The events of the past week have put me in a foul mood. Someone stole the election, and there seems to be nothing that can be done about it. I'm referring to the fact that my kid brother lost his bid for a school board seat in Faribault, Minn. But you knew that.
So let's see if we've got this straight: Some 22,000 likely Gore voters were disenfranchised in one Florida county alone, plenty more than necessary to reverse the outcome, and it is the Bush people who accuse Gore of foul play?
Welcome to Election 2000, where everything you thought you knew about voting has turned out to be wrong.
At this writing, Gore appears to have won, but the office pool is running decidedly in favor of Bush ultimately moving into the White House. In any other country, there would be dark hints of a coup d'etat, but here in the freedom-loving USofA, that's too ugly a thought to contemplate. We're a fair-minded people, but the only thing we hate more than politicians are lawyers (well, maybe journalists, too), so the thought of an election getting decided in a courtroom is more than most people can bear--even though that is the only place voters can go to get their right to vote restored to them.
Life may not be fair, but politics is even less so.
In that spirit, The Independent would like to serve up a few observations over the whole mess. And if you thought the last four years in D.C. were a farce, well, as Gore likes to say, you ain't seen nothin' yet.
Mayberry trumps Chapel Hill
Last June, the N.C. Center for Voter Education conducted a poll in which it asked state voters to rate the influence of various well-known North Carolinians. Although the results of the poll were not released before the elections, two names that were tested, former Tar Heel basketball coach Dean Smith and actor Andy Griffith, showed up in TV ads for gubernatorial candidates. Smith stumped for former Carolina hoops player Richard Vinroot, while Griffith grinned for Mike Easley.
The Center reported after the election that the poll revealed more people gave weight to Griffith's viewpoint than Smith's. Is this further evidence that the Mayberry lawman's folksy charm sealed the deal for Easley, or was this a case of the risks of choosing sides between Duke and UNC in an election year? Our guess: both.
Men with women's names, e.g., Beverly and Kris. Honorable mention: Beverlys who are women.
How to create a subliminable ballot
On Palm Beach County's now infamous "butterfly" ballot, Bush was listed first, while Buchanan was placed neatly between Bush and Gore over to the side where no one noticed it. Interestingly, had the first three names been listed in alphabetical order, Bush and Buchanan would have changed places. Would all those faulty Buchanan votes instead have been faulty Bush votes? Maybe that would have proved the Green Party right after all: that a vote for Bush was the same as a vote for Gore.
Next time perhaps Florida should use the North Carolina system: Democrats are always listed first, because D comes before R (and L for Libertarian is after R because ... well, just because).
How to make voting more fun in North Carolina
Create our own Electoral College--you know, vote by county, extra votes for Perquimans and Pasquotank, and make sure some counties have really screwy ballots.
Best reason to hope for a Gore victory
If you think a lot of Democrats held their noses and voted for Gore, don't forget what was happening in the Republican Party. The religious right swallowed hard when it signed on with the Bush juggernaut, on the theory that his stealth stands on abortion and other social issues would be an easier sell than those of overt conservatives like Gary Bauer or Alan Keyes.
If Bush loses--the very thought of which has his reluctant supporters shellshocked--there will be an internecine conflict within the party of Lincoln and Helms that makes the current flap over a few spoiled ballots seem trivial. That will be worth the price of admission.
Stand by your ad
The system worked great in North Carolina. First the mud would fly, then a smiling Vinroot or a stoic Easley would tell us I paid for this ad. Next time, though, let's have 'em tell us how much they paid, and how many kids went hungry so they could be on TV.
Not just a country in Africa
Extraordinary events often add to our vocabulary. The bizarre 2000 election has given us "chad," meaning extraneous paper such as might cling to a punch hole in a ballot. Chad, apparently, is responsible for the faulty vote in Florida (and for all we know many other states, if anyone ever takes a close look). But did you know that there are different kinds of chad? There is, for example, "swinging chad," which sounds like a guy we all went to high school with, but in reality is the result of an incompletely punched hole on a ballot which leaves the paper swinging like a hinge. Swinging chad has an alter ego known as "dimpled chad," which results when insufficient pressure on the ballot causes a small depression and fails to dislodge the paper. Then there is the gender-bending "pregnant chad," an extreme form of dimpled chad.
Real campaign finance reform
Here's an idea: Raise taxes $3,900 on everyone who contributes $4,000 to a political candidate. (First $100 is free.)
"All-day hunter" prowls for ratings
In all the predicting, projecting and reprojecting on election night, one conclusion seems clear: While getting clobbered by ABC and NBC in the ratings war, Dan Rather and CBS won the contest for the most animated, if stupefying, election-night coverage. Maybe the excitement of the evening simply brought out the Texan in Rather; he peppered his analysis with awkward clichés and colloquialisms that were more colorful than Tammy Faye Bakker's make-up counter.
From the first returns through what he called "cardiac-arrest time," Rather worked harder than a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest to spice things up--with a big assist from the night's developing plot line, of course.
In a presidential race he described as "jar-lid tight," Rather called the Florida contest "hot enough to peel house paint." In an odd coinage we're still trying to decipher, Rather described George W. Bush's march through the South as running through Dixie like "a Big Wheel through a cotton field"--which later morphed into "a tornado through a trailer park." The Senate contest in Virginia, opined Rather, was "nasty enough to gag a buzzard." As anyone who's ever tried to gag a buzzard knows, that's extremely nasty. All the while, CBS treated viewers to a bird's-eye view of Rather's Thing-like hand sweeping over a glowing electoral map, pencil poised, while his disembodied voice pointed out how blue represented Gore states and red indicated Bush. Boy, talk about drama.
