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GOP Opposes a Carter-Ford Commission

Proposals: The former Democratic president suggests bipartisan monitoring of the recount. He's not alone in seeking answers to the election mess.


WASHINGTON — Former President Carter has monitored elections from Nicaragua to Zambia, but his proposal that he and former President Ford oversee a hand recount of Florida's vote for U.S. president got a cool reception from Republicans on Thursday.

Also, some political elders said there is a need for changes in the way Americans elect their president--the one person who represents the entire nation. At minimum, they said, consideration should be given to creating a standard presidential ballot that could be counted using identical methods in all 50 states. Election day also could be made a national holiday, one said.

Democrat Carter's proposal--offered on CNN's "Larry King Live" on Wednesday night--envisioned a panel headed by himself and Republican Ford. The oversight group would guarantee a fair recount in Florida. Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore would agree in advance to accept its rulings.

"A blue-ribbon commission . . . could speak with a nonpartisan voice and go to Gore and Bush in advance and say: 'Will you accept this proposition? Hand count every vote in Florida, add on the absentee ballots and whoever gets the most votes is the next president.' "

Two former GOP senators did not like the idea.

"I love Jimmy Carter--and I've gotten into trouble with Republicans for that--but the answer is absolutely not," said Lowell P. Weicker Jr., who represented Connecticut in the U.S. Senate as a Republican and later was its independent governor. "This should be decided under Florida law, with the institutions that Florida has. Period."

Former Sen. Warren B. Rudman, a New Hampshire Republican known for speaking his mind, said he has no objection in principle to a statewide hand recount in Florida, but the decision should be made only by duly constituted authorities, not a commission.

"They have had contested elections in that state before," Rudman said. "And what have they done? They followed the law. This should not be done ad hoc. Remember, when all else fails, follow the instructions."

But former Democratic Party Chairman Paul G. Kirk Jr. said Carter's idea is a thoughtful compromise. "Neither the courts of the state of Florida nor the country has been through a circumstance like this one." Carter's proposal deserves consideration "if there is nothing illegal about it and it resonates with a tone of certainty and fairness."

"The most important thing here is to elect a president without doubts and recrimination and possible retaliation later in the Congress," Kirk added. "The only mandate from this election was for relative centrism and the need for a working relationship between the parties."

Ford, whom Carter defeated in 1976, had no comment on his old rival's proposal, an aide said Thursday.

As the national drama of the unresolved presidency drags into its 10th day, political observers said the experience almost certainly will provoke an examination of how the nation elects a president. In Washington, Republicans on the House Commerce Committee promised an investigation into whether bias prompted television networks to initially call Florida for Gore. Television executives say that it did not.

Despite the partisan tension now, former Democratic presidential candidate Walter F. Mondale believes the end result will be a renewed commitment to American-style democracy.

"When it's all done, it also will show that most people are honest, most people did their best, that most people believe in the democratic system and the integrity of the process," said Mondale, who challenged President Reagan in 1984 and lost. "It will build trust, even though it's painful now."

Moreover, "it tells us again that votes do count, that Americans do matter," he said. "Maybe this will have an effect on voter participation. Maybe this will cause more people to disregard that cynical argument that it doesn't matter."

Others, practically minded, said the experience should motivate Americans to improve the way they elect their president. It does not appear that the nation is quite ready to abandon the electoral college. But more modest changes could have a profound effect.

Weicker said a standard presidential ballot would eliminate the confusion found in Palm Beach. "The presidency is the one office that represents the entire country. There should be one . . . standard ballot for that office."

While that idea is being widely discussed, its implementation remains unclear. Some say that a constitutional amendment would be required. Others say that a federal law, or even an agreement among the states, would suffice.

Former GOP Chairman Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr. said that giving people a day off to vote also should be considered. "There are an awful lot of people who take a pass [on voting]. I think there will be some real discussion about whether or not to change the day of voting to Saturday, or making it a national holiday. . . . In Michigan, where the UAW [union] workers had the day off on election day, they certainly turned out the Democrats."

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