Monday :: Jan 9, 2006

Historical Truth

by pessimist

Yet another study has been concluded which indicates that the 2000 Election really did go to President Al Gore.

Lance deHaven-Smith, in his most recent book, The Battle for Florida (University Press of Florida, 2005), looked at the electoral fiasco that is Katherine Harris' historical legacy, and came up with the conclusion that partisanship played a role in the ($)election of King George by the Court Je$ter$ of SCOTUS.

This post is adapted from an interview with deHaven-Smith in the Fall/Winter 2005 Research in Review Magazine, published by Florida State University. Emphases are usually mine.

So, what’s the overarching theme of The Battle for Florida? It essentially says that the people responsible for administering the election had a conflict of interest and that they, in a variety of ways, prevented the recount from being conducted.
One reason there was administrative sabotage of the recount was because a number of steps had already been taken to try to lock in the Republican control of Florida in the face of these demographics that are running in the other direction.
[T]he Republicans are on the losing side of a huge demographic trend in [Florida]: an increasing minority population. And they know this — it’s not a secret.
One of the things I found that hadn’t been reported anywhere is, if you look at where those votes occurred, they were in predominantly black precincts. And (when you look at) the history of black voting in Florida, these are people that have been disenfranchised, intimidated. In the history of the early 20th century, black votes would be thrown out on technicalities, like they would use an X instead of a check mark.

I would have loved to have seen the white precinct ballots.

There were 175,000 votes overall that were so-called “spoiled ballots.” About two-thirds of the spoiled ballots were over-votes; many or most of them would have been write-in over-votes, where people had punched AND written in a candidate’s name.
When you see Gore picked AND then Gore written in, there’s not a question in your mind who this person was voting for. But because of the way the vote-counting machines work, this had the opposite effect: the machines threw out their ballots.
When you go through those, they’re unambiguous: Bush got some of those votes, but they were overwhelmingly for Gore. [Y]ou can understand why African Americans would be so careful, checking off Gore’s name on the list of candidates and also writing Gore’s name in the space for write-in votes.
It’s an embarrassing outcome for George Bush because it showed that Gore had gotten more votes.
For example, in an analysis of the 2.7 million votes that had been cast in Florida’s eight largest counties, The Washington Post found that Gore’s name was punched on 46,000 of the over-vote ballots it, while Bush’s name was marked on only 17,000.

Having established the numerical data behind his premise, deHaven-Smith covers the political motivations behind the way the recount process was corrupted:

The aim was from the beginning to stop the recount. Yet if you looked at the law and if you looked at the case law, what Florida had consistently said was if you can count the votes, you must count the votes.
You cannot penalize the voters for mistakes that the administrators make or that the law may make. You really have to give the voters the advantage.
I think what this election teaches us is, first of all, we need to strengthen the penalties for election tampering and we need to return to an earlier understanding of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

One of the things we’ve learned with public opinion research, the most fundamental finding of public opinion research of the past 50 years is that the masses follow the elites... they look to a particular person that they trust... they look at that person and defer to that person. It really is a matter of elites being willing to be committed to democracy and the rule of law and the rule of reason.

[U]nless elites start recognizing that they have a responsibility to maintain a democracy among themselves — we’re going to have a big problem.
Unfortunately, the history of democracy is that leadership philosophy is eroded as the competition between elites becomes more intense. That’s what happened with Athenian democracy; that’s what happened in the Roman Republic. So you look at our system today; you see our elites doing it, and you know we’re in big trouble.

It’s in my lifetime that this has happened, that elites have begun to put winning ahead everything else, ahead of truth and country. I’ve seen this civic culture go from something that’s respectful of democracy to something that is manipulative of it.

The problem is if you let this go uncorrected, the Democrats are going to do something worse later, and then the Republicans. It’s just an arms race almost, and it will just tend to degenerate.

We've looked at the motivations of the partisans and their methodology in their corruption of the expression of the vox publica. What was deHaven-Smith's personal motivation for this study?

