The recount's sobering lesson

Neglect: This proud democracy failed to count more than 176,000 votes.

November 14, 2001

MAYBE ELECTIONS are not rocket science, but each one demands as much perfection as a manned moon launch. The price of failure is just too high.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that recounts can't fix a broken election: The precise circumstances simply can't be re-created. There's probably no way to exclude bias and subjective judgment from the most well-intentioned recounting. The electoral toothpaste won't go back in the tube.

Some may be entertained now by the recent media survey of Florida's chaotic balloting. But the result merely shows again how important it is for each state to make certain its voting apparatus is as good as it can possibly be.

Because he might have won had there been a statewide recount, Al Gore's advisers could be second-guessed on their strategy of asking for new tallies in only four of more than 60 Florida counties. But logistically they probably could not have chosen to do otherwise. The point, again, is inescapable. We have to get it reasonably right the first time. A system that fails to count more than 176,000 votes, as happened in Florida, is unacceptable if not criminal.

Florida has addressed the problems that made it the butt of many jokes last year. Maryland, too, moved quickly, providing a computerized statewide voter registration system that jurisdictions can use on Election Day. But to rebuild public confidence, national standards are needed for voting procedures and equipment.

If we cannot count the votes of our citizens, we don't deserve to think of ourselves as a democracy.

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