By Mary Beth Schneider
In 2000, I had a front-row seat to the presidential debacle in Florida.
I watched angry partisans trying to disrupt vote counts. I saw perplexed election boards poring over ballots, trying to determine if a dent was a vote. I saw a secretary of state put partisanship over her job. I saw a U.S. Supreme Court decide who would be president not by counting votes but by not counting them.
Mary Beth Schneider
Eighteen years later, some things have gotten worse, not better.
It’s not just that Florida again is in a contentious recount, along with Georgia and Utah, with a smattering of other election battles still being fought in various congressional districts. It’s not about who won or lost.
We now have a president, joined by far too many politicians, openly declaring without evidence that elections are being stolen.
In a Tweet, President Trump falsely alleged “large numbers of new ballots showed up out of nowhere and many ballots are missing or forged. An honest vote count is no longer possible — ballots massively infected.” And he farcically said people voted twice by changing their hat and clothes to fool poll workers.
Undermining elections is not new for Trump, who in 2016 told a cheering Ohio crowd: “I will totally accept the results of this great and historic presidential election — if I win.”
Contrast that with Al Gore, who in 2000 conceded with grace, saying he strongly disagreed with the Supreme Court decision but accepted it and would do everything he could to help the winner, George W. Bush, bring the nation together.
“Our disappointment must be overcome by our love of country,” Gore said.
Ron Klain, an Indianapolis native who was Gore’s general counsel during the 2000 Florida recount, said that unlike that year, this year’s Florida is not being delayed or halted.
But, Klain said, “what’s worse, worse, worse is this effort by Trump, (Florida Gov.) Rick Scott and (U.S. Rep. Marco Rubio) to discredit the entire process…. It’s a more damning condemnation of our democracy and it’s also worse because it’s a dry run of what Trump might do in 2020 if he doesn’t like the election outcome.”
If defeated in a close election, Klain said, “Will he insist that he hasn’t been unelected? Will he insist on staying in power? It’s a nightmare for our democracy.”
For those of us in Indiana who might look askance at Florida and Georgia and think it can’t happen here: Think again.
The reason we haven’t had the same turmoil is we haven’t had a high-profile statewide race like Senate or president hanging on sliver of votes, with absentee and provisional ballots contested. You only need to look at Johnson County, where voting was disrupted due to server problems, or Porter County, where some polls didn’t open on time, workers weren’t trained and absentee ballots initially weren’t properly processed.
And Brad King, the Republican co-director of the Indiana Election Division, confirmed Indiana on rare past occasions has had the kind of voting issue that has had some Democrats charging fraud in Texas and Georgia: Voters who complain that their vote for one candidate was instead registered as a vote for the opponent. It happens when the touch-screen voting machines aren’t properly calibrated.
Imagine that, or any of this year’s election issues, in a too-close-to-call presidential contest in Indiana, and suddenly we’re Florida Redux.
Klain said his big takeaway from the 2000 recount was to “win elections by enough that you don’t have to get to a recount.”
But a blow-out isn’t the only option. States should not let those on the ballot be the umpires. They should invest in better voting equipment; the new stuff bought after the 2002 Help America Vote Act is now 16 years old and failing. Poll workers need better training to do their jobs fairly.
And candidates need to support democracy, not undermine it.
There is only one proper stand before an election is decided: Count every vote that should be counted.
There is only one proper stand after the counting is over: Accept the outcome, even as the policy battles continue.
Mary Beth Schneider is an editor at TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students. Contact her at MSchneider@FranklinCollege.edu