Politics & Policy

Dazed and Confused in Palm Beach

They have no right to metaphysical clarity at the ballot box.

Gertrude Bornstein of Palm Beach, Florida appeared on TV Thursday morning to say she accidentally voted for Pat Buchanan on Election Day. Asked who she intended to support, she replied, “Al Gore and Al Lieberman”

Americans should have little sympathy for a voter unfamiliar with the first name of the man she wants a heartbeat away from America’s thermonuclear launch codes. While it’s sad that she misvoted, Bornstein and others who did so have no one but themselves to blame. Adult American citizens have the right to vote, but they have no right to metaphysical clarity at the ballot box. If ignorance of the law does not excuse illegality, confusion over a reasonable ballot does not define disenfranchisement.

If indeed these ballots were so baffling, why aren’t Republicans in Palm Beach saying that they wanted to vote for Bush, but inadvertently punched the hole for Pat Buchanan, just under Bush’s? Is the typical Palm Beach Republican better equipped to locate the hole next to an arrow beside his nominee of choice? Given the high stakes, these frustrated Bush voters should be taking to the streets of Palm Beach.

“I have seen the case law that does say you absolutely cannot throw out an election based on confusion,” said Palm Beach County Commissioner Mary McCarty Thursday on Court TV’s Closing Arguments program.

In a 1974 decision, a Florida court spurned demands for a new election after Republicans said a ballot left them flummoxed. The court ruled that Florida law requires voters to take their time, examine the ballot and seek help if they need it.

Lisa Burns, a fourth-grade teacher at Stockwell Elementary School in Bossier City, Louisiana was curious to see how her pupils handled the so-called butterfly ballot. On Thursday, she downloaded it from the Internet and handed copies to her nine- and 10-year old students.

“I gave them a ballot and had them take a blue marker to vote for Al Gore and a red marker to vote for George Bush,” Burns told the Shreveport Times. “Then I had them put their name on the bottom of the ballot and turn it in.”

The tikes passed with flying colors. Not one of Burns’ 22 students had trouble marking a ballot. They all were completed without error.

The complaints of Palm Beach voters would be totally justified if Jerry Falwell and Jesse Helms sat down and created a ballot to bamboozle Gore supporters. In fact, the butterfly ballot was designed by Palm Beach County elections supervisor Theresa LePore, a Democrat. Ironically, LePore and other officials used the butterfly format to show candidates’ names in large print to help visually-impaired voters.

“They deliberately did it that way because of our senior citizens,” Democratic state representative Lois Frankel told the Wall Street Journal. “They wanted to have the writing big. If they did it small, it would have been on one page.”

Had Palm Beach officials avoided the butterfly format, voters now might bellyache that their ballots were illegible rather than merely perplexing.

The ballot was approved on a bipartisan basis and published in local papers before Election Day. Again, Democrats could have objected at any point and did not. Voters had the opportunity to study the ballot then or peruse it at the polls where it was posted.

Democrats note that 19,120 Palm Beach ballots were withdrawn because some voters chose two candidates for president. I would have loved to have voted for Harry Browne, who is closer to my libertarian heart, as well as George W. Bush, the man I did support as likelier actually to get elected and implement market-friendly policies.

Naturally, double votes should be disqualified, at least until America adopts a one-man, two votes system. In 1996, 14,872 Palm Beach ballots were tossed for double voting. This year’s 19,120 rejects coincide with Tuesday’s higher turnout.

This problem is not unique to Florida. In Cook County, Illinois — home to the son of former Chicago Mayor and Gore-Lieberman campaign chairman Bill Daley — 120,503 people either did not vote for president on Tuesday or had their ballots nullified after they punched holes for more than one candidate. Cook County also has used butterfly ballots in judicial races. When will Windy City resident Jesse Jackson get around to fighting for the Chicago 120,503?

This spiraling controversy is hollow at its base. First, Palm Beach residents must accept personal responsibility for voting while witless. Second, the Gore-Lieberman campaign’s day-late protests hold no weight for one simple reason: they knew the rules.

Deroy Murdock is a Manhattan-based Fox News contributor and a contributing editor of National Review Online, and a senior fellow with the London Center for Policy Research.


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