Take it from kids, losing isn’t really all that bad

A referee made a call and parents were hollering. Don’t ask me if it was fair, I don’t know. Anyway, my son wasn’t on the football field. He’s in the band.

What happened was a heartbreaker, an upset, a 19-15 loss of the league championship. What happened next on that cold night of Nov. 5 was a noble display of losing well.

It happens all the time, starting in Little League and youth soccer. Overzealous adults yell at officials, whose thankless job is subject to human error and too-close-to-call situations. But in years of warming spectator benches, I have never seen the kids act like sore losers.

They go on the field and shake hands, or high-five the winners. Disappointed guys from my son’s school did just that in Seattle’s Memorial Stadium on the Friday after Election Day.

Oh, that. We still don’t know who won the governor’s race, do we?

I thought I knew. Votes have been counted twice. Both times, Republican Dino Rossi came out ahead. First, it was 261 votes separating Rossi from Democrat Christine Gregoire. A machine recount, finished two weeks ago, gave Rossi a 42-vote lead.

Call me simple, or simply prone to giving up. Know what I’d have liked?

I would have liked to see Gregoire – the loser, if you accept totals from two tallies and you trust in the way we elect leaders – acting the way we expect kids to act.

This election resulted in what the Associated Press calls “a virtual dead heat,” although two counts determined the same winner.

I wish Gregoire could have accepted a loss after the second count, before the state was thrust into a third tally, an unprecedented manual recount. Doesn’t a gracious concession, walking away with head held high, make someone politically attractive down the road?

I’m no political strategist, but I think so. Since the 2000 presidential race landed in the U.S. Supreme Court, Democrat Al Gore has seemed an unlikely candidate for political rebirth. In fighting for Florida recounts, some would call him tenacious. There’s a fine line between tenacious and whiny.

Would Richard Nixon have been president in 1961 if he had fought the results of the 1960 presidential tally in Illinois? Pundits speculated that the Chicago Democratic machine tipped that state’s electoral votes to John F. Kennedy.

In his book “Six Crises,” Nixon said he feared contesting the race would have damaged American prestige. Later, in his memoir “RN,” he wrote that if he had challenged the 1960 outcome, “Charges of ‘sore loser’ would follow me through history.”

For 27 years, Jim Hogan has taught political science at Seattle University. Now semiretired, he supports a second recount.

“It seems to me there are enough different ways for people in this state to vote – they utilize different machines, absentee ballots and the like, it’s tremendously complicated. It is too close,” Hogan said.

As tallies keep changing, “you might find people losing confidence in the system,” Hogan said. “But you might find an equal number saying this is the legitimate way we make a final determination.”

While I think Rossi won, statisticians don’t agree.

“Did someone win by 42 votes? No,” said Charles Geyer, a statistics professor at the University of Minnesota. “That’s what the last rather imperfect recount came up with. The true correct answer will never be known. Eventually, someone will be declared the winner by the last, still rather imperfect, recount.”

“There is no reason to believe a best recount is now possible – one that would give the right answer, as if the votes had been counted without error, and no one who voted was missed, and no one who was not eligible to vote was counted,” Geyer said.

Eric Aldrich, a University of Washington graduate student in statistics, said the margin would have to be way, way over 42 to know the true winner.

“I don’t know how many. But out of 2.9 million votes, 42 is not it,” Aldrich said. He thinks human error in a hand recount will surpass any machine error. “We’re never going to know. I would suggest a coin toss.”

Coin toss or recount, someone will lose – if they haven’t already.

May they do so with grace.

Columnist Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460 or muhlstein julie@heraldnet.com.

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