A Little Class

The arrows were a little larger on these ballots, but the voters were not given a ballot to study before hand. Nor where these voters allowed to ask questions to clarify the instructions. Indeed, the only instructions these voters were given were to “Check the box for the one you choose.” Using a ballot similar in design to the ballot that supposedly confused some adult voters in Palm Beach County Florida on election day, 74 eight-year olds in Leesburg Georgia were asked to select their favorite Disney character.

The mock vote was a simple experiment conducted by child psychologist Ron McGee. None of the youngsters was confused into selecting a Disney character other than the one he or she intended to select. As if to make the analogy with the Florida presidential election results complete, the vote for the favorite Disney character was a tie between Mickey Mouse and Goofy. I will leave it to the reader decide which Disney character corresponds most closely to which major presidential candidate. [1]

Upon the ultimate vote count in Florida, the Presidential election will likely turn. Florida’s 25 electoral votes will give either Governor George Bush or Vice-President Al Gore the necessary votes for an Electoral College majority. Only a few hundred votes now separate Gore and Bush.

As it appears now, the election took place in accordance with applicable Florida law and arguments about the ballot confusion irrelevant. While the design of some ballots seems to be less clear than it could have been, the case of the eight-year olds above illustrates that the ballots were not particularly ambiguous. Court precedents suggest that so long as a person exercising the due diligence consistent with the solemnity of a vote can understand the ballot, then the ballot is fair. [2]

Although Bush currently leads, after some additional recounts and after accounting for all absentee ballots, it is still very possible that Gore could be ahead in the final vote count. There is the still unresolved question of whether hand counts or machine counts are fairer and more accurate. There is some litigation with regard to this pending.

After these issues are resolved and the Florida vote certified and unless there are extremely compelling and pervasive cases of voter fraud, the candidate with the fewer votes should quickly concede. Not only should Bush or Gore concede, he should urge his supporters to desist from the pursuit of additional remedies. The Gore campaign it now financing private law suits in Florida, while trying to avoid the appearance of litigiousness. Such support should cease. These largely frivolous suits unnecessarily attempt to undermine the legitimacy of the next president.

The losing patriot should put the stability and integrity of the election process above personal ambition. The acceptance of the results should include eschewing any attempt to search for or encourage “faithless” electors to switch the votes to which they were ethically bound.

In 1960, then Vice-President Richard Nixon lost a very close election race to then Senator John Kennedy. Nixon could have contested the probity of the close Illinois and Texas races. With those two states in hand, Nixon would have been able to claim victory.

Instead, Nixon conceded to Kennedy. This noble action avoided the international complications of the appearance of American political instability. It avoided undercutting popular faith in the election process. And perhaps most importantly to Nixon, it kept open the possibility of winning a presidential election eight years later. Had Nixon challenged Kennedy’s election and delayed the final selection of a president through the judicial system, he would have likely not only not gained the presidency, he would have so alienated an impatient public that he would have forever been an unwelcome candidate.

Both candidates should weigh Nixon’s historic precedent as they decide on how to proceed in the next few weeks.

  1. The Associated Press, “Ballot Child’s Play for 8-Year-Olds” Friday, November 10, 2000; 3:07 p.m. EST.
  2. One argument runs that since 19,000 votes were discarded because two candidates were selected, the ballots are two confusting. Some digging by Republican activist Mary Matalin has revealed these 19,000 ballots may not represent voters disenfranchised by a confusion. Rather when people accidentally selected two presidents they could turn in those ballots and get new ones. These 19,000 discarded ballots may simply represent times when voters simply went on to recast valid ballots. I am looking for independent validation of this but the wire services seem to be no longer carrying the story of the 19,000 ballots. Perhaps is an indirect validation.

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