Illustrations © by Ben Heine
This should, perhaps, serve as a warning to perspective readers of this essay as it contains material that may be disturbing to some individuals who have difficulty with, or are incapable of, adjusting their views according to new ideas, fact-based evidence, and reasoned argument. Rather than relying on mere histrionics I have endeavored to present an historical and political perspective in this essay in an effort to present a new perspective of an infamous event using, amongst other things, the Constitution of the
Recount: The Rape of Democracy
A few weeks ago HBO presented a movie that will, without doubt, become one of the “must sees” on the list of all who have been seeking the truth behind what really happened in the November 2000 presidential election; how Governor George W. Bush, an astonishingly “plain spoken” individual who had barely managed to eek out “C's” while attending class still managed to graduate from university, and now had achieved the ultimate American dream: he had ascended to the office of the President of the United States of America. A lofty ambition to be sure, those who seek the office of president are traditionally cut from the finest cloth that the nation has to offer, individuals who have been tested in ways that belies their age or the other traditional means of assessing an individual’s experience.
When looking at the list of American Presidents there are a number that stand out for their extraordinary dedication to the office and their service to the nation, even unto death, and that is surely a story unto itself: this is no mere job, it is a calling to serve at the highest level, and the price of that service could be the very life of the individual. Thus the confusion at the choice of George W. Bush for the position: his selection as the Commander in Chief seemed uniquely incongruous when considering the criteria that would traditionally be used to assess the qualifications of a candidate for the office of the Chief Executive of the
Or did they?
The movie Recount was advertised as a docudrama exploring the tumultuous events surrounding the 2000 Presidential election and the voting irregularities in the State of
With the historical prospect of an African-American candidate vying for the position of Commander-in-Chief in this presidential race it promises to be the most divisive contest since the issue of civil liberties and JFK's Catholicism were brought to bear in the 1960 campaign, a race that polarized Americans around many issues, the age and charisma of the candidates not being the least of them. Perhaps without even intending to do so, the movie Recount provides an object lesson about many of the things that are so very wrong with partisan politics, pointing out many of the weaknesses inherent with the American version of democracy; it also demonstrates – with chilling clarity – just how easy it can be for someone to conspire (knowingly or through their agents) to steal the presidency of the United States. A dangling question that we are left with asks whether this was done in the past, and whether the act will be duplicated in the future.
There are some questions that may never be answered – for practical reasons – but should be asked nonetheless: we need to at least articulate the ideas, lest they remain in the shadows forever. On the day of the General Election in 2000 over twenty-thousand registered voters in the State of
The questions that we must ask, therefore, include the following: what would have happened if these 20,000 excluded voters – most of whom lived in precincts that voted along predominantly Democratic lines – had been allowed to exercise their constitutional rights to vote rather than being excluded because their names were similar to those of actual felons who had been legitimately excluded from the list of qualified voters; what would have happened if Pat Buchanan's name had been aligned on the infamous “butterfly ballot” with Governor Bush’s rather than with Vice President Al Gore, or with Ralph Nader; what would have happened if a full recount of the ballots, by hand, had taken place, a recount that included all “excluded” ballots because they had ‘dimpled’ chad [sic] and were considered “undervotes”? These questions can only be answered with suppositions, well, perhaps all but for the undervotes, but we can still give fairly well educated guesses for the others. Gore won the popular vote of the nation; would this have given him
It would seem easy to answer the question by saying, with some small confidence, that Gore would have been declared the winner, but is that enough of an answer? Is it really? When the United States Supreme Court (USSC) ruled, in Bush v. Gore, on December 12th, 2000, that there had in fact been violations under the Equal Protections clause of the 14th Amendment but, that violation notwithstanding, there was not enough time to remedy the situation, they essentially said that the Constitution of the United States was not worth the paper it was printed on and the rights of the citizens of the United States were as meaningless as their Constitution. When the situation exists where at least 20,000 people are robbed of their constitutional right to vote in a presidential election something is terribly wrong. There can be no doubt that there was criminal intent involved in this act, and that intent stemmed directly from the offices of the Secretary of State; is it difficult to imagine that this individual, the co-chair of the Florida team to elect Governor Bush to the position of president, would not have been capable of directing the preparation of the voter-exclusion list that would be used to prevent a specific group of people from exercising their right? The right to vote, however, was deemed something that the USSC felt was not worthy of protecting; they somehow forgot that this was a right that had been earned by the shedding of blood, a right that the United States Supreme Court decided was not important enough too demand that immediate actions be taken to remedy the situation.
