So one guy was finally kicked off the electoral island. Now all eyes turn to the lone survivor, who was able to outlast his opponent in a battle of legal attrition. But before we change the channel, let’s reflect for a moment on some of the lessons learned from this trial-by-ordeal.
For starters, we learned that certain justices of the U.S. Supreme Court believe that state legislatures, not voters, have the constitutional right to vote for president. Not only does the national popular vote not matter, but neither does the popular vote within each state. Stuck in an 18th-century brand of law and values, our soon-to-be-Chief Justice Antonin Scalia is the foremost proponent of this radical idea, and that’s kind of jarring.
The U.S. Supreme Court also decided that it’s OK that affluent voters in precincts using optical-scanning equipment enjoy a greater chance of having their votes actually counted than minority voters in precincts using antiquated punch-card machines. But when it came time to hand count ballots to overcome this pre-election advantage, the Supremes slammed shut the constitutional gates.
I can hear Martin Luther King now: “I have a dream—that the ballots of all people will be counted equally, no matter the color of their skin, or—the types of voting machines.”
This was a cataclysmic failure of our political system all the way around—from the courts, to election administrators, to the legislatures that never bothered to establish uniform standard for recounts, ballot design or accuracy of voting machines. We held a presidential election for the most powerful office in the world, and we blew it.
It is bewildering that thousands of ballots still sit in piles somewhere, having never been tallied because the antiquated voting machines could not count them. And the legal system proved to be a roadblock, rather than a guardian, to ensuring that every vote was counted.
The rest of the world is laughing at us, and for good reason. Even Brazil has computer voting machines where, when the voter votes for a candidate, a picture of that candidate pops up on the screen to verify for the voter who they voted for. This is not rocket science.
About the best we can say that came out of the Supreme Court decision is that this Un-Election 2000 is finally over. In the end, nobody was elected president, but one candidate finally was installed. The system spasmodically twitched, struggling for resolution. Instead, we found a political meltdown that eventually engulfed not only the presidency, but the U.S. Supreme Court as well.
Next time, I vote that we ask Brazilians for instructions on how to get it right.