Florida needs hand counts in this game

The presidential election may have been stalled at the doors of Florida's Supreme Court, but for those wishing to keep up with the situation over the weekend, there were a variety of options.

For the heavily involved, the 24-hour news networks offered round-the-clock debate. More casual observers who needed a break might simply have opted to read the paper in the morning.

But for those somewhere in the middle, there was CNN Headline News: You didn't even have to watch the entire half-hour broadcast. All you had to do was flip by to check out the ticker on the bottom of the screen.

There, amid the steady stream of updated college football and basketball scores on Saturday, the network posted the current score of America's favorite political contest.

It was South Florida on top of Austin Peay 21-0 in the first quarter; California over Stanford 7-6 in the second; and Bush over Gore by 930, though no one knew exactly how much time was left in the game.

Hmmm, 930? Let's see. If Gore can just score 132 touchdowns and pick up a few two-point conversions along the way, he can tie this thing up.

When you talk to people about the race, it is this mentality that seems to guide the dialogue.

Bush supporters say Al Gore is trying to steal the election by recounting votes, over and over again, until he gets the result he wants.

Gore supporters say George W. Bush is trying to steal the election by quitting while he's ahead when the game's not even over.

And as if the respective teams needed further encouragement, surrogates for the Bush and Gore campaigns have been holding daily spin sessions/rallies, where boosters are encouraged that their cause is just.

Somewhere in this my-team-versus-your-team discussion we have lost the meaning of elections - giving action to the people's will - and common sense. Hopefully Florida's State Supreme Court can step in and lend a hand where its secretary of state and attorney general have failed.

But while both the Bush and Gore campaigns have been at times childish over the past two weeks, the Gore camp gets credit for growing up and floating the only reasonable solution.

Because of the incredible closeness of the race down there, the entire state of Florida needs to be recounted by hand and then both men need to live with the result.

For the past week there have been endless complaints from the Bush camp that hand counts are inherently flawed. The country went to machine counts, they say, because they are more accurate.

Maybe. Then again maybe it had something to do with the fact that we decided it is simply too time-consuming to count 100 million votes by hand (people seem upset about the time it takes to count a few hundred thousand).

As for accuracy: More than 20,000 ballots were rejected by machines in three counties even though those that filled them out followed all the instructions properly. If that's an argument for automation, I am beginning to see the Luddites' point of view.

It is also unfair to say Gore just wants to keep counting votes until he wins. The Gore camp thus far has simply followed Florida law. They have done what they are allowed to do and now the Supreme Court will decide how far they can go.

The Bush people do have one point, however. It is unfair to recount only counties that are likely to favor Gore. Such a move simply tips the field in Gore's favor.

If the Florida Supreme Court rules that the hand counts from Broward, Palm Beach, and Dade counties should be included in the final vote tally, there will be calls from Gore's camp to end all recounts there.

Bush was given his chance to recount the whole state and now he'll just have to live with it, they'll say.

There is a certain justice to this point of view, but in the end it is just as cynical as Bush's "manual recounts are evil" stance.

The race for the presidency shouldn't be a game. It shouldn't be about out maneuvering your opponent in court or in public relations.

But right now that's exactly where we are with the campaign score, watching at home on the college football ticker.

The question now is whether someone - in the courts or the campaigns - can bring some sense back to this race and make it about more than just devising a winning strategy.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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