The justices of the Supreme Court should have known that their failure to act in this case might receive some notice, though it went surprisingly unnoticed by the mainstream media and even the Gore camp seemed quick to drop the idea; the reason? Quite simply, the idea of delaying the inauguration of the next president, in and of itself, would have seemed to have more negative connotations than the search for the true winner of the election, regardless of who that individual was; rather than pressing the matter, rather than fighting the “war” and seeking the truth that the American voter deserved, Al Gore decided that it would be better for the nation to allow for the “peaceful” transition of power – demonstrating to the world that the United States was, truly, a democracy that could overcome all adversities thrown its way. Or so it would seem; the facts, as we can discern with the help of history, demonstrates otherwise.
Unfortunately, as we now see with the benefit of hindsight, this was not the “best choice” for the nation, nor was it the best choice for the world. The Bush administration has been an unmitigated disaster that has, since its first days in office, obfuscated and lied about its obfuscations in order to further its warped agenda – without considering the human costs. That is also exactly how they won the election; without considering how many people they were hurting, without considering the ramifications of their actions.
The Supreme Court should not have been so quick in dismissing the violation of the Equal Protection Clause; their reflection that their was not enough time to resolve the issue belies the importance of the right to vote, a right that they took pains to protect in other rulings: In 1966 the United States Supreme Court heard an appeal relating to the right to vote and the paying of poll taxes in Virginia. Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections dealt with numerous issues, but there is one very relevant section that bears directly to the 2000 presidential election in Florida: while much of that case deals with the issues surrounding the infamous “poll tax”, something devised to prevent the poor (and usually non-white) from voting, the conclusions of the Justices are no less relevant to what occurred forty-four years later. The following is from Mr. Justice Douglas who wrote the opinion of the Court:
“[W]e must remember that the interest of the State, when it comes to voting, is limited to the power to fix qualifications. Wealth, like race, creed, or color, is not germane to one's ability to participate intelligently in the electoral process. Lines drawn on the basis of wealth or property, like those of race ... are traditionally disfavored.”
In his comments Justice Douglas referenced an earlier judgment by the Court, Reynolds v. Sims (1964), in which he cites:
“Undoubtedly, the right of suffrage is a fundamental matter in a free and democratic society. Especially since the right to exercise the franchise in a free and unimpaired manner is preservative of other basic civil and political rights, any alleged infringement of the right of citizens to vote must be carefully and meticulously scrutinized.”
Justice Douglas continues:
“A citizen, a qualified voter, is no more nor no less so because he lives in the city or on the farm. This is the clear and strong command of our Constitutions Equal Protection Clause. This is an essential part of the concept of a government of laws and not men. This is at the heart of
It is difficult to challenge the wisdom of these words today, and impossible to deny that their relevance carries over after four decades, or that they shall ring as true in another four decades. The right to vote must be inviolable: it is a right far too precious to be so casually stripped away in the name of expediency. At the same time, the election of 2000 was over, what could be done? A single day is appointed for the election of the president and vice-president, there is nothing that provides for another day of voting after the general election has taken place; it would have been practically impossible to redress this situation with any truly reasonable solution with the election concluded, or so it would seem.
One of the things that the
Some might be asking exactly what the USSC could have done in order to remedy this situation given the fact that the election had taken place. Given the importance of the presidential election, as emphasized in the concurring opinion given by Chief Justice Rehnquist in Bush v. Gore, and the closeness of the race in the State of Florida, the Supreme Court would have been well within their authority to have authorized the Florida Electoral Commission to have convened special polls to allow for those disenfranchised voters the opportunity to vote. This would have not been, in fact, an extra election day since these individuals had arrived at the polls on the day of the General Election and had been turned away because their names appeared on a list that was prepared with the intent of preventing them from exercising their right to vote. Voting after this date would have fulfilled the process that began the day of the General Election and which was circumvented by those in authority in the State of
With those votes counted, and the rest of the recounted votes taken into consideration, it would have been possible to have a much clearer picture as to who was the legitimate winner of the State and who deserved the coveted votes from the Electoral College. If, however, the results were still “too close to call” why could they not have simply split the Electoral College vote from Florida, awarding 13 of the 25 votes to the candidate with the most votes and 12 of the 25 to the second candidate? There are two States in the
Before the 25 Electoral College votes were taken into consideration on Election Night of 2000 the results were 246 for Bush and 266 for Gore. A division of the “too close to call” State’s 25 votes, as proposed, would have left Gore with (at +12) a win at 278; the thirteen votes would not have been enough for Bush. Thus my question of the urgency in the minds of the United States Supreme Court in shutting down the acts surrounding the actual counting of the votes and attempting to address the Constitutional violation of the rights of voters; something that nations have had revolutions over, have shed blood for, have overturned corrupt governments for. Unless there was an underlying agenda at play here, there truly was no urgency on the 12th of December, unless the USSC had an ulterior motive; the Supreme Court understood that the only way to install their man was to circumvent what shadow of democracy existed, preventing the precious voices of the disenfranchised from being heard. Time would demonstrate that the Constitution was no match for the Supreme Court.