As the evening wore on, similes seemed to come from ever deeper in the left-field power alley. Trumping his talking-head brethren yet again, only Rather was savvy enough on this all-important evening to recognize and point out the stampeding-hippopotamus factor. When CBS analyst Bob Schieffer mused that Bush might owe Ralph Nader a cabinet seat for pulling votes from Gore, Rather said there was a better chance that a hippopotamus would run through the news studio.
As coverage continued into the wee hours, Rather tossed more malapropisms into the metaphor blender, referring to himself as "a long-distance runner and an all-day hunter." Americans can rest assured that, when the next big story breaks, Dan the hunter will be on the prowl, stalking hokey comparisons like a Bengal tiger in a ... well, you get the picture.
Winner of the "We've also got a bridge to sell you" award"
Best of all, it won't raise our taxes" is the line of the year. Widely applicable.
Divide and conquer
It seems we may have niche-voted ourselves into insanity this presidential year. Just watching a news anchor circling slices of states that were going for Bush or Gore on election night was evidence of just how atomized we've become as an electorate. With everyone obsessed with the electoral college, the influence of geography pushed aside divisions along race and gender lines.
Thad Beyle, a political science professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, analyzed exit polls for CNN and NBC election night, and those gaps were the first thing that struck him about this year's results. "I saw very clear gender and racial differences," Beyle says. "The biggest gender differences were in Bush's numbers."
In the presidential race, 60 percent of men voted for Bush while 52 percent of women did, according to CNN's exit polls in North Carolina. On the other side of the ballot, 38 percent of men and 47 percent of women voted for Gore.
The racial divide was even more striking: Only 31 percent of whites voted for Gore compared to 68 percent for Bush. By contrast, 90 percent of African Americans voted for Gore while only 9 percent voted for Bush.
Among other interesting numbers from CNN's exit poll of 1,216 respondents in North Carolina: Of those who identified themselves as liberal, 83 percent voted for Gore. Ninety-five percent of Republicans voted for Bush, while 80 percent of Democrats voted for Gore. Of independent voters, 37 percent went for Gore and 59 percent for Bush. Of those who identified themselves as part of the "religious right," 85 percent voted for Bush. We're wondering why anyone of that persuasion would vote for Gore.
Winner of the "If you lead, you bleed" award
Yevonne Brannon lost her Wake County commissioner seat, but she won the school issue, the open-space issue and the homeless- shelter issue, and she took the hits for other Democrats who were behind her--!!!--all the way. Brannon for mayor?
Most absurd claim
According to Bush campaign spokesperson Ari Fleischer, the reason Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan scored so many votes in disputed Palm Beach County was not because of the so-called "butterfly" ballot: It was because the county is a Buchanan "stronghold."
Buchanan, an anti-Semite brown shirt to many, got 3,407 votes in Palm Beach, which has a large Democratic and Jewish population. Compare that with 561 votes in the larger Dade County and only 789 in nearby Broward County, and it's pretty obvious the misleading ballot was to blame. Even Buchanan called the Bush campaign assertion "nonsense." Bottom line: A vote for Buchanan was a vote for Gore.
Most satisfying post-election moment
Hearing Rush Limbaugh utter the words "Senator-elect Hillary Rodham Clinton," accompanied by: "I almost want to wash my mouth out when I say that."
There never was a Green Party candidacy. It was really the Nader Party, if for no other reason than that Nader wasn't a member of the Green Party. And yet without Nader, there is no viable national Green Party. The whole premise of the campaign was faulty. Would it have mattered if Nader got the 5 percent necessary to qualify the party for federal matching funds for 2004? Only if you believe that $14-or-so million would be enough to attract a credible candidate, or that Nader himself would earn electoral respectability and run again. For the sake of comparison, witness the crashing and burning this year of the Reform Party under the Buchanan banner.
Consequence of the green myth
As much damage as it appears Nader did to Gore, he seems to have inflicted even more grief on the very party he had hoped to bolster. After possibly handing the election to Bush, as predicted, it will be a long time before wavering voters fearful of right-wing rule again risk a vote on a candidate who promises to lose. Now it won't matter who runs in 2004--and wouldn't, even if the party had reached the 5 percent threshold. The national Green Party cause has been set back a generation. Better for the Greens had they built from the ground up--a strategy to which it should return--instead of attempting a disastrous Great Leap Forward.
Worse still, Nader's post-election gloating over his spoiler role angered many who felt they had cast principled votes. Expect to hear the mantra "Remember Nader"--not uttered in a positive sense--in every presidential election for the foreseeable future. It will get particularly loud after Bush's first Supreme Court appointment.
Most predictable outcome of the election
County election officials around the country will live in fear of being the next Theresa LePore, the elections supervisor in Palm Beach County (and a Democrat) whose "butterfly" ballot design resulted in 22,000 corrupted ballots that could have guaranteed a Gore victory. Look for officials to be a tad more careful about ballot design and less willing to disqualify ballots. Second and third most predictable outcomes: much higher voter turnout in 2004 and a budding business in ballot redesign.
Some things we learned from the 2000 elections
If more than 22,000 people in one county all mismark their ballots (19,000 that were double-punched and 3,000-plus suspicious Buchanan votes), there's probably something wrong with the ballot.
If 15,000 people in the same county mismarked their ballots four years ago, there's probably something wrong with the people who keep giving them a bum ballot.
Elections for judge between Democrats who are tough on crime and Republicans who are tough on crime go to the Republicans. Is it time to try easy on crime?
That we should demand a receipt when we vote.