In the past several days, the Florida presidential showdown has devolved into a stomach-churning mix of tragedy and magical realism. The state Supreme Court's attempt to impose a rational structure on the recount process has utterly collapsed as county election boards have scrambled in various and contradictory ways to meet the court's strict Sunday deadline. The board in Miami-Dade County even prematurely pulled the plug on its recount under pressure from a marauding band of Republican protesters. With the U.S. Supreme Court further muddying the electoral waters on Friday by deciding to take up the recount issue next week, the 2000 presidential race has been thrown into a mosh pit of lawyers, biased state officials, Democratic Party grandstanders and GOP attack dogs.
The last thing we needed for the Florida battle to lose all sense of reason was for the state's notorious Cuban political passions to become unleashed. That has now happened in Miami, with Cuban radio stations haranguing listeners to march on the county canvassing board. One Democratic official asserted that he was kicked and punched in the ensuing melee, though Republicans denied the charge. In any case, the mob tactics succeeded in accomplishing what the Bush campaign has been unable to in the courts -- they stopped the hand recount of Miami-Dade's 654,000 ballots and terminated Al Gore's best chance of wiping out George W. Bush's narrow lead in the state.
This is not democracy in action, it's mob rule. And Rep. Peter Deutsch, D-Fla., has rightly called for a federal investigation of the Miami-Dade fiasco.
But it's not just one county, it's the entire state of Florida that has made a mockery of this year's election. Ralph Nader was continuing to play his role as Election 2000 prankster when he recently called for the Florida vote to be decided by a coin toss. But so far, it's the most rational proposal to solve this calamitous mess.
We would like to offer another solution: Throw out the Florida count altogether, along with the state's 25 thoroughly tainted electoral votes. After weeks of reports, rumors and allegations about butterfly ballots, dimpled chad, lost and discarded ballots in African-American precincts, uncounted military votes and all the rest, the Florida election has been completely and irrevocably delegitimized. With Bush's own brother Jeb and Jeb's creepy factotum Katherine Harris poised since Day 1 to certify the count in their candidate's favor, the entire pageant in the swamp state has been noxious from the start. There is no way at this point for the public to retain any faith in the Florida vote tally given the strange shenanigans and madcap incompetence that have characterized the process. The whole thing should be written off as utterly untrustworthy.
Of course, Republicans will quickly point out that this would hand the election to Gore, who would have 267 Electoral College votes to Bush's 246. But more importantly, on the national level, Gore won the popular election by more than 300,000 votes. And with the Electoral College process thrown into disarray by the farcical proceedings in Florida, there is no better way to determine this year's election than by heeding the popular vote.
We will never be certain who won Florida in 2000. But we can be sure that if the country continues to sink even deeper into that state's rank bog, there will never be a clear conclusion to this year's presidential contest.