Another question that must be broached as a result of the movie and its portrayal of the electoral system is of the true importance of the actual votes cast in a presidential election. If it sounds as though I am asking whether your vote really counts, that is exactly what is being asked. “How important is the actual vote for the president (and vice-president)?” Yes, some of you may be screaming right now, “how can you dare suggest that the vote of the people is anything less than sacrosanct, an act of paramount importance to the democratic process?” After all, you rightly argue, the vote decides the outcome of the election. Or does it? That is not the message that we are given by the producers of Recount and by the historical facts as they speak for themselves.
One of the most common perceptions regarding the functions of a democracy is that the process of electing the government involves the counting of every vote cast in an election. The subsequent outcome is that the person who receives the most votes wins. That seems rather obvious and almost naïve in its simplicity, but it works in many nations around the globe and has been the foundation of the democratic system since the inception of the process, or so one would think. Should anyone be willing to take a moment to examine the history of the
Defenders of the Electoral College will argue that it has only failed on three occasions; only three times has an unelected body decided to deny the people their popular choice for president, but why should that bother anyone? Would it be a surprise to anyone that in each of these cases the political party being favored was the Republican Party? Surely this must merely be a purely coincidental situation. Regardless of how much you deny the truth, it is an irrefutable fact: on three separate occasions the will of the people was not heard and the candidate that received the most votes was not, in fact, elected president. In 1876 the Republican Hayes received 4,036,298 votes to Democrat Samuel J. Tilden’s 4,300,590, but it was Rutherford B. Hayes that was sworn in as president. In 1888 Benjamin Harrison received 100,456 less votes than the candidate for the Democratic Party, Mr. Grover Cleveland. Harrison, the Republican candidate, was elected; and then there was the election of 2000.
If these examples seem insignificant compared to the grand scheme of American history, bear in mind that this is the same nation that has appointed itself the exporters of democracy to any nation seeking (or not) to throw off the chains of oppressive regimes, or any nation that may have made the mistake of electing someone that was not aligned with the ideologies of the United States.
The number of votes that a candidate may receive in the November election has precious little to do with whether or not they are awarded what is truly important, what unlocks the door to the White House: the crucial Electoral College vote. The fact of the matter is that the person who becomes the president of the United States is not actually elected by the voting public at all, they are selected by a group of people that are unseen by the population, chosen out of patronage, and completely unaccountable to anyone other than themselves. Only after the results of the November elections have been tabulated and certified by the individual States are the results sent to the Congress with the State's duly appointed representatives who have been chosen solely for this task. It falls to these “electors” to cast their votes for the president and vice-president.
As an examination of past Electoral College results demonstrates, or an examination of the United States Constitution, there is nothing that compels these individuals to follow any particular script. Nor, for that matter, is it required for a State to cast all of their votes for a single candidate (or, conversely, to even cast all of their votes at all), as is routinely assumed these days; in the past there have been numerous occasions in which a state’s electoral vote was split between more than one presidential candidate, more closely reflecting the choices of the voter’s wishes at the State level. This would seem, upon reflection, to be a remarkably equitable solution to what has truly become an anachronistic system that should simply be dismantled in favour of a more truly democratic process. Sadly, however,
As if another example of the mess that the Electoral College has driven the United States to is even necessary, the election of 1800 led to a crisis that resulted in a Constitutional Amendment: In 1800 the House of Representatives rather than the Electoral College chose Andrew Jackson as president over his running mate Aaron Burr, both of whom had received 73 votes from the college. If that sounds odd there is a reason; it was not until the 1804 presidential election that the candidates for president and vice-president were each awarded separate Electoral College votes, thus eliminating the embarrassing possibility of someone deciding that the bottom portion of the ticket would look better on top. In 1800, however, that was not how the game was played, and, as a result the constitutional remedy had to be invoked: Thomas Jefferson was ultimately elected president by the House of Representatives after every candidate failed to receive a majority vote from the Electors, a process that took until the 17th of February, 1801, after the House of Representatives had voted over thirty-five times to resolve their deadlock.
