For most, better 'fair' than 'fast'

While many are eager for closure, majority of public says an accurate result in Florida takes precedence over speed.

Pride. Embarrassment. Disgust. Optimism.

One week after going to the polls to elect their next president, Americans are reacting to the unfolding drama over the disputed election result with a range of emotions.

The common denominator is that everyone, it seems, cares what happens: According to the Gallup Poll, no news event in the past 10 years has been followed more closely by the American public.

That places the election of 2000 ahead of even O.J. Simpson and the impeachment of President Clinton. Now, at least, parents are having to explain the Electoral College to their children - not who Monica Lewinsky is, or the significance of a single glove.

So far, most Americans say they will accept as the legitimate president whoever ends up winning. But they are divided along partisan lines over how best to reach an accurate vote count in Florida. In interviews across the country, from tourists in front of the White House to barbershop patrons in Big Sky country, Americans say they just want a result that's fair.

"It's fascinating," says Linda Marshall, visiting Washington from upstate New York.

"Some commented at dinner last night that it made us look like fools once again in the eyes of the world. I said, it's the opposite. Suddenly, we're talking about the Electoral College and Hamilton and Jefferson."

For now, polls show that a large majority of Americans believe it's more important to reach an accurate result in Florida - where the vote count will determine the presidency - than to resolve the matter quickly. "I think it's great," says Cheryl Gross, a student from LaCrosse, Wis., posing for pictures in front of the White House. "It's time the public realized their vote matters."

Andrea Erickson, a colleague at Western Wisconsin Technical College, disagrees. "It's discouraging to have to go through all this recounting," says Ms. Erickson, a supporter of George W. Bush. "It will discourage people from voting in four years."

No men of honor

Not all voters think "their" candidate has handled the aftermath of the vote in the most honorable of ways. "The whole thing is petty: It makes us look like Peru," says Gavin Greene, a Chicago native in graduate school here at American University. "I think Bush won, even though I voted for Gore. Gore should have conceded."

His friend Amy McCall, a Bush supporter who lives in Reston, Va., says the whole situation reminds her of her students. She teaches French to second-, fourth-, and eighth-graders at a private school for gifted children - and she places Mr. Bush and his rival, Al Gore, smack in the middle of second grade. "That's not fair, I won, no I won," says Ms. McCall, mimicking schoolyard banter. "Gore started it, but Bush has kept it going."

In Little Rock, Ark., at the Barnes & Noble bookstore, the election without end dominated the chatter. The consensus seemed to be that the disputed result was shaking people's faith in the political system. Gore supporters wanted thoroughness. Some even said that maybe all states needed to be recounted. Bush supporters thought Gore should suck it up and concede.

Some people were saddened that the election had now gone into court. "Everything goes to court these days," says Jenny Turner of Little Rock. "It makes you think that no one can solve problems anymore without a dream team of lawyers to fight it out for months."

In the interior West, which voted strongly Republican, partisanship is the dominant factor in shaping perspectives of individual citizens, but post-election fatigue is affecting everyone.

Many are eager for the drama to reach closure, and they've resigned themselves to having a new president who has a less- than-decisive mandate.

The talk at DJ's barber shop

Along Main Street in Bozeman, Mont., developments in Florida remain the talk of the town. At DJ's Barber Shop, many of John Layne's older white male customers simply roll their eyes at the notion of multiple recounts that could spread to other states.

"I'd like to see it end because I'm sick of the bickering," says Howard Wendler, a retired game warden from upstate New York who now lives in Montana.

"No matter who wins, I would support the first guy who steps back and agrees to stop cutting out the feet of his opponent," Mr. Wendler added as his gray beard was being trimmed. "The campaigns are over. We need to come together as a country."

Across the street in Vargo's Bookstore, proprietor Francis Vargo admits that he stayed up until the wee hours on election night hoping for a Gore victory.

"I have sympathy for getting an accurate accounting of the votes that were cast. But, on the other hand, I feel like the people who voted twice or claimed they were confused should have asked someone for help," Mr. Vargo says. "To walk out of the polling station and then raise concerns afterward isn't right. Like a lot of things in life, you get one chance and when it passes by, it's gone."

Vargo believes the country is resilient enough to move forward regardless of who wins. "By the time they finish counting the overseas ballots, whoever's behind at that point should just give up."

Leigh Knighton, editor of a small weekly newspaper in the resort community of Big Sky, says the matter should be placed in the hands of a judge, agreed upon by both political parties, who could tone down the rhetoric and serve as an impartial arbiter.

"It's kind of embarrassing that we are the symbol of how elections are supposed to be held, and yet we can't make a decision," Ms. Knighton says. "Mistakes like those alleged to have occurred in West Palm Beach shouldn't happen, but they are errors that we the people helped make."

Todd Wilkinson contributed to this report from Bozeman, Mont., and Suzi Parker from Little Rock, Ark.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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