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Bush Should Rethink His Opposition to a New Election in Florida

November 10, 2000|JAMES P. PINKERTON | James P. Pinkerton, who writes a column for Newsday in New York, worked in the White House of President George Bush. E-mail:

If a recount doesn't give Al Gore Florida's 25 electoral votes, the Democrats are likely to call for a new election in the Sunshine State. They no doubt figure that even if the Republicans manage to block such a new election and George W. Bush is inaugurated, his presidency will be permanently tainted. It's not a bad strategy. So Bush should be ready with a counter-strategy.

Immediately after the election suggested that Bush had won the state, the Democrats had cranked out a nine-page document detailing alleged voting irregularities. On Thursday, Gore campaign chief William Daley said judicial intervention was needed to prevent "an injustice unparalleled in our history."

It's ironic that Daley would want to talk about parallels because his father, Richard J. Daley, the mayor of Chicago from 1955 to 1976, was famous for his own brand of voting injustice. As the late Chicago columnist Mike Royko wrote in his 1971 biography, "Boss," the "machine" that Daley then presided over "never misses a chance to steal a certain number of votes and trample all over the election laws." The most spectacular example of Daley's vote-stealing was the 1960 presidential election, in which Daley delivered Illinois' electoral votes to Democrat John F. Kennedy. Oddly, the media and other watchdog types weren't interested in uncovering the naked truth about that election.

But if the subject is a Republican victory, the scrutiny will be unceasing. A swarm of investigators--federal, state, local, Democratic, journalistic--will blanket the state looking for evidence of abuse. And given Florida's history of vote-corruption, they'll find plenty, even if the worst of it is likely to be found in Democratic strongholds; the 1997 mayoral race in Miami, for example, was judged to be so corrupt that the courts nullified the victor's victory and appointed his opponent as mayor.

No judge would dare appoint Gore the winner, of course, but it's easy to imagine some judge somewhere ordering a new election in Florida. The Bush forces have indicated that they would oppose a second election and might well ultimately prevail, but perhaps they should think again. After all, if the Texan takes office under such circumstances, his presidency will be clouded by never-ending allegations of vote-corruption at the inception.

So what should Bush do? He should get out in front of the new-election push, but he should lay down stipulations to make sure that election is honest.

If the goal was preventing vote fraud in Florida, was it a good idea for the last Democratic governor to drop the requirement that a registrant provide specific identification when registering to vote? Today, Florida requires merely an "indication" that a would-be voter is a citizen. Bush should demand strict identification procedures--and stand firm when Democratic constituency groups howl.

Second, since Florida is heavy with immigrants, Bush might remind Americans that, four years ago, Vice President Gore's office spearheaded the creation of 1 million new citizens in time for election day 1996. Yet in that pell-mell process, the Justice Department neglected to perform fingerprint checks on 180,000 applicants. A later review found that at least 80,000 had criminal records, and 6,300 had committed serious crimes, which presumably would preclude many of them from voting. Nor have such insta-citizenship efforts stopped. The Boston Globe reported in a news story on Nov. 4: "With a push from the Immigration and Naturalization Service, more than 1.7 million resident aliens have become U.S. citizens in the past two years, most of them with an incentive to vote and a lopsided preference for the Democratic Party." Again, Bush should insist on a review of Florida voter rolls.

The Democrats will never agree to such preconditions, of course. And that's the point: As their own personal history proves, the Gore-iors don't want honest elections, they want to win. Bush is in an awkward position right now as he awaits the results trickling in from Florida; the least he can do is remind Americans that every election, if examined closely enough, is irregular.

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