Ray Hanania’s Column
What should people in the Middle East and in other Third World countries make of the legal and political battle over who really won the American presidential election?
Attorneys for Al Gore, the Democrat, and George W. Bush, the Republican, have been fighting now for more than one month over who won the November 7 Presidential election.
The fight centers on a difference in Bushes’ favor of 600 votes in Florida, and has waffled back and forth like a ping pong game between Gore and Bush.
For the Arab World and most Third World countries, it really won’t matter who the winner is, Gore or Bush. Both candidates have similar foreign policies when it comes to their interests.
But the fight itself has cast a shadow over the tendency of those in America and the West who often stand up and criticize the electoral processes of Third World nations, and too easily fling accusations of corruption.
American Democracy has proven that it is no different.
For example, what are the two positions of the Gore and Bush camps?
For Gore, the issue is he is behind Bush by a mere 600 votes in a state that has a total of 6 million votes cast. Gore need to have the ballots recounted to produce a better vote total.
For Bush, the issue is he wants to keep the status quo and has fought hard to prevent the State of Florida from recounting the ballots.
One might wonder if the American political process is so “honest” why would a recount make a difference at all?
Well, in reality, the American political process is not that perfect. It is flawed. And it is corrupted by money and special interest politics.
Now, we find out that this same system is also corrupted by a system of ballot counting that isn’t even accurate by nature.
Americans count ballots in many different ways, depending on where you live. In some states, they use ballots that have punch holes. You punch out a hole next to the name of the candidate you support. In other areas, you use a pencil to mark the ballot card. Both punch card and pencil card are scanned by computers. And, computers make mistakes. A lot of mistakes.
I feel sorry for the country of Chad in Africa. For decades, it has fought to secure the attention of the rich American people to help alleviate the suffering its people endure.
Now, they must be wondering why Americans are talking about “Chad” so much.
Well, when you use a punch card, as they did in Florida, a little square is punched out representing a vote for a certain candidate. The little square that is punched out is called a “chad.”
In some cases, the “chad” is completely broken from the ballot card. In those cases, the computers that rapidly read the cards to count votes can do so easily.
But in many other cases, the “chads” are not completely dislodged from the ballot card. Some hang by a small corner, loosely. Others are pushed out forming a “dimple” with some corners broken and others still intact.
They call these latter “chads” that have more than one corner stilled attached to the ballots either “dimpled” chads or “pregnant” chads because of the bulge that they create.
Computers that scan these ballots often do not count the votes cast in these cases because the hole is not clear and is partially blocked.
And that is what Gore believes will help him.
Florida is divided, like many other states, into governmental bodies called “Counties.” In two counties, which happen to be predominantly Democratic, there are more than 15,000 ballots that were not properly counted because the computer could not discern whether a vote was cast for a presidential candidate. These are the ballots that have dimpled or pregnant “chads” still hanging from them.
Because these two areas are predominantly Democratic, the statistical odds suggest that recounting these ballots by hand rather than computer will determine the “intent” of the voter and since most voters in those counties are Democrats, they totals will favor the Democrat, Gore.
Gore only needs 600 more votes out of those 15,000 or so that were not counted.
Americans are frustrated that their great balloting system has collapsed. It must be embarrassing for them. After all, countries like India which count more than 600 million ballots do so quickly and efficiently and accurately, while the total votes cast in the whole of the United States is only 90 million and it has taken more than a month to do it right.
I can’t tell you who will be our next president.
But I can tell you that the great American electoral system is not so great after all. Instead of worrying about getting an accurate count, both sides are fighting to get a count that favors them.
In any other country, especially in a Third World country, American media pundits are quick to criticize, challenge and demean those voting systems.
But, when it comes to the flaws in their own country, American media writers are quick to provide excuses.
Whether it is Bush or Gore, I don’t know. But I do know that when it comes to voting, the integrity of many Third World countries has won over the American system.
(Ray Hanania is a Palestinian American writer based in Chicago and a regular contributor to MMN. His columns are archived on the web at www.hanania.com)