November 9, 2000, 11:15 a.m.
The next president should not arrive at the White House under the suspicion that his claim to office is illegitimate. Even without knowing the final recount in Florida, we do know that more than enough ballots to change the outcome were thrown out in Palm Beach County because of a confused ballot design and that many black voters claim to have been blocked from voting elsewhere in the state.
A court could allow voters in Palm Beach County to register their true intentions by filing an affidavit that they mistakenly marked the ballot for both Gore and Buchanan or for Buchanan alone. But such a procedure would require the court to accept the word of these citizens about their original votes, and it would so clearly throw the election to Gore that Republicans would never accept it.
Some voters in Palm Beach County have already filed complaints demanding a rerun of the election in that county. While a far better approach, a new county-wide election would not address complaints about irregularities elsewhere, and it would also be open to Republican objections on grounds of fairness because it would allow intense voter mobilization in a heavily Democratic area.
The only remedy likely to provide a fair and generally accepted result is to rerun the election in the entire state. Rerunning elections is unusual, but not without precedent. Two elections in the 1970s -- a New York primary election for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1972 and the U.S. Senate election in New Hampshire in 1975 -- were set aside because of voting irregularities, and the elections were run a second time. Florida should now follow the same procedure and organize a new election within the next four weeks.
Understandably, Americans would all like quick resolution of the outcome of the presidential election. But, unlike many other countries, the United States provides a long interval between the election and inauguration of its top leadership. There is ample time for a new election before the meeting of the Electoral College in mid-December. The country is calm, and there is no crisis that demands a hasty decision.
Unfortunately, however, if the disputes about voting irregularities turn into a protracted court battle, the opportunity will be lost for a new election that could render an unambiguous and universally accepted verdict on the election. The legitimacy of the next president is at stake.
Neither Bush nor Gore should want to become president under dubious
circumstances. Rerunning the Florida election will not only settle the presidential race decisively. It will also help the victor govern afterward.