19 August 2005

What They Did Last Fall

Paul Krugman - August 19, 2005

By running for the U.S. Senate, Katherine Harris, Florida's former secretary of state, has stirred up some ugly memories. And that's a good thing, because those memories remain relevant. There was at least as much electoral malfeasance in 2004 as there was in 2000, even if it didn't change the outcome. And the next election may be worse.

In his recent book "Steal This Vote" - a very judicious work, despite its title - Andrew Gumbel, a U.S. correspondent for the British newspaper The Independent, provides the best overview I've seen of the 2000 Florida vote. And he documents the simple truth: "Al Gore won the 2000 presidential election."

Two different news media consortiums reviewed Florida's ballots; both found that a full manual recount would have given the election to Mr. Gore. This was true despite a host of efforts by state and local officials to suppress likely Gore votes, most notably Ms. Harris's "felon purge," which disenfranchised large numbers of valid voters.

But few Americans have heard these facts. Perhaps journalists have felt that it would be divisive to cast doubt on the Bush administration's legitimacy. If so, their tender concern for the nation's feelings has gone for naught: Cindy Sheehan's supporters are camped in Crawford, and America is more bitterly divided than ever.

Meanwhile, the whitewash of what happened in Florida in 2000 showed that election-tampering carries no penalty, and political operatives have acted accordingly. For example, in 2002 the Republican Party in New Hampshire hired a company to jam Democratic and union phone banks on Election Day.

[...] We aren't going to rerun the last three elections. But what about the future?

Our current political leaders would suffer greatly if either house of Congress changed hands in 2006, or if the presidency changed hands in 2008. The lids would come off all the simmering scandals, from the selling of the Iraq war to profiteering by politically connected companies. The Republicans will be strongly tempted to make sure that they win those elections by any means necessary. And everything we've seen suggests that they will give in to that temptation.


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