Florida Election “Chaos”?

As things get mighty close to Election Day, it’s rather hard to believe that the potential for big trouble in counting the ballots cast in Florida is equal this year to what the Nation was unfortunately called upon to witness back in 2000. In fact, in his piece in last Sunday’s Washington Post, former President Jimmy Carter (famous in his ex-presidential phase for, among other things, the election observers his Carter Center provides) states that “a repetition of the problems of 2000 now seems likely.” The Dutch newspaper Het Parool picks up on this, and some other, related developments, to sound the alarm in Chaos Threatens Again at the Florida Polls.

Of Carter’s accusations, the Parool editors mostly take up that concerning the clear partisanship of Florida election officials. Four years ago it was Katherine Harris who gained notoriety as not only Florida Secretary of State – the official directly in charge of running Florida elections – but at the same time vice-chairwoman of the George W. Bush Florida campaign. She’s gone now, but in her place we have Glenda Hood, also appointed to the Secretary of State position by Florida governor Jeb Bush and no less partisan. Het Parool cites recent attempts, headed by Hood’s office, to disenfranchise 22,000 black voters (very likely to vote Democratic, you see) by unjustifiably labeling them as felons on the state election roles. (Somehow the Parool editors missed Ms. Hood’s parallel act of omission, namely that of neglecting to bar alleged Hispanic felons from voting – they tend to vote overwhelmingly Republican, you see. You can find an extensive description of this entire mess on the Legal Fiction weblog.)

The new wrinkle to this story that Het Parool has to add is a recent decision from the federal district court in Atlanta that all voting devices must leave a so-called “paper trail” (i.e. have a paper-based back-up recording the votes), to guard against the event that a recount is mandated (as would automatically be the case if first results show the winner ahead of the loser by 0.25% of the votes cast or less). Florida cannot meet this requirement; as Ms. Hood admits, “We have not yet determined how any eventual recount will be carried out.” It’s apparently simply going to be “cross your fingers and hope for the best.”


Admittedly, there has hardly been blanket coverage elsewhere across the Dutch press of this potential for an electoral-process repeat in Florida, and Het Parool’s article also stands out due to its shrill tone, e.g. writing of potential “chaos.” Of course, one could ask “Why should they care at all?” Perhaps this was just an instance of the Parool editors having some extra space to fill, and so reaching out to what for the Netherlands could be seen as the more obscure areas of news to gather some interesting material.

But even a moment’s thought is enough to quash any such notions. It should be self-evident that the policies and even personality of the inhabitant of the White House are tremendously important not just for Americans, but also for the entire rest of the world. I’ve seen joking references in various European media to the idea that, for this reason, foreigners should also be allowed to vote in the US elections. (If they did, it would be Kerry all the way, as this latest WaPo article reminds us.) More seriously, this angle has been played here in the Netherlands to try to boost US absentee voter turnout, along the lines of “We can’t vote, but you can and so you had darned better do so.”

“Doing so” means absentee ballots, of course – slightly less handy for election officials to handle and process, but which embody a perfect “paper trail” for later recounting. In fact, some groups in the US who have also raised alarm about the defects of electronic voting have recommended the use of absentee ballots even by those having polling stations comfortably within their own neighborhoods, precisely because of the vote-count security they can provide. As he admits in his opinion piece, at this late stage in the 2004 election process ex-President Carter can only recommend “maximum public scrutiny on the suspicious process in Florida,” but maybe he could also have recommended the expat example.

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