No coup d'etat, no riots in the streets, no declaration of martial law.
Instead, the delay in naming the new American president means fresh
wisecracks for late-night comics, overtime pay for Florida vote canvassers, a windfall of
work for lawyers and something new about which Americans can grumble.
But much serious good emerges from this suspense.
Not in modern political memory has the public been so riveted on its
national affairs as a learning experience, and never before have so many opportunities
come along to reform medieval election practices.
Forget tacky partisanship of Gore and Bush camps. Broader, more lasting
issues affecting the precious American vote are at play.
The incomprehensibly muddled polling in Florida's Palm Beach County
focuses attention on one of America's most indefensible scandals: ballots and counting
procedures across the nation that befit another century.
The world's most advanced electronic society still uses paper-punch
ballots that confuse voters and can't be accurately read because of paper
"chads" plugging holes after being punched.
Hundreds of other counties select a crazy-quilt of voting methods, from an
advanced electronic touch pad keeping pace with the times to aging machines and ballots
designed more than a half century ago.
Heretical as it may be to states-righters, why not a national standard for
elections, the most fundamental linchpin of U.S. democracy.
States-righters don't complain of national standards for auto tires, for
airline safety, for pharmaceuticals, for healthfulness of foods, for banking rules, for
voting rights of all citizens, and hundreds of other services and goods touching American
And then there's the quadrennial eruption of complaints about staggered
poll closings and the impact of early TV predictions on votes in the western states. Is
the solution a new formula of voting hours, as well as more convenient polling places
where people conduct daily business--in shopping malls, at banks, in supermarkets--to
increase participation and ensure access? Perhaps.
Finally, the matter of the Electoral College: With the presidency hanging
on the outcome of who receives Florida's 25 electoral votes, a renewed chant to abolish
the Electoral College and rely solely on the popular vote is filling the air.
Strong grounds exist for repealing Article II, Section 1 of the U.S.
Constitutionbetter communications, a literate populace, and at least a century of
experience that shows electing leaders by popular vote works in the modern age.
But scholars on both sides of the question make compelling arguments that
must be thoroughly debated before hastily tinkering with the nation's most durable and
efficient document because of a rare, historic stalemate.
If the nation works out the matters raised by this historic presidential
race, it will be all the better for it.