The right to be heard

You need to read this:

“The right to vote is the right to participate; it is also the right to speak, but more importantly the right to be heard.”

This quote was taken directly from Page 9 of the Florida Supreme Court’s Nov. 21 decision to allow “maximum time” for inclusion of counties’ hand recounts in the final vote tally that will hopefully determine the next president of the United States sometime before 2004.

The total decision is more than 40 pages long, and you need to read every single page. I would include it as part of this column but, well, space and all. But if you’re interested, be sure to check out for a link allowing you to download the entire text of the decision. Who knows what else may have transpired by the time this column runs? But, come what may, it won’t alter the relevance of that passage on Page 9.

Anyway, I figured I would include that passage because it best sums up what this whole political soap opera is all about, and what it should have always been about since the beginning: the rights of the voters to have their voices count. If that means bending over backward, taking extra time, or going beyond what the Florida court deemed “maximum time,” or whatever the hell else may be required, then that’s what’s required. Deal with it.

As one columnist from the New York Times pointed out, when it comes to electing who will effectively be the most powerful person in the world for the next four years, it should be OK to double-check — or triple-check or quadruple-check — the results of the closest election in American history.

The difference between the votes cast for Gore and those cast for Bush is less than one-tenth of 1 percent. Personally, I’d say that’s a margin of votes worth fighting for. If that means the fight has to go a few extra rounds, so what?

Furthermore, if Vice President Al Gore is to be considered a sore loser for wanting to use every legal means at his disposal to be sure of the outcome, then the presidency isn’t worth winning. Give it to Ronald McDonald, or any other clown who might be available. Nothing is worth having if it’s not worth fighting for.

And besides, how is it that Gore was supposedly a sore loser when nobody knew whether or not he’d lost yet? You haven’t lost until it’s over.

As for the charge that Gore is trying to steal the election, there’s a huge difference between trying to steal something and trying to make sure of something.

Understand what I’m saying here, all right? This is a knock-down-drag-out fight, and that’s perfectly OK with me. This is an age when national elections have become so incredibly prepackaged and neutered that we’re no longer permitted to see the true nature of a candidate because armies of overpaid, overprotective “handlers” fear that we voters might be scared off if we knew who we were actually voting for. In that light, it’s refreshing to finally see a blessedly unscheduled, unscripted, out-of-control event take place that has forced at least a few brief, honest glimpses of who these guys really are.

After all, you can tell a lot about a person when you get to see him pissed off. Does he hit below the belt? Can he take a punch? Does he keep looking to his corner every time he gets in trouble or does he know enough to handle the situation himself?

Listen, this has never had anything to do with Chad’s dimples, whether or not Chad is pregnant, how he got that way to begin with, or who hung poor Chad and why. This has been about deciding whether or not we as a people matter enough to ourselves that we can be patient with ourselves. This has been about deciding whether we the people are worth counting, or whether we have become so intoxicated with the need for speed in all things, and quick, tidy solutions to all problems — regardless of the outcome — that we are willing to sacrifice ownership of the single most powerful political tool granted to each and every one of us just so we can beat the clock.

Are we really in such a hurry to finish the book that we can’t afford to wait for the ending to be written?

And now a word about Gov. George Bush.

Bush has said since the beginning of his campaign that he trusts the people, so why couldn’t he trust the people who reside in the state where his brother is the governor to honestly count the ballots by hand? Why does such a lover and truster of people trust the accuracy of machines more than he does the people? What’s up with that?

Listen, by the time this column runs Gov. Bush may be President-elect Bush, and I can’t honestly say that all of Vice President Gore’s troubles happened in Florida. The man is not a godsend, and it wouldn’t exactly shock me if somebody whispered in my ear that Gore was acting like a politician when he claimed that this whole fight that isn’t about him, it’s about the fate of the nation and our democracy. Yeah, well maybe kinda sorta in a way that’s his purpose, but make no mistake about it; Al wants to win, buddy. Big-time.

But whether or not Gore was pretending sincerity when he said that bit about our democracy and the fate of the nation, the fact of the matter is that he’s telling the truth. Regardless of who wins — or who won — the presidency, there is a lesson to be learned here that is far more important:

“The right to vote is the right to participate; it is also the right to speak, but more importantly the right to be heard.”

If we’re willing to give up such an important right for the sake of speed and efficiency, then we deserve whatever we get. It’s not hard to make the trains run on time, but keeping a true democracy true to its stated goals is a never-ending challenge requiring a mature and knowledgeable electorate that knows how to handle such a responsibility, not a bunch of kids who can’t wait for their dessert.

Keith A Owens is a Detroit-area freelance writer and musician. Send comments to [email protected]
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