The Mislaid Election

The choice between stability and justice is a false one.

The right to vote--and have our votes counted--is one of the most basic. Americans have struggled to achieve and expand it for 225 years. What to do when the process breaks down in regard to the most powerful office in the land?

There have been two basic answers put forward in the last 10 days: Achieve stability or pursue justice.

Achieve stability by accepting the official, though disputed, results, or pursue justice by revoting where there were major irregularities. What does religious teaching have to say about these choices?

Who "lost"--or perhaps we should say "mislaid"--the Florida piece of our presidential election? Not Candidate Gore, but the voters of Florida.

So far, it does not seem that anyone stole it from them on Election Day. So far there is no evidence and little indication of a concerted effort before or during the election to elect Candidate Bush president by falsifying the will of the people of Florida.

But it is quite clear that the will of the people did get thwarted. That is the sense in which the voters "mislaid" the election. The fair and free expression of their will somehow fell out on the side of the road. In the butterfly ballot mismarked by voters in Palm Beach, in the widespread reports of black voters being turned away from the polls (that part may indicate an effort to falsify the election), even in the most recent (and so far unsupported) reports of a massive toss-out of "double-voted" ballots in a heavily Republican county--it is clear that the voters of Florida got miscounted.

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What to do? For 9-year-olds, morality rhymes: "Finders keepers, losers weepers."

But for grown-ups, and for Jewish law, morality is just the other way around. If you find something that belongs to someone else, and you know whose it is, you must return it to them.

The mislaid election turned up in the pocket of Candidate Bush. He is obligated to give it back to the voters.

This might be done by saying, "My God, how terrible that you voters mislaid what belonged to you! Since it fell into my hands, I am joyful at the opportunity to return it to you. We must do so at once, by having a revote in counties where massive mismarking can be shown, a revote limited to those who voted the first time around."

And if in other states the vote is close enough and the uncertainty great enough to warrant recounts, so be it. The point should not be to advantage one candidate or the other, but to protect the people's right to vote--and have their votes counted.

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Rabbi Arthur Waskow
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