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Wednesday, November 8, 2000

It could still be a while before I get either any work done or any sleep. I was up most of last night watching the pushing and shoving over Florida, and I couldn't help having the commentators droning away in the background all day today as they rehashed the various disputes and the reactions to them.

I felt exactly as a person with chronic insomnia should feel on less than three hours' sleep. I was slightly less amused and a shade closer to the raw emotional edge.

At one point I found myself shouting colorful curses at one of the talking heads on CNN, simply for saying "undecided" when she should have said "independent." And oh, how I berated MSNBC when I turned that network on this evening and saw the same program I'd seen three hours earlier, but still with a graphic that told me it was "live."

I was cutting no slack today.

One justification for the existence of the electoral college has always been (in my mind, anyway) that it would give a sense of mandate to a presidential candidate elected by a razor-thin popular vote. Winning 301 to 166 is more definitive than 31,785,480 to 31,275,166, isn't it? Those were the margins by which Nixon beat Humphrey in 1968. It wasn't a landslide, but we accepted the result because it seemed to leave no doubt.

Well, there's no mandate this time, is there? Never has the electoral college seemed so irrelevant and anachronistic. However this year's election turns out, the picture is fuzzy. What seems so far to be the most likely outcome, Gore winning the popular vote and Bush winning the presidency, is needlessly incongruent.

Popular election of the president would force a candidate to think nationally and campaign throughout the country, de-emphasizing the disproportionate attention given to the "battleground states." It would also open up the process to new parties, at least on the national level, because it would mitigate the doomsday scenario and silence that inner voice that says, if I don't vote for A, B will take my state. Without that burden, you're free to vote for C, D or E.

Florida election officials made mistakes that will cause the results there, however it turns out, to be forever doubted. If it weren't so close, it wouldn't matter, because I'm sure similar discrepancies occurred in other jurisdictions all over the country, for and against all candidates. It almost doesn't matter if fraud or mere incompetence was at the heart of the problem.

The only way we get a decision we can believe in is if the recount gives either Bush or Gore a wide margin (unlikely), or if whichever of them is behind after the recount totals are announced makes a sincere, convincing concession speech.

That won't be easy for someone who thinks he's come within a couple of hundred votes of winning the presidency. On the other hand, if this is dragged out for more than another few days, without a decisive solution in sight, no resolution will be accepted by the people, and the nation could be adrift for the next four years, ungovernable and stagnant.

We need a president, even if it's someone we don't like. Unless we have a central figure to pose the question and define the problem, we're probably not going to rally around a solution. The only "mandate" we need is the general agreement that whoever occupies the White House was elected fairly.

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Tamar, Visions and Revisions, November 8, Electoral Roller Coaster

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I'll have more to say about all this (believe it or not) once a winner is declared.