More evidence Bush stole the election

WASHINGTON (Tribune Media Services) -- George W. Bush wishes the election was over. He wants everybody to forget about what happened in Florida, stop examining ballots, move on, and accept him as a legitimate president.

Too bad. The media will never stop digging into the Florida election until all the votes are counted -- something that never happened last November.

And the more they dig, they more evidence there is that Bush did not win Florida, and therefore the presidency, fair and square. Indeed, he may not have won at all. He is our legitimate 43rd president, but it looks more and more that he arrived there illegitimately.

CNN, the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune and other major publications are conducting a recount of every ballot cast in Florida, including both undervotes and overvotes. That survey will not be completed till late this summer. But a more limited study by the Times alone of all overseas absentee ballots cast raises serious ethical questions about the Bush campaign and, by extension, the Bush presidency.

We all recall that the mantra of the Bush campaign during the recount -- and the philosophical foundation of the Supreme Court's later Bush v. Gore decision -- was the principle of equal protection. Simply stated, that meant the same standard should apply to counting all ballots statewide. No second-guessing. No bending the rules for dimpled ballots or hanging chads. No mercy for those seniors who complained they intended to vote for Gore but, because of the confusing butterfly ballot, ended up voting for Reform candidate Pat Buchanan.

Tough. Too bad. Live and die by the rules. That's what Bush's head honcho James Baker and others were saying publicly. And they used that logic, with the help of the courts, to beat back the Gore campaign's requests for manual recounts in four counties where there were the greatest number of disputed ballots.

But the New York Times now shows the Bushies were talking out of both sides of their mouths. While they were publicly preaching equal protection for all ballots cast in Florida, they were privately pushing special protection for overseas absentee ballots cast in those counties most favorable to Bush.

It was a two-pronged effort. In Washington, Republican Congressman Steve Buyer, Chair of the House Armed Services Committee, in a clear abuse of power, asked the Pentagon to fork over a list of telephone numbers and e-mail addressees of all military personnel eligible to vote -- which the Bush camp used to contact those whose votes had been rejected and ask them to raise a fuss. Meanwhile, in Florida county courthouses, lawyers for the Bush camp were cajoling election workers into bending the rules.

It worked. Out of a total 2,490 overseas ballot cast, the Times found, 680 -- or 22 percent -- were illegal, but counted anyway: four out of five of those in counties carried by Bush. They included ballots with no postmark and no evidence they were mailed before November 7; ballots with no required signature of a witness; ballots from voters who were not registered to vote; ballots received after the November 17 deadline; ballots mailed in the United States, not overseas; and duplicate ballots, where someone had voted twice, both of which were counted.

Poor, hapless Democrats, meanwhile, didn't have a clue what was going on. They were unsuccessfully concentrating on getting all legal votes tallied in four counties, while -- with the cooperation of Secretary of State Katherine Harris -- Republicans were successfully getting illegal votes counted statewide.

Joe Lieberman made it worse when he appeared on Meet the Press and said no one should challenge any military ballots. Not even, one presumes, the group of sailors featured in the Times story who learned the morning of November 8 how close the election was. "Whoa, I have to get my ballot in," one of them said. He did. And the Bush campaign made sure it and others like it were counted. Late.

Because we don't know for sure for whom overseas ballots were cast, the Times says it's not yet clear whether Bush won or lost the election. But, judging from where votes were tallied, rejecting the flawed overseas votes would probably reduce Bush's narrow margin of 537 down to 245. It might even be enough to show Al Gore the winner.

But the Times survey does offer conclusive proof that Republicans were willing to say or do anything to win Florida. And did. Even cheating on absentee ballots. We know now what we suspected all along. The election in Florida was not conducted fairly nor ended fairly. That will forever cast a cloud over the Bush presidency.

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