BUSINESSWEEK ONLINE : DECEMBER 25, 2000 ISSUE
GOVERNMENT

What We Learned from the Election Mess


State-run election systems are saddled with vague laws that can result in dubious outcomes.

Lesson: Congress must help states come up with election reforms based on best practices. With one state able to throw a national election into doubt, uniform rules must be encouraged.

Creaky and confusing election machinery that varies widely even within a state can lead to voter disenfranchisement.

Lesson: By 2002, modern, technologically sound equipment that meets a minimum national standard should be in place in every state. And polling places should be staffed with trained workers.

Bush was elected by a margin of just over 500 certified votes in Florida. Other states were won by a few thousand ballots.

Lesson: Only 52% of those eligible to vote did so, helping to bring about a near-tie. Strenuous efforts must be made to hike participation, perhaps by encouraging Corporate America to conduct get-out-the-vote drives.

Because Bush and Gore lacked appeal beyond core supporters and failed to captivate undecideds, they split the independent vote.

Lesson: To win a clear mandate, future candidates must galvanize independents, not just divide them. That means running broad, centrist campaigns that avoid narrow interest-group politics.

By putting ratings before public service and declaring a winner before there was one, the media--especially the electronic media--did the country a disservice.

Lesson: The media must come together and set election-night standards that will not interfere with the democratic process--even if that means delivering results later.



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