Politics & Policy

The Right Not to Vote

Respecting the non-votes in Florida.

Gotham City voters don’t use paper ballots — butterfly, dragonfly, fruit fly, or otherwise. We use creaky machines first deployed for a general election just nine days after the Cuban Missile Crisis ended in 1962. But, for argument’s sake, imagine that we used paper ballots on November 7.

#ad#If local officials fished my ballot from among the six million-plus cast, they would find my votes for GOP presidential nominee George W. Bush, Republican Senate contender Rick Lazio, and the GOP’s sacrificial lamb for the House, C. Adrienne Rhodes. But what about my non-votes for the Republican judges on the ballot? Was I too befuddled to pick them? Was I too weak to stick a stylus through a thin piece of perforated card stock? How might someone divine this voter’s intent?

Based on my other Republican votes, the Board of Elections might assume that I intended to support these GOP judicial candidates. They would be wrong. In fact, I deliberately did not vote for any judges since I do not believe jurists should be elected. How can Lady Justice be blind while also courting voters?

This, by analogy, is precisely the problem with Albert Gore’s never-ending quest to count non-votes in Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach counties. As someone who has lived in Washington, D.C. since childhood, Gore may find it impossible to believe that people had the opportunity to vote for president and instead — gasp! — chose “None of the Above.”

Perhaps they walked into the voting booths undecided and remained so. Maybe they simply didn’t like the choices on offer. Or it could be that they hate the Oval Office. Nobody knows what motivated these presidential bystanders.

In Miami-Dade County, 10,750 such ballots were “undervoted.” “The percentage works out to a little over 1 1/2 percent, and that’s within the range of undervotes typically in some of our statewide races,” Florida’s former elections director, David Cardwell, told CNN’s Judy Woodruff on November 28. “I think if you look at this election this year, it was so close — it was basically a draw in the state of Florida — there may have been a lot of people who went to the polls and just quite frankly said, ‘I can’t make up my mind between these two,’ and just went on to the next race.”

Indeed, those who walked on by the White House candidates were not isolated to southern Florida. A total of 175,660 Floridians did not vote for president, according to an analysis prepared by Bush-Cheney 2000. It also discovered that 5.04% of Idaho voters expressed no preference for president, nor did 3.85% of Illinois voters nor 3.79% of those in Georgia. Of the 31 states examined, 1.91% of voters, on average, selected no one for president. Miami-Dade’s 10,750 undervotes equal 1.64% of the 653,963 total ballots cast. This figure is actually slightly below the level of presidential non-votes observed across America on November 7. Thus, Gore’s howls about confusion and frailty among Miami voters are hollower than a beach ball.

Broward County’s William J. Rohloff has put a human face on this phenomenon. In a November 21 deposition, the party-unaffiliated voter said that on Election Day he placed his stylus over the ballot hole for Gore. “It is my belief that a mark or dimple was made on the ballot for Al Gore,” Rohloff said under oath. “However, without fully punching the ballot and selecting my choice for president, I decided I would not vote for Al Gore or any candidate for president. Based upon the foregoing, and my ultimate decision not to vote for Al Gore or any other presidential candidate, my ballot, which could show a mark or dimple for Al Gore, would not reflect my true intent which was not to vote for Al Gore or any other presidential candidate.”

The behavior of Albert Gore’s psychic attorneys would be justified if voters like William J. Rohloff were, in fact, disenfranchised by broken tabulation machines or corrupt polling officials. Gore’s never-ending legal séance proposes no such thing. By using telepathy to surmise what voters intended based on other choices on their ballots is not a case of enfranchising the disenfranchised but of misenfranchising those who have exercised their right not to vote for president.

This charade also potentially abuses citizens who voted Democratic for senator, congressman, and city council but not for president. Is it fair to assume that they wanted to vote for Gore? Perhaps they planned to support Ralph Nader. Some of those ballots could belong to ticket-splitting Reagan Democrats who really meant to support George W. Bush. And there might be at least one Jewish voter in Palm Beach County who hoped to vote for Pat Buchanan. In any case, these people didn’t punch their cards all the way through, so their unconsummated intentions are something which should be left to their private meditation rather than used to dilute valid votes.

Counting the actual votes for George W. Bush, Albert Gore, and other presidential aspirants is and has been central to all the ongoing excitement in Florida. But it is just as important to respect the non-votes of those who, for whatever reason, did not cast ballots for president. Gore and his supporters should heed the wisdom offered by the Canadian rock band, Rush. As they once sang: “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

Deroy Murdock — Deroy Murdock is a Manhattan-based Fox News contributor and a contributing editor of National Review Online.

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