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.

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.

Various politicians and "experts" have started warning of some national calamity if the rule of law is upheld in Florida. That is, if the voters who "lost" or "mislaid" this election go to court to require that the finders not be keepers.

What national calamity? We are not at war. There is no economic depression. We have a president.

Why this outcry not to "rock the boat" by going to court?

It comes from the assumption that "stability" is more important than either truth or justice.

That is a typical assumption of those who are sitting cushy. Who cares about justice denied to a bunch of old Jews or Haitian-Americans?

But Jewish tradition teaches that a true stability rests specifically on truth and justice: Rabban Gamliel said: "On three things the world stands: On Justice, on Truth and on Peace." Rav Huna said, "These three things are one thing: Where Justice is done, Truth is done, and Peace is made" (Perek Hashalom, Talmud).

Where the Roman proverb said, "Let justice be done though the heavens fall," Jewish wisdom teaches, "Let justice be done lest the heavens fall."

For God demands, "Tzedek tzedek tirdof: Justice, justice shall you pursue." Why "justice" twice?--Pursue just goals through just means.

To dump the Electoral College in the midst of an election because it contradicts the popular vote might achieve just ends but not by just means. To demand the full application of the law in Florida is precisely to "pursue justice, justice."

To reject God's standard--"Justice, justice"--and to substitute instead the standard of the status quo--"Don't rock the boat"--that is idolatry.

And in our present situation, turning the right to vote into a joke will produce not stability but either rage or a final collapse of citizenship into apathy.

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