|(28) Dimples and Divination
By Charles Krauthammer 11/23/00
"Everyone swears allegiance to the holy principle of the "will of the
people." The Florida Supreme Court invokes it to override "a
hypertechnical reliance upon statutory provision," or what normal people call
"the law." Al Gore has waxed poetic about it on camera ever since Election
Day. And now that principle has been given flesh: The will of the people means the intent
of the voter.
"Does it? In a constitutional democracy, people choose their representatives. How do we discern their choices? Not by asking. Not by polls. But by means of a very precise act: Citizens must get off their duffs, go to a polling station, pick up a ballot, mark it and drop it in a box. We do not just vote. We cast a ballot.
"Casting a ballot requires the completion of a relatively simple civic act. Since Election Day, Democrats have been arguing strenuously that, on the contrary, the act is a mere formality. The voter need only leave some evidence of his will, and the duty then falls to the authorities to divine his intent, no matter how miserably he may have failed to complete the act of balloting. (Emphasis Added.)
The author goes on to distinguish between "hanging" chads -- those which were punched through but which are still attached by one or two corners -- and "dimpled" chads -- those which were NOT punched through, but merely have a dent in them.
Krauthammer argues that "hanging" chads can justifiably be counted as votes for that particular candidate. There is no doubt that the hole has been punched. Voting machines have a hard time reading "hanging" chads, and Krauthammer argues that a hand recount can accurately and honestly count the votes so represented.
On the other hand, he argues that "dimpled" chads do NOT convey any conclusive intent on the part of the voter. For example, he points out that he, as a voter, has often positioned the hole puncher over a spot on the ballot, began to press down and then changed his mind. He created a "dimpled" chad for someone for whom he clearly did not intend to vote.
Not only can't machines read "dimpled" chads, the author argues that manual recounters have no business trying to infer the voter's intent from a mere "dimple". Krauthammer calls the latter a form of divination which has no place in a democratic election. The authorities should not be given the role of inferring what the voter really intended.
He continues: "Why is it so difficult to divine the intent of voters who spoil their ballots (as in the multiple punches some voters made on their Palm Beach butterfly ballots)? Because we have to guess. Because the voters are anonymous and we have no direct avenue to ascertaining their actual intent. If we knew who they were, we could ask them. But we don't know." (And therefore, Krauthammer implies, the "authorities" should not be allowed to guess, either!)
"Except in a single case: the absentee overseas ballot. We know precisely who the voter is. And yet in many cases--more than 1,500 this year in Florida--these ballots are thrown out. ... And here intent can be determined without resort to the oracular and mystical skills on display today in Florida. Here we can ask the voter directly. Call him up. Interview. Interrogate. Find out: Did you really mean to vote for X?
"The logic of "intent" theory does not just permit post-election interrogation (of ambiguous absentee ballots), it demands it. So why are Democrats, instead of sending platoons of lawyers to disqualify these ballots, not insisting that we deploy platoons of interrogators to interview these absentee voters to ascertain intent?"
(Excerpted from "Dimples and
Divination", Washington Post 11/23/00, page A43, by Charles Krauthammer)
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