New York Times
November 16, 2000

Running From the Vote

By Bob Herbert

The situation could hardly be more transparent. The Republican Party is consumed with the fear that somehow a fair count of the votes in Florida will be permitted. It is doing all it can to prevent that from happening.

Do the G.O.P. bigwigs know something? Have they divined that a scrupulous count of the Florida vote would result in the second-most- frightening scenario they could imagine Bill Clinton handing the White House keys to Al Gore?

(The ultimate nightmare would have been Bill handing the White House over to Hillary. The Republicans are having convulsions just thinking about Mrs. Clinton showing up for duty in the Senate. Trent Lott, with his usual lack of both subtlety and taste, said, "I'll tell you one thing: when this Hillary gets to the Senate if she does, maybe lightning will strike and she won't she will be one of 100, and we won't let her forget it.")

Why is the G.O.P. so afraid? Are the votes already there to elect Al Gore? Are they sitting in boxes, just waiting to be counted? There's only one way to find out.

"All that this campaign is attempting to do is to get the votes counted," said David Boies, the newly installed tactical nuclear weapon in the Democrats' arsenal.

Mr. Boies made a public appearance with former Secretary of State Warren Christopher in Tallahassee yesterday. There was no ranting, no hysterics, just an appeal to reason. "Let the votes get counted," he said.

The Florida Supreme Court has been "very protective" of its citizens' right to vote, Mr. Boies said. He said the court had tried to insure, as it said in a recent opinion, that each vote "is not only made, but heard."

Properly registered voters who cast legitimate ballots that are not counted are participating in an exercise in futility, not democracy. Democracy demands that votes not only be cast, but counted. This is a fine point that seems to have conveniently escaped the consciousness of Republicans focused on Florida.

While doing everything possible to thwart a meticulous count of the Florida vote, Governor George W. Bush and his top gun, former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, have been crying out for days for "closure," as if the nation were grieving rather than trying to find out who really won the election.

"When is it going to end?" Mr. Baker asked. He never asked whether legitimate voters were being frozen out of the process. He wasn't interested in that. In Mr. Baker's view, and presumably Mr. Bush's as well, too much is at stake to worry about the niceties of the democratic process.

To get a sense of the degree of contempt these two men have for the process, just consider that they are perfectly happy to allow a Bush supporter and Republican Party functionary, Florida's secretary of state, Katherine Harris, to basically pick the president of the United States by ordering a cutoff of hand counts in various counties at a time when Mr. Bush was barely 300 votes ahead.

Never mind that Ms. Harris was co-chairwoman of the Bush campaign in Florida, or that she dutifully headed north last winter to campaign for the Texas governor in the New Hampshire primary, or that she arranged to spend $30,000 in taxpayer money for a so-called get-out-the- vote commercial that featured retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, a big-time Bush supporter.

No, it apparently never occurred to Mr. Bush or Mr. Baker that it might be a grotesque conflict of interest to have Ms. Harris slam the door on a complete tally of the vote and then, on her own, summarily declare Mr. Bush the winner in Florida and new president of the United States.

I suspect that the possibility of a conflict might have occurred to them if something similar had been perpetrated by the Gore camp.

Yesterday the Florida Supreme Court refused Ms. Harris's request that it block any further hand recounts of election ballots. But this made no impression on Ms. Harris. She promptly announced that she would not accept the results of any additional hand counts.

The Republican Party is attempting to hijack the presidency.

It's not interested in having all of the voters heard, which is the only way to experience the true spirit of democracy.

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