To many supporters of Al Gore, the US Supreme Court decision that favored George W. Bush was seen as an example of yet another public institution failing to reflect the people's will in this presidential election.
The first failure came well before the election when several Florida county governments chose to use inadequate voting machines and ballot designs.
The second, also well before the election, came when the state legislature neglected to set uniform standards for conducting a manual recount of ballots that would more easily determine legal votes.
A third failure, as viewed by Gore advocates, was in the setting of two deadlines, one by Florida law (Nov. 14) and one under US law (Dec. 12), that were used to cut off manual recounts and deny more legal action.
Possibly added to this list of complaints is an election system that saw Mr. Gore win the unofficial, national vote count but likely lose the state-by-state count in the Electoral College.
Now, in its 5-to-4 decision along liberal-conservative lines, the high- court justices failed to reach a consensus that would satisfy half the electorate that voted for Gore. The majority decided that the manual recount as ordered by the Florida Supreme Court could not be done without "unequal treatment" and before Dec. 12, based on a constitutional demand for due process and equal protection.
These real or perceived failures of government institutions and laws, in the eyes of Gore supporters, have (1) left too many voters disenfranchised, (2) put a political taint on the Supreme Court and many other institutions, and (3) created a cloud of illegitimacy over a Bush presidency.
Those concerns - disenfranchisement, political taint, and illegitimacy - should not just be left to government leaders to address. Out of compassion for those who are upset by these results, all Americans should raise their civic involvement and work to bring about reconciliation and find solutions to those concerns.
This flawed election shows just how much of a work in progress US democracy is. Improving it requires everyone's best thinking.
Politicians make laws and judges serve as the backbone of the rule of law. But when laws and court decisions fail enough people, much of the burden falls back on citizens to work with each other in fixing the system.
It's ours, after all.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society