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Take the Time to Get It Right

November 14, 2000|JACK MILES | Jack Miles, a columnist at www.beliefnet.com and former editorial writer for The Times, is the author of the Pulitzer-Prize-winning "God: A Biography" (Alfred A. Knopf, 1995)

According to an old Latin proverb that might be democracy's motto, vox populi, vox dei ("The voice of the people is the voice of God"). But when God is speaking, do we drum our fingers on the table and interrupt with "Cut to the chase, we don't have all day"?

No, we don't, and we should not hurry along the electoral process that "hears" the sacred voice of the American people either. If recounts in New Mexico or Wisconsin or Oregon are in order, and if they swing the election to George W. Bush, so be it, but take the time to get the counts right. If recounts in Florida or Missouri do the same for Al Gore, then so be it again, but again take the time to get the counts right. Doing so is not a breakdown of the system, it is the system.

When the American republic was founded, all voting was by hand, and so was all counting of votes. The founding fathers allowed enough time between the election and the inauguration of a new president for that laborious counting to take place and for any irregularities along the way to be resolved. Sure, there are many more votes to be counted now, but there are also many more people to do the counting, whatever method they use. The notion that unless the results are known instantly, the nation is in crisis would surely have struck the founders as alarmist. Television, not the Constitution, is responsible for the impression that something is badly amiss if an event cannot be projected beforehand and instantly replayed afterward.

Some of the major editorial pages of the nation seem to be setting themselves up for their own version of the humiliating double reverse that the networks went through on election night. With votes still being counted and Bush maintaining a narrow lead, several have called on Gore to concede for the good of the country. If Gore pulls into the lead, will they then call on Bush to concede for the good of the country? And then, if the race again becomes too close to call, will they decide that for the good of the country neither should yet concede to the other?

That final position should, in fact, be the initial position. Both the principals and those reporting on them need to calm down, take a deep breath and inhabit the space that the American polity has so wisely provided for this uniquely important decision.

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