As I have said lo, these many years, when Republicans win elections, they have to win beyond the Margin of Lawyer. Otherwise, regardless of who won on Election Day, the Democrat always wins on Post-Election Day, because mysteriously all the missing ballot boxes found in dumpsters and recycling bins and the trunks of Democrat cars contain virtually no Republican votes. Alas, in the Sunshine State of Florida, the GOP's gubernatorial and senatorial candidates failed to win beyond the Margin of Lawyer, and as a result we're all discovering, two decades on, that the same institutional corruption that put US electoral integrity on a par with the Congo is still there, entirely unspoiled by progress. Everything else in the world has been transformed beyond recognition - newspapers, telephones, Bruce Jenner - but the Florida chadlands have been lovingly preserved as a wacky Recount theme park.
With that in mind here are a few moments from my various November/December 2000 columns in the Telegraph, Speccie, National Post and elsewhere from those unforgettable weeks after Al Gore, as this guy Gillum is now doing in the Governor's race, de-conceded:
The early hours of Wednesday, Nov 8:
Bush: "So you're retracting your concession?"
Gore: "You don't have to get snippy."
George Dubya Bush has now explicitly addressed the issue of his "snippiness". He told CBS this week: "We don't use that word too often down here in Texas, so I'm not exactly sure what that means." Ha! You may not hear "snippy" in the high-falutin' Social Register society whirl of Waco, Governor, but down on Al's "farm" in Tennessee they use it a lot.
"Snippy" is what snotty people say when they find someone snotty.
And so it began, as a once proud people suddenly found themselves plunged into the mystical Land of Chads. November 17th 2000:
Welcome back to Campaign 2000 Election Update: America's Day Of Indecision - Day 11. The show ain't over till the Four Chads have sung, and few vocal groups are as popular with Democrats as this quartet. There's Dimpled Chad, Swinging Chad, Pregnant Chad and Hanging Chad. There's also Flat Chad, but, for obvious reasons, he doesn't get to sing with the group - so far, anyway.
If you want to catch the Chads for yourself, check the Butterfly Ballot - that's not a Florida nightclub but Palm Beach County's now famous voting form, on which the chads are the little bits of paper you punch out next to your preferred candidate's name. Sadly, when you let the ballots get counted mechanically, the machines tend to display their extreme Republican bias by failing to discover enough additional votes for the Vice-President. So the massed ranks of Gore lawyers have been banking on the folks counting by hand to divine the voting intentions of Palm Beach citizens too weak to punch out the chad.
For example, if you see a Hanging Chad - that's a chad clinging to the ballot by just one corner - that might be a vote for Gore. So might a Swinging Chad - a chad affixed by two corners. However, let's not forget the Pregnant Chad, a chad still firmly in the ballot but with a visible bulge, and the Dimpled Chad, also firmly in but with a vaguely discernible indentation. Previously in Florida hand counts, the Pregnant and Dimpled Chads have not been regarded as proper grounds for a recorded vote. Still, the Palm Beach Election Canvassing Commission, after relaxing its criteria a quarter of the way through the first manual recount, had been discovering legions of hitherto unknown Hangers and Swingers for Gore.
Observers at the count report that, by the time the ballots have been manhandled by Democrat Carol Roberts and her cohorts, some hitherto Swinging Chads have become Hanging Chads and some Pregnant Chads have become Swingers. Even these generous interpretations failed to uncover enough Gore voters to put him in the White House.
Which means it's time for the lawyers. Democracy in action: One man, one vote, one recount, one suit, one ex parte motion, one interlocutory appeal...
So, on Tuesday, Democrats sued to get Pregnant and Dimpled Chads included as votes for Gore, and on Wednesday Judge Jorge Labarga ruled that Preggers and Dimply could be counted. Of course, in holding up a ballot to determine its status, you might take a perfectly smooth Flat Chad, one with no discernible indentation, and accidentally Dimple it. Whether even this would produce enough votes for Gore is unclear.
The courts seem to have accepted the principle that Democrats have particular difficulty voting, and that not to allow party officials to identify voter intent retrospectively is, ipso facto, discriminatory. According to "California's premier expert on hand counts", Jack Davis: "The voting profile shows clearly that Democrats are more likely to screw up the chad than Republicans. This goes across the board by at least one per cent." So, if the Bush team objects to hand counts, it might be easiest just to increase Gore's vote in any chad-minded county by one per cent.
If that's not enough, we need seriously to consider whether the Flat Chads - ballots with no mark on them whatsoever - are not, in fact, Gore votes. After all, there may be thousands of voters in Palm Beach too feeble-minded even to be aware that they are actually Gore supporters.
Come to that, it seems likely that the millions of Floridians who didn't vote at all are also Gore supporters who were just delayed at the shuffleboard court. Why should they be disfranchised? So we are not in Florida or Kansas any more: we are in Chad. Al's come out Swinging; Dubya is Hanging at his ranch; Katherine Harris, Florida's Secretary of State, is cutely Dimpled; and the air is Pregnant with excitement. On Wednesday, Ms Harris told the errant hand-counting Gore counties to take their chads and shove 'em, and certified the votes as they stood. Gore's job now is simply to tie the certification up in court so that, when the Electoral College votes in December, Florida won't be represented and he'll win a majority of those there.
