Election Reform Landscape Altered By Terror War
By Daniel Seligson, Staff Writer
Most everything was altered by the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on Sept. 11 - from transportation to law enforcement to people's attitudes to politics.
The election reform landscape, once dominated by partisan disputes, might have been altered as well. The once-driving questions behind election reform did President Bush deserve to win and, therefore, is he the legitimate leader have been deferred for another time.
Most everything was altered by the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on Sept. 11 - from transportation to law enforcement to peoples attitudes to politics. The election reform landscape, once dominated by partisan disputes, might have been altered as well.
Perhaps one of the most striking recent examples was a decision by a national media consortium to shelve an exhaustive study of 200,000 uncounted Florida ballots that might have tipped the odds in the race for the Sunshine State's electors, if the Supreme Court had allowed the recount to continue.
Earlier this month, The Washington Post, CNN, The Associated Press, the New York Times and other media giants were expected to splash headlines of their findings all over the country. The study was not released. Instead it was postponed indefinitely for reasons ranging from bad timing to inadequate staffing.
Some analysts say they are leaning toward the bad timing excuse. After all, Bush, who for the first eight months of his term was dogged by questions of the legitimacy of the process that elevated him to office, has been transformed into a popular leader by world events, war and a jittery public hungry for leadership.
Normon Solomon, a columnist who writes about media issues for the San Francisco Examiner and other newspapers, said there just might not be a lot of interest out there right now to read an extensive analysis of the 2000 presidential election. Or, there might not be an appetite in the media right now to challenge the legitimacy of a war time president.
"The story would be swallowed up and lost," Solomon said. "It just stands to reason to some extent that people would say, if it's a huge research project, we would want to release the project when there would be some public focus on the results."
But Solomon also fears that the "circle the wagons" mentality gripping the country could potentially rule out a story that challenges the president, despite his razor-thin Electoral College victory margin and controversial court-ordered end to the dispute over recounts in Florida.
Doug Lewis, director of the Election Center, a Houston-based organization that serves as an association of state and county election directors, said military action and continuing terrorist threats might have changed the debate on election reform, but not the direction.
"You're never going to totally lose the legitimacy question when you have a tie vote," he said. "Has it now lost its steam and sting and impact as a morally righteous driving force to get something done [on election reform]? Yeah, clearly it [has]. We're in a new era."
Even Bush's harshest critics seem to be if not changing their tunes then at least playing different notes.
In a poll taken days after the Supreme Court's decision that ended the Florida recount, national polls found widespread doubts of Bush's legitimacy.
Asked to describe their views of how Bush won the election, 50 percent of African Americans in a Gallup poll said he "stole the election" and 81 percent said the election was unfair. Now, numerous polls show Bush's approval rating above 88 percent. Much of that has been driven by blacks, who have gone from 40 percent approval ratings at the beginning of the month to 70 percent in the first weeks of October.
Election reform is not going away, however. Days after the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, California officials announced they would do away with punch card voting statewide by 2006. Ohio officials continue to finalize an election study. The General Accounting Office released 600 pages of analysis and data on voting in America, while counties in New Jersey, Florida and Maryland are crafting plans to purchase new voting machines.