It's not whether you win or lose...or is it?

By Thomas L. Jipping
web posted November 20, 2000

Long after George W. Bush had won the presidential election, Al Gore continued to flop around on the electoral beach, out of the water but refusing to die. He has starkly demonstrated the truth in that old maxim "It's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game."

Al GoreGore devised two strategies to avoid sliding into political and historical obscurity. First, though not one but two counts showed lost the popular vote in Florida, he set out to "find" enough votes to still win. Counting here, counting there, counting over and over, by machine or by hand or some other way, he was bobbing for votes. His legal eagles, no, vultures, defended counties such as Palm Beach that wanted to count again and again, and then turned and attacked counties such as Broward that did not want to count again. They opposed court action to block hand counts and supported court action to block a deadline for all counties to report their results. Buy enough time to find enough votes.

The second strategy is more devious. We voted on November 7 to determine which candidate would receive the electoral votes from our state. Those electors will meet in their state capitols on December 18 to actually elect the president. The 12th Amendment to the Constitution says that the person receiving "a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed" becomes president. The total number of electors is 538, and a majority of that is 270. Based on the first count and the re-count in Florida, Bush would have 271 and Gore 267. Bush becomes president. But if the Gore forces can keep things in Florida tied up with repeated re-counts, court challenges, and other schemes past December 18, then the "whole number of Electors appointed" would be 513 without Florida. Gore would have his 267, but Bush would have 246. Gore becomes president.

So Gore's two strategies for hanging on to power are either manipulating the votes of Floridians to find enough to win or disenfranchising all Floridians, shutting them out of the process altogether, and winning by default.

All that nonsense about the supposedly confusing ballot in Palm Beach County seems to be part of the buy-time-to-find-more-votes strategy. The folks suing over that ballot either want hand counts to determine their "intent" or a re-vote altogether. These are folks in one of America's richest and most exclusive counties who can keep 25 bingo cards in play at the same time without a hitch but who cannot find their candidate's name, follow an arrow to a hole, and punch it. They all received a sample ballot with instructions in the mail and saw it published in the newspaper and shown on television before the election. Voters could review instructions at the polling place, and ask poll workers for help with any problems. Every voting booth contained the notice: "IF YOU MAKE A MISTAKE, RETURN YOUR BALLOT CARD AND OBTAIN ANOTHER." Using this ballot is so easy that first graders in Bossier City, Louisiana, and second graders in Leesburg, Georgia, had no problem with it when they tried it. What made voters who had no confusion when they voted suddenly remember with such clarity that they had actually been terribly confused? The Democratic party made thousands of phone calls election night telling Palm Beach voters that some of their peers had been confused over the ballot and urging them to report their own confusion to county officials.

No matter how this all turns out (and by the time this article runs it may all be over), it's important to expose Gore's deceptions as well as his strategies. He stood there at the White House telling us he was only interested in being "accurate" or "getting it right." He doesn't care about either one; had he won the first count, even narrowly, he would then have proclaimed it right and accurate. No, to Gore "getting it right" means only "Gore wins." The danger in this deception is that it undermines one of our system's most important democratic principles. An election's legitimacy is not determined by its winner; rather, an election's winner is determined by its legitimacy. That legitimacy is assured by the combination of state election law, local election officials, and established election procedures. In the absence of outright fraud, these results are as accurate and right as a free society can achieve. Florida law even requires a re-count, just to be sure, when an election like this one is very close. Make no mistake, Gore cares about winning, not about getting it right.

Similarly, Gore claims that he just wants to make sure everyone's vote is counted when the truth is that he wants to make sure every vote cast for him is counted. The only votes that should be counted in any election are those cast by eligible individuals according to certain rules and procedures. An eligible voter not following the rules has no more right to have his vote counted than the ineligible voter who otherwise follows the rules. Just as the combination of state election law, election officials, and election procedures determines what is "accurate" and "right," it also determines the "everyone" whose votes are counted. Just as the Goristas define "accurate" and "right" as a Gore victory, so they define "everyone" as voters supporting Gore.

When we were kids playing kick ball and either flubbed a kick or got clobbered when we could not get our butt out of the way, we often yelled "do over." We were too young, too immature, or lacked the character to accept responsibility for our actions. We're supposed to get over that as we grow up. Gore apparently never did, because he's still yelling "do over" when he does not get his way. Gore's strategies and deceptions have shaken Americans' confidence in our institutions and said that it is whether you win or lose, not how you play the game, after all. That's a devastating body blow to our culture and the moral foundation of a free society.

Thomas L. Jipping, J.D., is Director of the Free Congress Foundation's Center for Law & Democracy.

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