Election hindsight

The long, long count goes on and on. How will it end?

Last Thursday, I attended a party where guests were predominantly influential Democrats. I was surprised to hear that a number of them were quite unhappy with what they viewed as the way the vice president was prolonging the election. Those were Al Gore supporters who simply felt their candidate was beginning to look like a sore loser.

Mr. Gore must have gotten the message. The next day he was no longer talking about a long challenge in the courts; instead, he was indicating he was ready for the decision to be made by the Florida vote outcome. We'll see whether he holds to that course. Since then, it has been George W. Bush who has resorted to the courts in his move to stop the hand recount.

Other aspects of this election:

What Richard Nixon did. Immediately after losing a cliff-hanger election to John F. Kennedy in 1960, Mr. Nixon took a trip around the country to help GOP candidates erase campaign debts. Until then, Nixon had not really discussed why he didn't contest the result in Illinois, where there had been reports of vote-stealing by the Democrats as Mr. Kennedy won by a fingernail.

Nixon told me that the constitutionally prescribed means of providing a peaceful, orderly transfer of the presidency rested on the use of the election process. He said that by turning to the courts to appeal the election results, he would be undermining this process. He added that with a court challenge, he would be stirring public dissension and making it more difficult for the next president, whoever he might be, to govern.

Why no apology? After the networks had goofed terribly on Florida and the presidential race, the network anchors all looked stunned, and one talked about the egg he had on his face. Another anchor said, soberly, that this meant the whole process of exit polls and projections would have to be reexamined. That wasn't enough. Those anchors owed an apology to the American people for messing up their election. And I never heard it.

One commentator talked about how this projection process has become a "traditional" part of our elections. It has not. The traditional way of reporting on any election, whether it is for a PTA president or for the school board, is to wait until the votes are counted before proclaiming who has won.

The broadcaster way of "calling" winners through talking to voters as they exit and putting that together with the early vote is really an intrusion on our voting system - on our constitutional process of electing presidents. Of course, no one says so anymore because it has gone on for so long. But even when broadcasters are calling elections right (and they usually do), they still are intruding on us voters. And when they make terrible mistakes, they owe us all an apology.

Did Joe Lieberman do right? I was talking to a woman the other day who, back in 1964, was a secretary for Sen. Barry Goldwater. She told me she had typed and sent a letter from presidential candidate Goldwater to GOP officials in Arizona. Although it was legal in his state, the letter said, he would not run for reelection at the same time he was seeking the presidency. He said it would not be fair to the citizens of Arizona to vote for him and possibly end up with their candidate in the White House, and it would be especially unfair to the Arizona Republican Party. But Mr. Lieberman hasn't pulled relinquished his Senate seat. And if he becomes vice president, he certainly will have damaged a Connecticut Democratic Party which, in all probability, could have held that Senate seat.

Champion pollster. In 1996, John Zogby came within one-tenth of 1 percent of the presidential result - the best performance turned in by any of the pollsters. This year Mr. Zogby was the first pollster I heard being cited on TV as finding that Gore was pulling out slightly, by 2 percent, ahead of Mr. Bush.

If the Gore popularity victory holds up (and absentee returns could change this), he will win by about 1 percent. I noted that CBS on election night was showing that Gore would win by 1 percent. So maybe CBS was the winner. But when I talked to Zogby a few days ago, he was elated with how close he had come this year to predicting the final outcome -and rightly so.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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