Monday, November 13, 2000

Be glad we're counting ballots, not bullets

        We all need to get a grip on ourselves. We need to stop fretting about the uncertainty of going for days after a national election without knowing who won, stop hand-wringing over demands for recounts and cries of disenfranchisement and political gamesmanship from both candidates' camps.

        What we need to do is put on a pot of coffee and wait it out.

        The system will work.

        What is happening in Florida and a handful of other states that were close calls in Tuesday's election is exactly what is supposed to happen when the American people have a hard time making up their minds about who should be president.

        The idea that either George W. Bush or Al Gore should fall on his sword and declare the other winner before the process is complete makes no sense.

        What we have here is a situation where the presidential vote in Florida and a few other states is so close as to put the outcome in doubt.

        What will happen is the votes will be counted, recounted, certified by the proper legal authorities.

        Then, someone will win and someone will lose.

        What we have here as well is a situation where thousands of voters in one Florida county believe that they were disenfranchised because of a confusing ballot, one that caused them either to vote for someone they didn't intend to vote for or vote for more than one candidate.

        They will go to a court of law; that court of law will either agree with them or not; and the matter will be settled.

        Americans, though, tend to make the perfect the enemy of the good.

        If a process does not work perfectly, it must be bad, even though 99.99 percent of the time it produces the proper result.

        What some Americans fail to understand is that a flawed process — bulky, plodding, convoluted as it may be — is better than no process at all.

        If what happened last week had happened in many a nation elsewhere on this planet, bullets — not ballots — would have decided the issue.

        But in this inconvenient situation, no one has been dragged out into the streets and shot, no army has marched on the seat of government and taken charge, no dissident voice has been jailed — and none will be.

        We talked to Deborah Burstion-Donbraye, a Cleveland woman who is one of the 21 Ohio Republicans who will go to Columbus Dec. 18 and cast one of Ohio's 21 electoral votes.

        Ms. Burstion-Donbraye firmly believes Mr. Bush will be president; she very much wants that to be the case. She could end up being right or wrong.

        But she has had an experience that most of the Americans in a lather over this dispute do not.

        She is married to a Nigerian native, lived there under a military government and watched the people slip the bonds of autocratic rule and move toward democracy.

        Now, why would those people and millions of others around the world want to have democratic rule, with all of its messiness and divi siveness and partisans howling at one another all day long?

        Why would they want a system where you sometimes have to wait to find out which side prevailed, where people ask for recounts and run off to court when they think they have been wronged?

        Because Americans have it.

        Because Americans are free to disagree.



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