The result of this debacle was the 12th Amendment, which provided for distinct ballots for presidential and vice-presidential candidates. The framers of the Constitution were not unwise in their decisions regarding the electoral system emplaced over the
If the real truth were to be known the results could have been disastrous for the young Republic and those in positions of authority; they might just find themselves at the receiving end of another uprising of the citizenry as they rebelled to claim what was justifiably theirs: the right to choose their leaders by their vote. That is precisely what the Electoral College was designed to keep away from them, as evidenced by the words of Senator Benton. As radical as it may sound, the Electoral College was designed by the Founding Fathers to protect the
The Electoral College was devised in order to compensate for the regionalist issues facing the early States with the hopes that the individuals chosen as Electors would be “... free agents, to exercise an independent and nonpartisan judgment as to the men best qualified for the Nation's highest offices.” [USC Art.II Electoral College annotations pg 2] The true intent of the Electoral College was revealed by Senator Thomas Hart Benton when he admitted, in 1826, that the Framers had intended electors to have “'superior discernment, virtue, and information,” who would select the President “according to their own will” and without reference to the immediate wishes of the people.
“That this invention has failed of its objective in every election is a fact of such universal notoriety, that no one can dispute it. That it ought to have failed is equally uncontestable; for such independence in the electors was wholly incompatible with the safety of the people. [It] was, in fact, a chimerical and impractical idea in any community.” Senator Thomas Hart Benton, 19th Congress, 1st Session, 1826.
Something seems to have gone terribly wrong here: at once we had the intent of a democracy, with
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, – That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, – That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” (Declaration of Independence)
The government of the land, a land that had absorbed the blood of its own for the very sake of its way of life, had heard the words before, spoken upon the battlefield of Gettysburg in 1863: “... this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Words that are no truer today than at any other time in the history the nation, and yet, we must ask ourselves whether it is at all possible, or is it just another dream that will be squandered like so many other noble visions that have been cast into the winds of history, all to be forgotten and forsaken by the scorching passage of time?
If the theory of democracy that we have come to cherish so much truly stems from the idea that every vote cast in an election is as important as any other then it all seems rather incongruous that it has been superseded by a system that is so willing to dismiss the desires of the people in favour of that which seems politically expedient. It is a holdover of old times, kept on for the sake of tradition, not for the elegance of its function. The very idea that it is easier to usurp a political process and rely on the decisions of a few rather than the voices of the voters smacks of fascism and all that America stands against rather than a truly democratic system. Waiting for lawyers and judges to decide the outcome of an election when there are piles of ballots waiting to be counted seems, in the least, to be exactly the type of thing that the United States has sent diplomatic observers to watch for in foreign nations, calling these “voting irregularities” excuses to not recognize the results of foreign elections. If this is done in the hopes of preventing overt electoral corruption from taking place in some backwards third world country as they struggled to shrug off the oppressive weight of a dictatorship in favour of a burgeoning democracy, why is it not good enough for the citizens of the United States?
What could be the big deal regarding the counting of every individual vote, and why is there such an out roar over the situation? How could this insanity have happened in
Throughout the docudrama the issue of urgency was emphasized constantly, but even that argument has turned out to be a myth that does not stand up to the test of the authority of the Constitution of the United States. Consider this fact: the elections are held in November but the president-elect is not sworn in until January, a date set by the Constitution. This again brings us to the question as to why the United States Supreme Court felt that it was not possible to remedy the violation of rights as guaranteed under the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. Knowing that there was political precedence for having a delay in the inauguration thanks to Jackson's delay, and that the inclusion of a State’s electors being counted in the Electoral College vote could be excluded altogether, the USSC could very well have instituted remedies for the violations that included the completion of the recount of the votes in the State of Florida. One would think it would have been the least that they could have done for the protection of democracy.
