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Who Crowned George? 

On the centrality of cows to W.’s plurality and the GOP’s prospects

Wednesday, Nov 15 2000
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So who, exactly, has said that W. is our next president?

This assertion, initially heard on election night, was first trotted out by none other than W.‘s cousin, John Ellis, who, in a triumph of executive headhunting, was chief of the election desk for the Fox News Network (”Republican Numbers for Republican News“). With all but about 4 percent of Florida’s precincts reporting, W. was leading the Veep by around 30,000 votes, though the Voter News Service exit-poll consortium insisted Florida was too close to call, and the precincts still out were largely Democratic. So Ellis -- who since has acknowledged that he was on the phone during the night with both W. and his brother, Jeb -- took matters into his own hands and called it for his cuz. (Or did W. just call it himself? Or, more likely, Jeb? Or, more likely yet, Aunt Bar?)

At this point, the other networks -- towers of independent judgment all -- rushed in to call it too, lest they be perceived as lagging behind Fox (”Bush Numbers for a Bush Network“). And then retracted that call an hour later as W.‘s margin deflated down to a few hundred votes.

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Which is where, one week later, that margin remains (as of Tuesday night, it’s at precisely 300). We‘ve since learned, of course, that thousands of Gore voters in Palm Beach County, bewildered by the badly aligned butterfly ballot, either voted erroneously for Pat Buchanan, or for Gore and Buchanan both. According to a story in the Palm Beach Post, in just two heavily African-American precincts in the town of Riviera Beach, the vote was Gore 2,409, Bush 46 and invalidated ballots 506.

Some pro-Bush demonstrators and GOP talk-show hosts have been ridiculing the Gore voters who miscast their ballots. What I want to know is this: Is mocking senior citizens ”on-message“ or just normal Republican high spirits?

With numbers like these, the case for a hand recount, especially in Palm Beach County, seems overwhelming -- not that such a recount would tally the invalidated, double-voted ballots (plainly, it couldn’t), but it could count those punch-holes on other ballots that the machines failed to pick up. On this question, the call does not belong to a Bush cousin (upper-class New England Protestants just don‘t breed enough to put a Bush in every power point), but merely to the co-chairperson of his Florida campaign, Secretary of State Katherine Harris. To this paragon of impartiality, a Florida court has given the discretion to allow or disallow the hand recounts under way in several counties.

Beyond the confines of the Bushes’ extended family (literal or political), however, W.‘s anointment is anything but clear. On Election Day, a narrow plurality of Americans appears to have voted for Al Gore. On Election Day, by every account, a narrow plurality of Floridians certainly meant to vote for Al Gore. And in poll after poll taken in the past couple of days, a clear majority of Americans have said they want the recounts to continue so that the eventual Florida outcome reflects the actual Florida vote. They are not supportive of a Palm Beach County re-vote, but they’re content to wait a month to get the most fair and scrupulous count, and don‘t believe that such a wait jeopardizes American hegemony, or the global economy, or any really important laws of thermodynamics.

Some have argued that W.’s legitimacy as president would be undermined by losing the popular vote nationally and, but for the bizarre ballot, in Florida -- and the more so if his Florida victory hangs on Republicans‘ disallowing a hand recount. Surely, this overstates the case. There have been leaders of nations who’ve had less legitimacy than a President Bush could claim under these circumstances. Richard III comes to mind.

Whether or not Bush wins, it‘s important to understand that he is already the beneficiary of an Electoral College ”bump.“ A state’s electoral vote, of course, is the sum of the two votes that it automatically gets in the U.S. Senate and however many votes its population entitles it to in the House -- a calculation that gives disproportionate weight to the smallest states. Wyoming, for instance, has three electoral votes, though 1999 Census Bureau estimates put its population at 479,602 -- one electoral vote for every 159,867 residents. California has 54 electoral votes, and the Census Bureau put its population at 33,154,121 -- one electoral vote for every 613,799 Californians.

The reason for the Bush bump is that the smallest states -- chiefly in the Rockies and the Northern Plains -- tend disproportionately to be Republican. Among states with just three electoral votes (and throwing in the lopsidedly Democratic District of Columbia), Bush won 15 electoral votes to Gore‘s nine. Among the 18 states (including D.C.) with three, four or five electoral votes, Bush’s margin was 42-26. Indeed, as historian Jim Chapin has noted in a column for UPI, if you take away each state‘s two senatorial votes and just apportion their House votes from last week’s election, even giving Florida to Bush, Gore would come out ahead, 225-211. Only by the electoral advantage given to the vast depopulated tracts of Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, the Dakotas, Nebraska (Bush‘s six strongest states), et al., can W. lay claim to the Electoral College. Gore carried the day among people; W.’s margin of victory, if he‘s elected, came from cows.

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