As the pressure to produce a valid ballot has gradually lessened - from Hanging to Dimpled - so the pressure on the electoral process has been ratcheted up. Even in this week's statement offering "finality", Gore couldn't resist putting a tighter squeeze on Democratic officials. "We should complete hand counts already begun in Palm Beach County, Dade County and Broward County," he declared, not to count the votes but rather to "determine the true intentions" of voters. Yet heavily Democratic Dade voted not to recount, and is now being sued by Gore to force it to do so. Florida voters may not know how to punch properly, but Al and his lawyers do.
I'll say. Meanwhile, the Democrats get to take voting machines home with them. From The Sunday Telegraph on November 19th:
Meanwhile, Democratic State Representative Irving Slosberg was stopped by police and found to have a Palm Beach County "Votamatic" ballot-punching machine in his car. "I asked Mr Slosberg to return it to me," said Denise Cote, director of public affairs, "and he said No, he intended to use it." That's the spirit, Irv!
And let's not forget Broward County, where the manual "recount" is proceeding amid a mountain of fallen chads on the floor. The chad is the little bit of paper next to the candidate's name that gets punched out when you put the ballot in the Votamatic. In other words, if you're just counting existing ballots, there shouldn't be any chads on the counting-room floor.
But, whether by accident or design, the little fellers keep detaching themselves from the ballot, thereby creating more and more new votes. Initially, Broward County's Canvassing Board voted not to "recount", but Al prevailed on Judge Robert Lee, the recalcitrant Democrat who'd cast the deciding vote, to come to his senses. Likewise with another Dem stronghold, Dade County, which on Friday knuckled under and agreed to "recount". And now that the absentee ballots have been tallied,Al has the advantage of knowing precisely how many hitherto undiscovered "votes" his operatives need to find.
And, if Katherine Harris refuses to be steamrollered, the Dems are already looking down the road. On Friday, Warren Christopher, the former Secretary of State to Bill Clinton and now mob lawyer to Chicago Al, announced that, regardless of how the Florida Supreme Court ruled, if the final count was certified on Saturday and Bush declared the winner, the Vice-President would still not concede. Nothing, it seems, can stop Gore - not the count, not the recount, not the certification, the electoral college, the inauguration, not Hillary doing her first exploratory "listening tour" of Iowa, not the 2004 New Hampshire primary . . . Al is prepared to count and sue and sue and count and counter-sue and sewer-count for as long as it takes to become the first Leader of the Free World from a banana republic.
The lesson of the Clinton Presidency is that, for Republicans, the other shoe never drops. Were Chicago Al to steal enough votes, in three months' time his cheerleaders in the media would be saying that though he came to the Presidency in "difficult circumstances" - ie, losing the election - he's made great efforts to unite the country, stymied only by "strident", "mean-spirited", "partisan" Republicans. This post-election period has been, according to the pious network anchors, a "civics lesson", but it would be more accurate to call it a masterclass in Chicago style. Two years ago, worldly Dems told us not to worry: the corruption was confined strictly to oral sex, and, sophisticated chaps that we are, we could all understand that, couldn't we? Now, with hindsight, it seems more like a useful dry run for a more ambitious project.
Thanksgiving came and went, with little to give thanks for if you were looking for deliverance from Florida election certifiers:
On Wednesday, Dick Cheney suffered a mild heart attack and had a stent inserted in his artery. I've no idea what a "stent" is but it makes a change from "chad".
Al Gore spent the holiday surrounded by his loved ones - that's to say, his ingenious legal team, who tried to keep him up to speed on the status of their various lawsuits. On Tuesday, for example, they were very pleased with the Florida Supreme Court ruling. But, by Wednesday, they were back in court suing Dade County for, er, complying with it.
Dade's Democrat-controlled canvassing board had more than 600,000 ballots to recount by hand and figured there was no way it could do it by the new Sunday deadline, especially with the biggest holiday of the year in the middle, so it voted to shove the manual recount and certify the (if you can follow this) original recount before the harassed counters all wound up in the bed next to Dick Cheney having dimpled chads removed from their arteries.
As someone "devoted" to "public service", Gore seemed bewildered to discover there were government workers whose idea of a happy Thanksgiving didn't involve bobbing for Democrat votes among the fallen chads. So the Vice-President returned to the Florida Supreme Court to sue Dade into resuming its recount.
Stick to your guns, Dade! Stick to 'em like pregnant chads to a butterfly ballot! Why bust a gut for a bunch of shysters who won't even be grateful long enough to wangle you a couple of invites to the inaugural ball?
If Gore had just named the number of votes he needed, maybe they'd have opened up the stationery cupboard, and dimpled 'em there and then. But, after two weeks, the small signs of increasing grumpiness from low-level Democrat county officials is very encouraging - notwithstanding that in two Florida counties (Palm Beach and Broward) you no longer have the right to cast your vote, only the right to have your vote "interpreted" by Vote Interpretationists who are solemnly sworn to divine your true "intention".
