Tags: Bush's | Victory | Legitimate? | Ask | Any | Informed | Football

Is Bush's Victory Legitimate? Ask Any Informed Football Fan

Tuesday, 28 November 2000 12:00 AM

A prime talking point of Democrats is that the minuscule Bush margin is far surpassed by the number of questionable ballots. How, they demand to know, can it be said Bush won by several hundred measly votes when there's no way of knowing the intent of tens of thousands of voters?

But virtually every close football game is decided in that same fashion (to the satisfaction of Republican and Democrat fans alike). That is, we engage in super-precise measuring to determine the winner – predicated upon some ridiculously inaccurate judgments. Every time a running back or receiver is stopped without going down, the referee is faced with the impossible task of placing the ball on the ground directly underneath where it was being held when the play stopped.

Given the shoving back and forth and other chaos, this is little more than guesswork. The uncertainty is compounded by such factors as a player running across the referee's field of vision just at the moment of truth.

Or perhaps the referee himself being jostled. Or his hiccuping at that precise instant. Or whatever.

Yet, once that ball is "spotted," the position is considered absolute – and precise measurements are predicated upon that totally inaccurate placement. If a subsequent yardstick measurement shows the ball as little as a human hair short of, or beyond, the line, that judgment is accepted by all – and never mind that everyone realizes the spotting of the ball was an all but arbitrary jumping-off point.

The reason we accept a measurement of micro-inches following a "guesstimate" easily off by a half-foot or more is that the former is the only

Any election involving millions of voters is the equivalent of the referee's spotting of the ball. Voting machines are bound to malfunction, citizens are certain to encounter incompetent poll personnel, and many voters will surely vote for unintended candidates.

Yet, if the winning margin is even one vote in an election involving tens of millions, we must accept that as conclusive in exactly the way we accept the pinpoint measurement of those yardsticks whose starting point was almost capricious.

Faced with a micro-millimeter first-down or touchdown call against his side, even the most rabid football partisan never complains about the overriding error of the previous spotting. He realizes that some placements will go against his side, an equal number will provide an undeserved margin of success.

Applying that same logic to elections, we as a society do what every referee attempts: achieving as fair a process as human failings allow for. And then we measure. And, perhaps, remeasure.

But what we must never do is compare the margin of victory to the inevitably larger margin of error inherent in the voting process and argue that that makes the victory suspect. If we applied the same argument to football, the only games allowed into the record books would be blowouts; every other contest would involve referees being endlessly grilled on just how they managed to locate the exact spot on the ground underneath a football being battled over by 10 or 12 huge, wildly animated men.

When I mentioned this concept on Barry Farber's show, he rightly challenged me as to whether I'd apply the same football-game standards to a future election whose results I

I admitted I couldn't be sure of being so consistent. But I allowed that, if I wasn't, I should immediately be ejected from the game of political punditry for unsportsmanlike conduct.

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A prime talking point of Democrats is that the minuscule Bush margin is far surpassed by the number of questionable ballots. How, they demand to know, can it be said Bush won by several hundred measly votes when there's no way of knowing the intent of tens of thousands...
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2000-00-28
Tuesday, 28 November 2000 12:00 AM
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