Donkey doofuses

From the butterfly ballot to Miami-Dade's withdrawal to the confused messages sent by the Florida Supreme Court, the real damage to Al Gore has been inflicted by his own troops.

By Andrew Ross

Published November 27, 2000 8:00PM (EST)

When Al Gore addressed the nation Monday evening, he echoed the party-line justification for his ongoing battle to claim the presidency. As he told Democratic congressional leaders in a nationally televised conference earlier in the day, "It is important for the integrity of our democracy to make sure that every vote is counted."

Senior Gore supporters and strategists have been pounding away at the same message ever since Florida's secretary of state pronounced Gov. George W. Bush the winner of Florida's 25 electoral votes. They have "no choice" but to contest the certification because, says running mate Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the count is still "incomplete and inaccurate."

"An election's not over until the votes have been counted," said Gore's chief attorney, David Boies, as he prepared to launch a fresh blitz of lawsuits to overturn the certification. "And you have nine or 10 thousand votes that have never been counted once."

But whose fault is that? Not Secretary of State Katherine Harris, the Republican woman we love to hate almost as much as Linda Tripp, who observed the letter of the Florida Supreme Court's order closing off the recount at 5 p.m. Sunday. Nor those congressional aides bused in from Capitol Hill by Rep. Tom DeLay to create havoc outside Miami-Dade County's ballot counting center last week. It has nothing to do with Republican "fraud," even if Nassau County's adoption of a status quo ante tally that just happened to give Bush more votes does look eminently fishy. It is, rather, the fault of the Democrats themselves, whose ad hoc scramble to get their man into the end zone has, after three weeks of trying, quite simply failed. But like small children, they seem not to understand, let alone be able to face, the consequences of their own actions.

It was not a Republican who designed the "butterfly ballot" that confused thousands of would-be Democratic voters in Palm Beach County into voting for Pat Buchanan. It was a Democrat, the sad Theresa LePore. It was the Democrat-controlled canvassing board in Palm Beach County that decided to take Thanksgiving Day off, thereby failing to finish in time the manual recount, which had 200 or so new Gore votes counted. (The same board, to its credit, refused to count all the dimpled chads as votes, now one of the Gore legal team's causes of action.) It was a similar Democratic-controlled canvassing board in Miami-Dade County that decided it wouldn't go ahead with a recount at all -- not even of the several thousand disputed ballots -- because its members believed they did not have enough time.

Well, did they or didn't they? The Florida Supreme Court, made up of all Democrat appointees, presumably thought it did when it imposed the 5 p.m. Sunday deadline. If the court was animated by the concern that "every vote be counted" -- a perfectly sustainable legal stand -- why did it not ensure that every vote would be counted, either by demanding Miami-Dade proceed with the recount (which the court in fact refused to do), or by lengthening the recount deadline? Boies did not seem to be bothered by the court's deadline, even though Miami-Dade officials had expressed concerns last week, before the court ruled. In fact, when asked about those concerns by reporters after the court's initial ruling upholding a hand recount, the all-knowing Boies brushed them aside, exuding confidence that the count could easily be completed in time. Wrong.

Perhaps only hindsight is 20-20, but one might also ask why Team Gore did not push harder, via the courts, for a statewide hand recount when it had the chance -- when Republicans like Sen. Chuck Hagel were calling for the same thing. Not only would this clearly have been the fairest and most accurate method, but the Democrats' conviction that Gore "won" Florida might well have proven correct, and for all to see. Too late now. All that Team Gore has left is the temptation to litigate itself out of a situation that it created for itself. While it is noble to use the law to address unjust situations, there is little nobility here. Correcting one perceived injustice will inevitably create another -- to at least 50 percent of the country, one that is even greater. A Gore victory will be Pyrrhic, with a most poisonous residue. Even that promised consolation prize -- a Democratic sweep in 2002 and a one-term Bush presidency -- will be spirited away should Gore persist much longer.

Andrew Ross

Andrew Ross is Salon's executive vice president.

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2000 Elections Al Gore Democratic Party