Time Is of the Essence
Five hundred thirty-seven votes. This amount - less than the population of Governors residence hall - gave then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush Florida's 25 electoral votes and a presidential victory last year over former Vice President Al Gore. Bush's win came not on Nov. 7 or 8 but Dec. 13, when Gore conceded following the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision to halt a recount. Gore's concession followed a month of recounts and re-recounts amidst charges of disenfranchised voters, ballot tampering and electoral fraud in a state where the president's brother is governor and eight of the nine state supreme court justices were appointed by Democrats.
Following Bush's inauguration, a number of news organizations, such as the Miami Herald and USA Today, recounted the disputed ballots. They arrived at different conclusions depending on how liberal a counting standard was used. At the same time, a consortium of the most prominent news organizations - CNN, The Washington Post, The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, among others - ordered a similar study to determine who carried the Sunshine State. The University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center has finished their study and is ready to release their findings to the consortium. But in light of the events of the last month, the findings suddenly seem to be overshadowed by more pressing matters.
The outlets that commissioned the study claim they currently lack the adequate resources to properly report the story. According to these media agencies, to analyze such a weighty topic fraught with damaging political consequences for the Bush administration would require resources currently devoted to covering the war against terrorism. It is difficult, however, to imagine that the combined resources of CNN and the country's largest newspapers could not handle covering the fight against al Qaeda and determining who honestly won the 2000 presidential election.
Until Sept. 11, the spectacular events of last November's election night and the ensuing month-long ruckus qualified as the most momentous in recent memory. While dangling chads and certified vote counts seem insignificant in comparison to war, knowing whether or not George W. Bush is rightfully president of the United States remains important. During "normal times," the consortium - who have chosen not to look at the results or analyze them - would have no reluctance regarding releasing the results whatever the outcome.
But these are not normal times. The attacks against the United States have united the American people to an extent unseen since World War II. This unity, however, masks deep partisan divides within the electorate and Congress. The president won a slim majority of electoral college votes, 271 to Gore's 266, and lost the popular vote to his opponent. The Democrats control the Senate by one seat. Republicans control the House by less than a dozen votes. Members of Congress and the American people have rallied in the face of a common enemy, but this unity is tenuous. For many, last year's political wounds are still raw. If the results show Gore received more votes than the president, nothing constructive will result except further recrimination and division.
When events further stabilize, the consortium should undoubtedly analyze and release the findings. The American people have a right to know who earned the presidency. Additionally, an analysis of the results will provide evidence as to how to prevent future Florida-like debacles. At the moment, America needs a strong president with an electorate united around him and his administration's goals. Strong indication of Bush's illegitimacy would only unnecessarily undermine the administration and hand a valuable propaganda weapon to America's enemies. When the time is right, the truth will be revealed.