I would never have written this book had there been any careful investigation done afterwards. That was what shook me after the election, I was expecting people would go into it, find out what had happened and straighten out the problems so it wouldn’t happen again.
One of the things I would hear a lot is people would say, well, if the Democrats were in, they would do the same thing. And I thought about that, and … my conclusion … is “hell no, they wouldn’t.”
Certainly when I came to Tallahassee in 1994, I viewed myself as part of a professional leadership class in the state. There was a group of professional, ex-politicians – [Former Governor] Reubin Askew would have been one — of people who were knowledgeable and active and interested and not really partisan.

I know the Democrats; I know Reuben Askew. That guy would have been an absolute maniac about being technically and legally and ethically straightforward and correct in the application of the law. If there had been a recount under his administration, he would have been bending over backwards to make sure it was right.

By 1998, Jeb Bush … went about really consolidating authority, and it became a very partisan system. The problem was you just had partisans running the system at every level, even on the Supreme Court. It was everywhere. And at that point, frankly, my political orientation quit mattering.

What started mattering to me was having a democracy, having a government that was actually responsive.
(But) today, the belief in the truth, that there (even) is a truth, has pretty much vanished across the board. So if you wanted to correct this system, you’ve got to get that partisanship out of the process. And that was not done.
Socrates, the top truth-searcher of the day, was put to death for constantly prodding citizens to examine whether their convictions were grounded in a firm foundation of facts—suggesting he was “too democratic” to live in a Republic.

After Socrates was executed, Plato, his student, went out to the countryside to buy a piece of land. The reason Plato went out of town is, he realized the town people didn’t want to hear that their beliefs about the gods were myths, that their institutions were founded somewhat arbitrarily, that they didn’t know what they were talking about when they said they wanted justice.

You’d like to hope that in the 21st century people would be mature enough, but I don’t know. This is a turning point potentially for us.
I don’t think we have many years left of democracy in the United States. I’m not entirely convinced that it’s not too late, even as we speak.

That fear of the loss of American Democracy is also the premise of yet another book, Fooled Again: How the Right Stole the 2004 Election & Why They'll Steal the Next One Too (Unless We Stop Them) by Mark Crispin Miller.

The discrepancy between exit polling that showed Kerry winning 5 battleground states, including the crucial state of Ohio – and therefore the presidency – and the final vote tallies that miraculously flipped Ohio and other battleground states to allow Bush to "declare victory" seemed, well, extraordinary.

Miller's sharp analysis points in one direction: George W. Bush did not rightfully win the 2004 election and Bush's "victory" was borne out of vote suppression, manipulating the electoral process, fraud and theft.

Miller's book is best thought of as a closing argument, and if one approaches the topic like a juror with an open mind, its difficult to conceive of any other verdict for the Republican Party other than guilty as charged for stealing the 2004 election. Miller zeroes in on irregularities in Ohio as ground zero in the right's theft of the 2004 election.

Miller skewers Secretary of State, Kenneth Blackwell, who like Katherine Harris in Florida, was determined to tip Ohio in Bush's column despite his responsibility and duty to oversee a fair election.

Miller's true purpose is a plea to reform America's broken electoral system to preserve our democracy – a policy that unifies all Americans regardless of political affiliation. Miller calls for doing away with all electronic voting, using standardized paper ballots, and federalizing the electoral system "so that its workers are trained civil servants, not local bigots or politicos."

As George W. Bush said, "Fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again." [O]ur democracy simply cannot afford another fraudulent or stolen election.

Allow this to happen again, and you won't ever have to worry about another election. There won't be any.

This is likely the motive behind eight New Mexico voters blocking the purchase of Sequoia AVC Edge touch-screen machines.

Anything any voter can do to ensure that elections return to being reliable and fair needs to be done as quickly as possible, for as Lance deHaven-Smith points out, we as a nation are at a turning point - one from which there is no return if the wrong choice of direction is made.

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