Words, Words, Words

December 13, 2000

In 1986 I spent a semester studying mathematics in Hungary. I was surprised at how apathetic Hungarians were about their government. "We can't do anything about it," one explained, "So why should we talk about it?" I came home with a new appreciation for America, a true understanding of what was implied by the words "government of the people, by the people, for the people".

I have not always been happy with the results of the democratic process. They have been elected leaders in my lifetime who I disliked, or despised, or even considered evil. That did not shake my faith in the American ideal.

In many ways, this election shows how close we have come to attaining the ideal. Not one vote seems to have been deliberately stolen in this election. The process of counting the votes, where it has been allowed to proceed, has been honest, open, and fair.

Unfortunately one candidate and his supporters have chosen to attack the legitimacy of our electoral system. They have attacked the fairness of manual recounts, until now universally accepted as slower but more accurate than machine tallies. They have portrayed judges and election supervisors as partisan and biased, without evidence. The result is that in a very close election, the level of error has not been reduced to a minimum. Legal procedures have not been followed.

There are certain errors for which our system has no remedy. When some voters are misled into casting spoiled ballots, or others are improperly purged from the registry of voters, there may be no way to cure the defect in the election. If this election had been tainted only by error of that sort, I would grumble about the result, but I would accept the winner as legitimate. But where the accepted procedure for tallying the ballots has not been followed, where mechanical defects in the election equipment are known and material and at least partly correctable, then the winner has no claim to legitimacy. For the first time, it appears I will live my life under a President not democratically appointed.

I type this because I cannot sleep. There is an emptiness where once there was faith. Faith in a dream, a conviction that the dream was reality. I still believe in the dream, but now it has become a thing to be attained, a goal in this darkest hour seems impossibly distant. In the morning I may see hope. I may find the strength to pursue this dream, to speak in favor of democracy, to encourage all those I encounter to see the dream and fight with me to attain it. I know I will find others who share this dream. But for now I can only mourn for that which was, and now is not.

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