I have written this oped for the Orlando Sentinel. It begins:
This is month marks the 15th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2000 decision in Bush v. Gore, which ended a recount of ballots in Florida, and assured the election of Republican George W. Bush over Al Gore as our 43rd president. We can all breathe a sigh of relief that we haven’t had another election meltdown with such stark national ramifications for the past decade and a half, but that’s because we’ve been lucky, not smart.
One might be tempted to write off these problems because we have not seen a repeat of Bush v. Gore. That would be a mistake. We have had a number of contested elections and election problems, such as a bitter 2008 dispute over a Minnesota U.S. Senate election between Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken.
The recount and lawsuits lasted for nine months, during which time Minnesota had only one senator. Republicans argued that the election was unfair, pointing for example to a few illegal votes cast by felons in the election. A later investigation found little proof of intentional voter fraud, just mistakes as to eligibility while felons were on parole and not yet eligible to vote again. Some Republicans blame Obamacare on this supposed “voter fraud,” reasoning that Al Franken provided the 60th filibuster-proof vote in the Senate to pass the controversial health care law. Certainly public confidence in the electoral process goes down for those on the wrong end of a close election battle.
In our polarized times, it is only a matter of time before another one of these election disputes blows up. If we as a country are lucky enough, the dispute won’t be about a presidential election. But there is no guarantee.
I used to joke with my students that “there was a disputed election in Florida. You may have heard about it.” I now say that with a straight face. As memories fade about the national crisis of the 2000 election culminating in Bush v. Gore, and as our vigilance for fair procedures diminish, the odds of another election meltdown increase.