I voted Gore but want a Bush win

  • William Raspberry / Washington Post columnist
  • Friday, November 17, 2000 9:00pm
  • Opinion

WASHINGTON — Just so you’ll know, I voted for Al Gore.

And yet I find myself hoping he loses Florida and the presidency — but that he loses fair and square.

To put it plainly: I hope the combination of the certified, absentee and recounted votes will leave George W. Bush ahead in the total Florida tally.

Why? Because it’s the only scenario I can think of that would give the next president some semblance of legitimacy. If Gore wins because a court forces the inclusion of the recounted votes in the Florida total, it could turn out to be the costliest victory in the history of American politics.

Similarly, if Bush wins because Florida’s secretary of state (and co-chair of his campaign in Florida) refuses to consider the recounted ballots. Just imagine the outrage if Bush wins by a margin smaller than Gore’s gain in the recount.

America will be divided enough whoever wins the presidency. If it’s Bush, African Americans will be convinced that their votes would have made the difference in Gore’s favor — if those votes had been faithfully recorded and counted. The biggest blocs of rejected ballots were in areas in which they held the balance of power, blacks will say — and with justification.

The counter argument, I suppose, would be that the get-out-the-vote drive that produced so many black voters in Florida also produced an unusually large number of voters unfamiliar with the voting process.

Democrats generally, in case of a Bush victory, will be upset if it turns out the votes recounted and rejected would have changed the outcome — especially given Gore’s offer to countenance a recount of the entire state, including those counties where Republicans dominate and therefore could be expected to pick up additional votes rejected by the mechanical counters.

Refusal to accept Gore’s magnanimity, they will say (and perhaps believe), is proof that the Republicans, unlike their worthy selves, were never interested in let-every-vote-count fairness, but only in victory. And they will have gotten away with it because the Republicans run the state.

The Republicans, it would be widely believed, stole Florida and thus the presidency.

Republicans, on the other hand, tend to begin from the premise that they won the election in the first instance and that it was only the Democrats’ demand for a recount that put the issue in doubt. The premise, of course, rests on the assumption that the overseas votes, which greatly outnumber the 300 votes by which Bush was leading going into the weekend, would go heavily to Bush. I have no idea what their position would be in the unlikely event the overseas ballots turn up a plurality of, say, 310 for Gore.

The point is that because the Republicans believe they’ve already won fairly, however narrowly, any procedure that threatens that outcome — including recounting or revoting — will be seen by them as an attempt to steal the presidency by stealing Florida.

It’s easy enough to wish that any number of things had been done differently — from the campaigning to the design of the Palm Beach ballot to the decisions of Ralph Nader and his backers. What’s hard is to find something worthwhile to wish for now.

One could, I suppose, wish for someone to step forward and confess to being part of a criminal conspiracy designed to steal the Florida election. Or for a quick re-election in which only those Floridians who voted on Nov. 7 would be eligible. (That would cost Nader and Pat Buchanan some useless votes, but that’s a relatively insignificant consideration.)

Since neither of those things is likely to happen, the best I can hope for is that Bush’s 300-vote lead will withstand both the overseas ballots and whatever additional votes Gore picks up in the recount.

It wouldn’t be the outcome favored by close to half of the electorate, in Florida and in America at large, but at least it would be an outcome dictated by the voters — not by the courts, clever lawyers or partisan secretaries of state.

I could live with that.

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