr. Williams and Rev. Willie F. Wilson; too many W's and L's floating around in there to demand precision from voters, apparently. A count was not even attempted on election night.

The answer to the Florida problem was never spoken out loud, for fear of offending the hyper-sensitive who hold so much sway today: if a ballot isn't filled out by the rules, and if it takes a committee to figure out its intentions, that vote shouldn't count, and the voter who cast it most certainly shouldn't be allowed to waste the time of voters who did things right.

Liberal pundit E.J. Dionne dismisses all that this way: "The elitists said that if these voters were too dumb or uneducated to use the equipment right, they deserved to lose their ballots." I say the "elitists" are right. And if all it takes to be an elitist is to insist that adults vote under strictures even a child can follow, well, a whole lot of Americans just joined the elitist club.

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JWR contributor Michael Long is a a director of the White House Writers Group. Comment by clicking here.


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04/22/02: Bottled And Sold: Economic Confidence Under a Screw-top
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03/18/02: Worlds Away: A snapshot of anti-Semitism in the Moslem world
03/08/02: The safest place in the world --- for now
03/05/02: Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others
02/22/02: And Then What?: Fear and Loathing Around the Corner
02/15/02: Al Gore and the real root cause of terrorism
02/08/02: A few thoughts on the news
02/01/02: Ready, Aim, Cloud The Issue: An irresponsible report on "terrorism" from the Brady Center
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01/16/02: Discretion and Art
01/08/02: Desperate Dems
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12/07/01: A war bigger than we know: Changing the future, slowly and surely
11/28/01: A Mid-Winter Night's Dream: A play in one fun act
11/20/01: A Lot of War Left To Fight
11/13/01: Guess who Clinton's apologizing for now: I'll bet you guessed right
11/02/01: Rules for Wartime: Rule Number One: Remember what's true
10/26/01: The Moral Case For Torture: Dirty hands don't always mean dirty souls
10/19/01: Questions for the Anti-War Crowd, Part II: What if someone took them seriously?
10/16/01: Questions for the anti-war crowd: If they question you, ask these back
10/12/01: The Jason Problem: Sometimes they only look dead
10/08/01: A little hindsight: A letter for readers in the future
09/28/01: Calling Bono: A plea to the pop culture elite to speak out
09/20/01: Encouragement from the Heartland, by mail
09/13/01: Bleeding time
09/07/01: The trailer-park taste of the public radio catalog
09/04/01: BRAVE NEW FREUD: Internet-based psychiatry may mean relief for those who have shunned treatment
08/17/01: First Amendment: Chickens home to roost
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07/20/01: Summer song
07/03/01: It's a Wonderful Recount

© 2001, Michael Long