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Press Bill Press is co-host of CNN's Crossfire. He is providing exclusive analysis to CNN allpolitics.com during the election season.

Bill Press: It's over -- now, let's fix it

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- George W. Bush is our president-elect. We accept him. We salute him. We wish him well. Thatís one thing that unites us as Americans.

The other is, no matter whom we voted for, we are all relieved that our long period of post-election uncertainty is over. One more lawsuit, one more Supreme Court hearing, one more tortured recount, one more rent-a-mob, one more self-serving statement by Jim Baker may have more than the battered national psyche could stand.

At the same time, while we feel good that itís ended, none of us should feel good about how it ended. Itís an uncertain presidency that is built on an election in which all the votes were not counted.

The last five weeks uncovered serious problems with our election process that should concern us all all, because there is nothing more sacred than our right to vote. We now know that right is by no means uniformly and fairly exercised across the land.

It is a problem when the way we vote -- the design of the ballot and the type of voting machines -- varies to widely from state to state, from county to county, from table to table. That alone is enough to disenfranchise millions of Americans.

As David Corn writes in this weekís The Nation, an analysis of Floridaís voting machines found that older, punch-card machines tallied no vote for president on 1.5 percent of ballots, while newer, optical-scanning machines showed no presidential vote on only 0.3 percent.

Now add the fact that those older, more error-ridden machines were assigned to low-income and African-American, Democratic precincts.

That means, Corn concludes, a statistically significant slice of the Florida electorate was disenfranchised by voting technologically alone. And heís right. In a state where George Bush won by only .008 percent of the vote, up-to-date voting machines may have produced a different winner.

It is also a problem when the method of counting and recounting votes varies so widely.

Every state must adopt a clear statewide standard for counting disputed ballots before the next election. Who knows? We could end up in the same mess all over again. With the same two candidates.

One more thing -- and this is not just sour grapes. It is a problem, a big problem, when five justices of the Supreme Court elect the President of the United States. Itís the first time since 1824, when members of the House elected John Quincy Adams, that the members of one branch of government elected another -- and the first time in history the judiciary has done so. This is not good for the court, not good for our system of government and not good for democracy.

We have just survived an incredible, historic five weeks. We suffered a lot, but we also learned a lot.

We learned first, all over again, what a great country we are. We are a strong people. We have strong institutions of government. And we have a strong, magnificent Constitution that has guided us through yet another challenge.

But we also learned there are some things that need fixing. The best and most accurate new voting machines should be provided in all counties. A clear standard for recounts should be adopted by all states. A national, uniform closing time for polling places should be required by Congress, so networks can no longer create mischief with misleading, early calls. This will, of course, require extending the hours for voting in many states, which is a good idea anyway.

Thatís a good start. Now, two other goals. Faced with the fourth president in history who lost the popular vote, itís time for Congress to consider junking the Electoral College. In a democracy, the people can be trusted to elect their own president directly. And itís time for the nationís highest court to regret and reconsider their intrusion into partisan politics. In future presidential elections, count all the votes and let the people decide. Keep Supreme Court justices out of it.

We havenít been through a constitutional crisis, as some insist. Weíve been through a valuable civics lesson, instead. If we act now to apply the lessons learned, it was all worthwhile. If not, it was a giant waste of time.


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Friday, December 15, 2000

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