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Professors address escalating election crisis

As the nation awaits the outcome of one of the most contentious presidential elections in U.S. history, University professors are adding their perspectives to the muddled political landscape.

A Saturday afternoon forum in the Rotunda drew about 50 people to hear the experts discuss what they feel should be done to rectify the mind-boggling situation.

Much of the debate focused on Florida, the state that most likely will prove to be the deciding factor in the election.

Vice President Al Gore's campaign does not have to demonstrate evidence of ballot fraud in Florida in order to challenge the election results in the courts, University Law Prof. Michael Klarman said.

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  • Evidence of substantial non-compliance with federal election procedures and/or reasonable doubt that the results reflect the will of the voters is sufficient to challenge the results in court, Klarman said.

    However, the Gore campaign must show there is a substantial probability of voter confusion, not just a mere probability, he said.

    "I guarantee the Bush and Gore people will disagree over how many people need to be confused to constitute substantial confusion," he added.

    The fact that 6.4 percent of the ballots in Palm Beach County were spoiled and unable to be counted - far higher than the statistical average - suggests the Democrats have a case for substantial confusion, Klarman said.

    Since Democrats appointed seven of the nine justices in the Florida Supreme Court, the Gore campaign would have the advantage if the decision ends up in their hands, he said.

    However, the Florida courts have been reluctant to order re-votes in the past, preferring to void the votes in the contested region instead, he added.

    Neither a revote nor throwing out the Palm Beach votes will be entirely fair to both parties, Klarman said. Voiding the Palm Beach vote will not benefit the Gore campaign, and ordering a re-vote would be unfair to the campaign of Texas Gov. George W. Bush because those who voted for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader will probably vote for Gore, he said.

    "That leaves us a huge mess," he added.

    Government Prof. James Ceasar disagreed with Klarman's assertion that the Florida courts most likely would make the final decision.

    "This should be dealt with on the national level," Ceasar said.

    Any action pertaining to a re-vote should not be taken until the final results in Florida, including the results of absentee ballots, are known, he said.

    Ceasar also suggested that the two parties could broker a deal in which one candidate gets the presidency and the other receives compensation in some other form.

    While Ceasar acknowledged that giving one candidate the presidency according to the results of the final Florida recount would be "a fictional decision," he said doing so would be fairer than initiating a protracted legal battle.

    "The more you count ballots, the more you destroy the character and integrity" of the votes, he added.

    Government Prof. Matthew Holden agreed that it would be beneficial to the country to find a solution as quickly as possible.

    "It would be the worse possible situation to put this in the hands of the court ... we should be thinking about constituting a government," Holden said.

    He said it is in the best interest of the nation to let Bush "go forward with his tainted presidency."

    If Gore were to challenge the results in Florida, it would be politically disastrous for him, he said.

    "An endless struggle would make no sense," he added. "We need to find a sensible resolution and go forth as best we can."

    But Virginia Law Democrats President Adam Green said the ballot confusion cannot be ignored.

    "How many fictions can we accept and still call ourselves a representative democracy?" Green said.

    Law professor and former University president Robert O'Neil, who did not attend the Saturday forum, said the outcome of the Florida situation depends largely on the absentee ballot count.

    Related Links
  • CD Online coverage of Decision 2000
  • Florida Dept. of State Division of Elections

  • If Bush wins Florida by a significant margin after the absentee ballots are counted, the Gore campaign is likely to concede if they deem the margin substantial enough, O'Neil said.

    However, if many of the absentee ballots are from American civilians in Israel rather than typically Republican military personnel, Bush may not win by a large enough margin to prompt concession by the Gore camp, he said.

    While the absentee ballots are being counted, officials could decide whether legal action would be adjudicated in state or federal courts should the Gore campaign decide not to concede, he added.

    Such legal action would not necessarily be protracted, O'Neil said, noting that in 1971 the Supreme Court handed down its decision regarding the Pentagon Papers in 10 days.