In the tense weeks after Election Day, lawyers for each candidate
argued over how to count votes, as GOP Attorney Fred Bartlit
did over military ballots.

Evidence is mounting that GOP operatives used aggressive pressure
tactics--in court and out--to boost the Bush vote and
depress the Gore vote.

Fundamentally corrupt?

July 15 —

Following an exhaustive, six-month investigation featuring 24 reporters interviewing more than 300 voters in 43 countries and examining thousands of pages of documents, the New York Times has discovered mounds of evidence of unequal treatment of overseas ballots in Florida on behalf of the Republican candidate George Bush. Its report provides additional evidence to demonstrate what almost all of us know but precious few are willing to admit: the process that determined the outcome of the 2000 election was fundamentally corrupt. Republicans dominated the public relations battle, the behind-the-scenes political struggle, and ultimately the fateful Supreme Court decision that handed them their tarnished victory.

ASKED TO COMMENT on the Times’ revelations, Bush spokesperson Ari Fleischer shot back, “This election was decided by the voters of Florida a long time ago. And the nation, the president and all but the most partisan Americans have moved on.” No wonder. The Times has uncovered yet another example of the Bush team’s efforts to undermine the integrity of the Florida count, as they fought, successfully in many instances to include illegal military ballots for their man on the one hand and to exclude fully legal Gore ballots on the other, making precisely contradictory accusations in each case.

BOURGEOIS RIOT Sunday morning pundits like ABC’s Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts have already been quick to pooh-pooh the Times report, although both implied that they had not even read it in its entirety. They invited the conservative Republican partisan Paul Gigot of the Wall Street Journal — the man who cheered on the Republicans “bourgeois riot” that successfully shut down the count in Palm Beach county — to mock his competitor for devoting so much attention to a report that, by itself, failed to prove that Gore would have won the election with a proper vote count. (It is a measure of the conservative bias of the punditocracy, by the way, that ABC paired off the extremist Gigot with Claire Shipman, a down-the-line, straightforward reporter for ABC news.)

But the fact that the Times failed to prove that overseas ballots alone might not have tipped the balance is secondary when placed in the larger context of the rest of what we know about the election. That Al Gore won national vote by a considerable margin — more than either Kennedy in 1960 or Nixon in 1968 — is undisputable. That he won the votes of Floridians using the “voter’s intent” standard outlined in that state’s election laws is also indisputable. (Republican lawyers fought against the use of this standard in most cases, except in those that would have disqualified overseas military ballots in favor of their candidate, in which case they fought just as vociferously to employ it.) Illegally excluded “overvotes” also would likely have given Gore a substantial margin of victory. Now throw in the fact that Katherine Harris chose to arbitrarily exclude 215 votes from Palm Beach County because they arrived two hours late. Add to these factors the deliberate theft of many of his legitimate overseas votes and the illegal inclusion of hundreds of Republican votes and, once again, it becomes harder and harder to conclude that the right man is sitting in the Oval Office, no matter what standard one chooses.

FOG OF RHETORIC The great victory of the Republicans was to mask the fact that they were seeking to undermine the election behind the scenes and to convince a supine media to play along.

The great victory of the Republicans during this entire process was to mask the fact that they were seeking to undermine it behind the scenes and to convince a supine media to play along. Over and over we heard that “the votes had been counted and recounted” and Bush had won every time. Few reporters were interested or able to penetrate into this fog of misleading rhetoric to determine just how this “counting and recounting” was taking place. For instance, the Times discovered: For all of her vows of alleged impartiality, Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who repeatedly attempted to certify the election for the man whose campaign she co-chaired, actually allowed the Republican operatives to set up a “war room” in her office! They drafted her statements and directed her strategy while she played quietly along.

In Washington, Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee helped the campaign obtain private contact information for military voters, violating the tradition of impartiality of the military and directly involving Congress in a partisan hunt for pro-Bush votes. The Supreme Court, in ruling on the necessity of “equal protection” for all voters, deliberately ignored the fact that this standard was wholly ignored by those canvassing boards that the Republicans convinced to include illegal overseas ballots in favor of Bush, while excluding many legally cast votes in favor of Gore. The very basis of the decision that gave the election to Bush, in other words, was a sham.

The truth is that because election officials in Florida were so unprepared for so close a vote, we will never know who would have won the fair and legally mandated recount that the conservative Republican majority on the Supreme Court stepped in to prevent, lest their man end up on the losing end. But we do know, because of the Times reporting and previous evidence that augments it, that the Bush forces were unwilling to allow an honest accounting to take place. They outmaneuvered the inept Gore lawyers and strategists at virtually every step in the process, and even managed to convince Sunday talk show hosts to confuse Joe Lieberman sufficiently to the point where he ended up endorsing the Republican strategy at a crucial moment in the public relations battle. Given Gore’s pathetic performance in the election campaign itself, the party would have to be run by masochists to even consider nominating either one of these incompetents ever again.

Ari Flescher, George W. Bush, the insider media and probably most Americans may not want to hear it, but the Times has done a journalistic service in forcing us, once again, to face up to an ugly, but increasingly incontrovertible fact: The 2000 election was stolen; not from the hapless Gore and Lieberman ticket, but from the democratic process itself. We are all the poorer for it.