With the issues of past elections notwithstanding there is an altogether different issue that comes into play here that should be seriously examined as it bears directly upon this issue and would have been an appropriate legal remedy for the potential constitutional crises that an uncertified Florida vote may have triggered. There was a tremendous amount of pressure on Secretary of State Harris to certify the
There is the perception that every four years a new person will be sworn into the office of president (or someone will be sworn in for their second term), but is this really what is supposed to happen? Well, yes … and no. Yes, but only if there is someone who “qualifies” to be the president. Without that there is a remedy provided for by the constitution, and there were qualified individuals available to fulfill the constitutional requirements of the law until a qualified president-elect was found. The critical portion of the constitution is the Twentieth Amendment, Section 3:
If, at the time fixed for the beginning of the term of the President, the President elect shall have died, the Vice President elect shall become President. If a President shall not have been chosen before the time fixed for the beginning of his term, or if the President elect shall have failed to qualify, then the Vice President elect shall act as President until a President shall have qualified; and the Congress may by law provide for the case wherein neither a President elect nor a Vice President elect shall have qualified, declaring who shall then act as President, or the manner in which one who is to act shall be selected, and such person shall act accordingly until a President or Vice President shall have qualified.
When taking this into the context of what happened in
Besides, the United States Constitution provided a remedy to the situation by providing a “pre-qualified” individual to continue in the position for as long as was necessary in order to clear up the issues related to the election of the new president. As the incumbent, president Clinton could have remained past the January inauguration date, should that have been necessary, in order to provide sufficient time for the State of Florida to correctly resolve the problems with their votes (pursuant to a USSC directive to do so), until the issue of who the rightful winner of the state was settled. The idea of a recount should not have been so alien when considering the history of the nation; when the United States began to vote for their leaders they only had hand-counting of ballots and there were none of the electronic networks we have today in order to transmit the results after the election. When the polls closed it took as long as it took for them to figure out who had won; that sometimes meant days. The idea that the results of the election in
According to the Federal Election Commission a total of 105,405,100 votes were cast in the 2000 presidential election: of those votes 50,456,002 were cast for Gov. Bush and 50,999,897 were cast for Vice-President Gore. According to these numbers Bush received 47.87% of the popular vote while Gore received 48.38%. The difference between the two comes out to only 543,895 votes, or 0.00516%, a statistically insignificant figure (unless you are deciding the direction of the most powerful nation of the free world, in which case it is the largest number in the world). To gain a bit of perspective on these numbers, consider the election of 1960, JFK v. RMN. We all know that Kennedy was the “wunderkind” president, wildly popular, and mourned by the nation after his death, but how much did he win the election by?
In actual fact, JFK did not receive more than 50% of the popular vote. 68,334,888 votes were cast for Kennedy and Nixon (the other candidates are not included in this calculation). Kennedy received 34,226,731 while Nixon received 34,108,157; a difference of only 118,574 votes. Kennedy failed to capture more than 50% of the popular vote, but he won the election with 303 Electoral Votes compared to Nixon's 219. So why was 1960 so different than 2000? The answer is obvious: even though Kennedy did not win more than 50% of the popular vote across the nation he did win enough of the individual State votes to capture a substantive Electoral College victory, eliminating any question for a challenge based on the number of votes received by either candidate.
Even if this had only been the election to decide the Reeve of some small, off-the-map hamlet, the idea of not counting all of the votes involved would have still been abhorrent and unthinkable, but we all know that this was not the case; this was no ordinary election, and when we take into consideration that this was the race for the highest office in the land, perhaps the most powerful position in the world, the idea that the wholesale disenfranchisement of at least 20,000 eligible voters alone should have been enough to trigger a judicial inquiry into the obviously illegal practices – and blatant partisan interferences – being practiced by the chief bureaucrats of the state, including the Secretary of State and the Chief Electoral Officer. An inquiry into the very real possibilities of corruption at the highest levels of the State, including the office of Governor, would have definitely been indicated after such irregularities, and the lack of such clearly indicates that the levels of corruption existing throughout the government in the United States is, in a word, transcendent.
One merely needs to consider the amount of time, energy, and money spent on the investigation and subsequent attempt at impeachment of Governor Bush’s predecessor for his dalliance with Ms Lewinsky while in the Oval Office, an event that had nothing to do with the manner in which he attained the office of president. Over sixty million dollars was spent on the subsequent investigation: is this American justice? Perhaps if Governor George W. Bush had been caught in an awkward position with James Baker ....