Al may be the Western world's lousiest election campaigner, but he has been a brilliant post-election campaigner. Who else could have got a state court to overthrow its own election law on no grounds whatsoever? No evidence of voter fraud, mechanical failure, nothing but Gore's own raw hunger for "chads". If nothing else, the desperate man who launched this insane coup-by-chad has demonstrated how vulnerable the levers of the state are. Even if he is cast into oblivion, the monstrous precedents he has established will loom over this republic for years.
And so, yet again, they have. November 26th:
In the chadlands of Florida, glassy-eyed Democrat officials work their way through the pile and hold their ballots up to the light in search of the dimpled chad: Gore. Gore. Gore. Invalid. Gore. Gore. Buchanan. Gore. Bush . . . Whoops, sorry, that was my corned beef on rye.
The Vice-President has been stacking up more dimples than a convention of Kirk Douglas impersonators. But will they be enough? At 5pm today, when the final numbers are submitted to the Florida Secretary of State, Katherine Harris, Al Gore's Great Election Heist getaway car comes to a fork in the road. If the mountain of dimples, pimples, pustules, cysts and other blemishes invisible to the naked eye has pushed Al past Dubya by three votes, look for the Gore campaign to drop talk of "patience" and "letting the process play out" for words like "finality" and "the American people are looking for closure" and "it's time to move on". On the other chad, if Al is still behind, the "patience/ process" line will be good for a couple more weeks, months, whatever.
On my local television station, the latest update was followed by the reassuringly familiar commercial for personal-injury lawyers Welch, Graham and Manby - "where winning is no accident". That's the spirit! In Palm Beach County, the Gore campaign is planning to sue the Democrat canvassing board for counting only dimpled chads on ballots where all the chads are dimpled, and excluding ballots where the Senator's, Probate Judge's, County Commissioner's and Dogcatcher's chads are punched through and only Al's is dimpled. In Dade County, they've asked the Civil Rights Division of Janet Reno's Federal Justice Department to investigate whether Republican-orchestrated "mobs" intimidated the canvassing board into abandoning their recount. (I do hope so: why should Jesse Jackson the Rhyming Reverend and his Rented Ranters have the streets to themselves?) In Tallahassee, a Gore suit to force Dade to start recounting again was turned down by the Florida Supreme Court unanimously - though Al's lawyers are considering demanding a manual recount of the judges. In West Palm Beach, a party of Gore aides went into a restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner but ordered the meatloaf instead of the turkey because they were "confused" by a "badly designed" menu.
Most of us expert analysts have only a hazy idea of what the Gore guys are on about. Just a few weeks back, if you'd heard on the news that the Vice-President's suit had been thrown out, it would have meant that he'd gone back to the earth-toned leisurewear Naomi Wolf recommended a couple of campaign re-launches back. Now when you talk to people in the Gore camp they say things like: "Well, the Vice-President has filed his briefs asking for emergency relief following Katherine Harris's refusal to submit his hanging chad to a hand count." How long he can keep this up is a question Democrats are, belatedly, beginning to ponder. Richard Cohen, a Washington Post columnist and Gore supporter, now says, "If I could, I would withdraw my vote." The New York Post's Andrea Peyser says, "I want to change my vote to Bush."
When you've lost the count, and the recount, and the recount of the recount, and the augmented recounts with the hanging and swinging and pregnant and dimpled chads, when even the most gerrymandered counting methods are unable to concoct enough votes, everyone else starts to grasp that even the greatest institutions are, in the end, as vulnerable as the Wizard of Oz: you pull back the curtain and there's just some ramshackle contraption being operated by the likes of Carol Roberts, the Palm Beach official who declared she's willing to go to jail for Al Gore. Bagehot's line about not letting daylight in on the mystery applies not just to monarchy but to all political systems, and no one who had any genuine respect for the Presidency would be going into court to argue the merits of the solitary dimpled chad on otherwise undimpled ballots.
But even Democrat judges were losing patience:
"We conclude as a matter of law that the Palm Beach County ballot does not constitute substantial non-compliance with the statutory requirements. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court's dismissal with prejudice of the complaints," declared Florida court spokesman Craig Waters. "Thank you. I believe we are done for the night."
Snippy, snippy, snippy.
Well, there's still the wild card. Seminole and Martin Counties. Seems some computer crashed and Republican officials had to write identification numbers on the absentee-ballot envelopes by hand. Not on the ballots, just on the envelopes.
And not on all the envelopes, just some. But Democrats think they're in with a shot at getting all the absentee ballots thrown out...
It was eighteen years ago that Florida's election systems were revealed to the world as both farcical and corrupt. But here we again, with nothing changed. Because apparently Floridians - or, at any rate, their political class, like it that way.
~Steyn will be back later today with Mark at the Movies, and, for members of The Mark Steyn Club, Part Two of our brand new audio adventure in Tales for Our Time: The Scarlet Pimpernel. He'll also have some special features for tomorrow's centenary of the Armistice. You can find more details about The Mark Steyn Club here. And stay tuned for details of the second Steyn Club Cruise with Mark and his special guests.