The Earthling

My Brilliant Idea

OK, this is it—the Earthling’s bid for greatness. After two decades in journalism, I finally have an idea that could change the course of history.

Lately much attention has focused on Florida’s Seminole County, where Republican volunteers—or “operatives,” as we say these days—illegally corrected 5,000 absentee-ballot applications sent in by Republican voters. (The voters had failed to include their voter-ID numbers.) If Circuit Court Judge Nikki Ann Clark remedies this infraction by tossing out thousands of ballots cast by Republican voters, she could complete a Hail-Mary pass for Al Gore. 

But this much-discussed scenario has a little-discussed problem—a very big little-discussed problem, in fact. Let me lay it out before suggesting a (so far as I know) wholly undiscussed solution.

The problem is that we don’t know which of Seminole’s 15,000 absentee ballots came from the 5,000 voters whose incomplete ballot applications should have been tossed out rather than doctored. The Democratic voters suing for relief are asking that all 15,000 of Seminole’s absentee ballots be thrown out—but that would mean throwing out 10,000 legally cast ballots. I’m no lawyer, but I’ve got to think this would raise gargantuan legal problems.

And of course, it also raises the massive PR problems that have kept Al Gore from joining the Seminole lawsuit: His entire rhetorical strategy has been geared to making “every vote count.” Even tossing out the 5,000 technically illegal ballots would complicate this theme. Tossing out the other 10,000 would garble it beyond recognition.

What to do? First, let’s ask what it is about the Seminole County application-doctoring that makes it not a mere illegality (which it definitely is) but a true injustice. Namely: Those 5,000 Republican voters who failed to fill in their voter-ID numbers were given a second chance (doctoring by operatives) that wasn’t available to any Democratic voters who made the same error.

The Earthling’s solution (patent pending): Go find 5,000 registered Democrats whose absentee ballot applications were disqualified for lacking a voter-ID number, and let them vote. This solution would be undeniably just, would harmonize perfectly with Gore’s rhetoric, and, as a bonus, has a distinctly Democratic sound. (Be inclusive, not exclusive.) And it would do much less harm to the legitimacy of a Gore presidency than tossing out 15,000 ballots would.

There are a few technical problems, but they all seem solvable:

1) There probably aren’t 5,000 Democratic absentee-ballot applications in Seminole County that suffered from the exact deficiency that those Republican operatives fixed. OK, so go to other Florida counties. After all, the votes were aggregated statewide anyway. A statewide injustice deserves a statewide remedy.

2) How do you decide which 5,000 of all eligible Democratic voters would get to revote? Select them randomly. Use a computer random-number generator. Or, better yet, let Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris draw names from one of those lottery drums—live on television!

3) What if there aren’t 5,000 Democrats in all of Florida whose absentee-ballot applications were deficient in the way those 5,000 Republican applications were deficient? Then just count the ones that were deficient. And if there aren’t any—or if there are a trivial number—then, arguably, no consequential injustice was done in the first place, so no consequential remedy is in order.

For all I know, there are other technical problems. (I’m assuming, for example, that Florida’s absentee-ballot applications allow voters to signify party affiliation if they wish—but even this problem, if it exists,.) And I guess it’s possible that some of the problems with my scheme aren’t fixable, in which case my bid for greatness will have gone down in flames. Still, at least Al Gore and I will always have the same memory to treasure: For a moment there, we were so close to immortality.