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Too Close to Call

The thirty-six day battle to decide the 2000 election

[Full disclosure: while I did not vote for Gore, I would have much preferred seeing him become President, especially in light of subsequent events.]

I recently read the book of this title by Jeffrey Toobin. At least one good review already exists on the Web. I read it after my friend Dinah said that she found some of what Toobin reports very alarming.

Sure, some of it is alarming. The Bush camp comes off as vicious and ruthless. The Gore forces appear foolish and somewhat naïve, especially Gore himself. Human nature being what it is, an election with an so much power—an almost obscene amount—at stake is bound to bring out some very bad qualities in people. While denying that the Republicans "stole" the election or that Bush's presidency is not "illegitimate," Toobin concludes,

The wrong man was inaugurated on January 20, 2001, and this is no small thing in our nation's history. The bell of this election can never be unrung, and the sound will haunt us for some time.

What struck me though—and not for the first time either—was the fact that the vote in Florida was, in any practical sense, a tie. With all the randomness and abitraryness that is amply document in this book, there is no way that anyone could ever have known, within a few hundred votes, which candidate got what number of votes. No one could probably even know with a few thousand votes. Yes, the evidence points to Gore having received more votes. But the point is that we will not and cannot ever know who won the actual vote on Tuesday, 7 Nov 2000. It's not even clear to me that "who won" is even a rational concept. What I mean is, did more Floridians who voted want Gore to be President, or Bush? That is what we can't know. In any practical sense I can think of, the election resulted in a tie.

If it was a tie, then somebody had to toss a coin. That fell to the Supreme Court. While IANAL, I read their decision, including all dissents, the day it was available online. I was horrified by the majority opinion. So seemingly were the dissenting Justices, Justice Ginsburg, in particular. Extraordinarily, he decined to include the word "respectfully," as is customary, to the final sentence of his dissenting opinion. Instead, he wrote, "I dissent."

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