Hoover Daily Report

Still Fighting Florida

Monday, September 10, 2001

After the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights reported in June that black voters in Florida had been discriminated against in last fall's presidential election, dissenting commission members asked scholar John R. Lott Jr. to take a look at the commission's numbers. Lott's analysis shows that the majority's selective statistical review had led to a distorted conclusion.

The commission found, for example, "a direct correlation between race and having one's vote discounted as a spoiled ballot." But Lott found that the highest rates of rejected ballots from African Americans came in counties controlled by Democrats with black election supervisors. Clearly voter error was linked to education, income, and literacy. But the innuendo of wrongdoing dies hard.

Remember the fuss over "undervotes?" About 2 percent of the ballots recorded no vote for the presidency. Most of the "decisions" made by politically agnostic, racially neutral machines were because voters had failed to follow instructions.

But how would the "stolen election" crowd respond to an outrageous case of ballot disqualification engineered by politically motivated human beings?

Enter the New York Times with its July analysis on the treatment of overseas absentee ballots. Here, there were several reasons to count every vote. First, most voters were absent because they were serving their country. Also, a 1986 federal law allows Americans living abroad who fail to receive state absentee ballots to cast a generic federal ballot. For good measure, a 1980s consent decree forced Florida to end a rule disqualifying overseas ballots that do not have an Army Post Office, Fleet Post Office, or overseas postmark.

Nevertheless, an army of Gore lawyers fanned out across Florida determined to block as many of the feared military ballots as possible. In counties won by Mr. Bush, 29 percent of the overseas ballots were disqualified; in those captured by Mr. Gore, the figure was 60 percent. A federal judge later held that hundreds of overseas ballots were improperly thrown out either because they failed to carry an overseas postmark or because officials had no proof voters' using the generic federal ballot had met the deadline for requesting absentee state ballots.

Did the Times inveigh against this gross disenfranchisement of U.S. servicepeople and others? No, the newspaper charged instead that, since ballots with the same characteristics had been counted by some Florida counties, Bush's Florida victory had been tainted by "flawed ballots." Thus, counting a vote where the voter had failed to follow instructions is good, but counting what a federal court held were valid votes of military forces is bad.

The enduring effort to discredit Bush's election does little harm to his presidency. Rather, it feeds the already pervasive sense of cynicism about national institutions, the feeling that everything is rigged and nothing is fair. Whereas some seek to restore the temple of trust on which free government must stand, others play penny-ante Sampson and shake that temple to its foundation.