Al Gore has a legacy...
Even though he was never elected President, Al Gore has had a massive impact on election politics. From Joseph Perkins at the San Diego Union Tribune, comes an editorial discussing just how much Gore's legacy of litigation may be harming our democratic process:
Richard Nixon would have captured the 1960 presidential election but for five states he lost by 5,000 votes or fewer – Missouri, Illinois, Nevada, New Mexico and Hawaii.
Gerald Ford would have retained the presidency in 1976 but for two states he lost by no more than 5,600 votes – Ohio and Hawaii.
Though the 1960 and 1976 elections were close, though they turned on a few thousand votes in a handful of states, the outcomes were faithfully accepted by the American people, by Republicans and Democrats alike.
That's because neither Nixon or Ford demanded that the votes be recounted in the states in which they lost by narrow margins. And neither Nixon or Ford insisted they were denied election because of voting irregularities in some state or another.
Then there was the 2000 election.
George W. Bush and Al Gore went to bed on election night uncertain whether they had won or lost.
Later, when all of Florida's voting precincts had reported their tallies, Bush had eked out victory in the Sunshine State, pushing him over the top in the Electoral College.
But Gore refused to accept that he lost Florida, that he lost the presidency, by so small a margin. He refused to put the national interest before his own selfish interest.
He dispatched his lawyers to the Sunshine State to contest the election. And his lawyers used every legal maneuver in their arsenal to overturn Gore's defeat – challenging the manner in which Florida conducted its balloting, claiming that certain voter blocs were disenfranchised.
The result is that a portion of the populace refuses to this day to accept the outcome of the 2000 election (despite a post-election ballot review by a consortium of media organizations that concluded, unequivocally, that Bush won Florida no matter how the votes were counted or recounted).
It is because of the Gore precedent, because he tried to win the 2000 election in the courts after losing at the ballot box, that this nation remains so bitterly divided between Republicans and Democrats.
And the nation is likely to remain bitterly divided following this year's presidential election. Because John Kerry is already gearing up to contest the outcome of the election even before voters go to the polls on Election Day.
In fact, lawyers for the Democrats already have filed some 35 lawsuits in some 17 states. And if Kerry goes down to defeat on Election Day, there almost certainly will be an avalanche of lawsuits claiming that the Democrat somehow was cheated out of the presidency.
Of course, Kerry and his fellow Democrats profess that their lawsuits are motivated only by the noble desire to defend every American's constitutional right to vote. They maintain that they simply want to ensure that every vote cast in this year's election is properly counted.
But the reality is that the rash of election-related litigation precipitated by Kerry and the Democrats is doing lasting, perhaps irreparable, damage to the democratic process in this country.
Indeed, Doug Lewis, executive director of the Election Center, a nonprofit organization, told the Associated Press this week that all the legal wrangling is "disastrous for fundamental faith in the system" by which presidents have been elected since this nation's founding.
"Pretty soon," he said, "You get people saying, 'Shoot, then why bother to vote?' There has been such a concerted effort to beat up on the system itself that people need to step back and understand that if you destroy the very process by which your candidate gets elected, then what have you gained?"
I think it is time for a moment of grace in this year's presidential election.
John Kerry and George W. Bush ought to take a few minutes out of their schedule to have a heart to heart chat, much as Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy had six days after the 1960 presidential election.
The Democrat and Republican should agree to accept the outcome of this year's presidential election, no matter how close, no matter which of the two candidates comes out on top. They also should forswear any post-election lawsuits. And they should urge their supporters to do the same.
If Kerry and Bush were to evince such statesmanship, they not only would do much to restore faith in the American electoral system, they also would do much to promote civility between all but the most rabid Democrats and Republicans.
That would be a great service to this country.
UPDATE: Apparently I had misinterpreted this article a bit, so allow me to state my personal position on Gore's legacy. Gore's legacy is one of opening the door for partisan litigation of election results. The way he sued was wrong. He sued only to count a specific type of misvote in only four counties, terms he believed favored him. This deviation from merely trying to ensure all votes are counted has tainted the public's view of what such electoral litigation should be. Further lawsuits could be disastrous for our democratic process, because many will assume that it is going to be a hopelessly biased recount. If Gore had gone about it the right way, there would be no such suspicion now, and representative democracy as we know it would have remained relatively worry free.