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Stealing the Election in Florida

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The 2000 election and Bush's attack on democratic rights
News and Analysis: North America
by Barry Gray
Copyright: World Socialist Website November 14, 2001

Reprinted in part

One year ago the American ruling elite broke in a fundamental and irrevocable manner with democratic norms and procedures. For the first time in US history, Where is the it decided the result of a national election by Bush suppressing votes and overriding the will of the administration electorate.

The Democratic candidate, Al Gore, won the popular vote nationally by some 600,000 votes, but Election Day ended with neither candidate holding a majority of the electoral votes, and the result in the pivotal state of Florida in dispute. (Under the archaic system established by America's founding fathers, the presidential race is not decided by the popular vote. The president is actually chosen by electors from the various states. The number of a state's electors is equal to the number of its representatives in the House of Representatives plus two-the number of senators from each state.)

Had the votes in Florida been counted in a fair and impartial manner, Gore would have won that state and its 25 electoral votes, and been declared the next president. That, however, is not what happened. Instead, the votes of thousands of Floridians were suppressed and, by means of fraud and conspiracy, the Republican candidate, George W. Bush, was installed in the White House.

Future generations will look back on the election of 2000 as the definitive point at which the American ruling class embarked on the road to dictatorship. All of the authoritarian impulses that have assumed such ominous and concrete forms since September 11 were already revealed in the methods employed by the Bush campaign and the Republican Party to effect an electoral coup d'état.

Nine days before the US Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, stopped the counting of disputed votes in the pivotal state of Florida, thereby handing the election to Bush, the chairman of the World Socialist Web Site editorial board, David North, summed up the basic issues in the election crisis in a report to a public meeting in Sydney, Australia. [Lessons from history: the 2000 elections and the new "irrepressible conflict"] North said:

"What the decision of this court will reveal is how far the American ruling class is prepared to go in breaking with traditional bourgeois-democratic and constitutional norms. Is it prepared to sanction ballot fraud and the suppression of votes and install in the White House a candidate who has attained that office through blatantly illegal and anti-democratic methods?"

On December 12, 2000 the US Supreme Court did precisely that. Five right-wing Republican justices, unelected and unanswerable to the American people, handed down a decision reeking with contempt for democratic rights and devoid of any legal or constitutional scruples. This was a court whose majority had employed the mantras of "states' rights" and "judicial restraint" to curtail the power of the federal government to enforce laws protecting the rights of workers and minorities. But when the issue was posed: what considerations would guide the resolution of the contested election in Florida-the need to determine the will of the electorate, or the desire of the most right-wing sections of the ruling elite to install its man in the White House-the Supreme Court inserted itself into the internal affairs of Florida and took the extraordinary action of overriding the state's highest court.

The Florida Supreme Court had overruled the attempt of the state's Republican administration, headed by Governor Jeb Bush, to certify George W. Bush, the governor's brother, as the winner of the presidential race on the basis of a margin of a few hundred votes. Republican election officials had secured Bush's margin by blocking or disregarding hand counts of thousands of ballots that had not registered a presidential preference in the machine tabulations. (Such hand counts are stipulated in the law of Florida and most other states as the means for resolving contested elections.) The Florida high court demanded that the uncounted ballots be counted.

In taking this action, the Florida justices invoked the basic democratic principles of popular sovereignty and the right to vote. They asserted, "The right of suffrage is the pre-eminent right contained in the [Florida] Declaration of Rights, for without this basic freedom all others would be diminished."

Antonin Scalia, the ideological spokesman for the extreme right-wing faction on the US Supreme Court, excoriated the Florida court for raising these democratic principles. On the basis of a reactionary interpretation of the US Constitution, one that flies in the face of constitutional jurisprudence since the Civil War, he declared that American citizens had no constitutional right to vote for the president of the United States. This explicit repudiation of the right to vote became the anchor for the December 12 decision that installed George W. Bush in the White House by discarding the votes of thousands of Floridians.

The following day, Democratic candidate Al Gore delivered a craven concession speech, equating the court's attack on the right to vote with "the rule of law" and calling on all Americans to rally behind the "president-elect."

Two months later, in a report to an international school in Sydney, WSWS editorial board member Barry Grey drew the following balance sheet on the 2000 election: ["The world historical implications of the political crisis in the United States"]

"The 2000 election in the United States is a historical watershed. It marks an irrevocable break with the forms and traditions of American democracy.... Notwithstanding the attempts of the media and the political establishment-liberal no less than conservative-to pass over the events of November and December 2000 and Œmove on,' as though nothing of great significance had occurred, America has been changed in a fundamental way, and nothing will ever be the same in the United States, or, for that matter, the world."

Grey went on to say: "The United States has not been transformed into a dictatorship. But its ruling elite has embarked on a course that must lead either to authoritarian rule of a fascist type, or social revolution."

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