My Brilliant Idea

Science, evolution, and politics explained.
Dec. 2 2000 1:30 AM

My Brilliant Idea

OK, this is it—the Earthling's bid for greatness. After two decades in journalism, I finally have an idea that could change the course of history.


Lately much attention has focused on Florida's Seminole County, where Republican volunteers—or "operatives," as we say these days—illegally corrected 5,000 absentee-ballot applications sent in by Republican voters. (The voters had failed to include their voter-ID numbers.) If Circuit Court Judge Nikki Ann Clark remedies this infraction by tossing out thousands of ballots cast by Republican voters, she could complete a Hail-Mary pass for Al Gore. 

Robert Wright Robert Wright

Robert Wright is a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. Follow him on Twitter.

But this much-discussed scenario has a little-discussed problem—a very big little-discussed problem, in fact. Let me lay it out before suggesting a (so far as I know) wholly undiscussed solution.

The problem is that we don't know which of Seminole's 15,000 absentee ballots came from the 5,000 voters whose incomplete ballot applications should have been tossed out rather than doctored. The Democratic voters suing for relief are asking that all 15,000 of Seminole's absentee ballots be thrown out—but that would mean throwing out 10,000 legally cast ballots. I'm no lawyer, but I've got to think this would raise gargantuan legal problems.

And of course, it also raises the massive PR problems that have kept Al Gore from joining the Seminole lawsuit: His entire rhetorical strategy has been geared to making "every vote count." Even tossing out the 5,000 technically illegal ballots would complicate this theme. Tossing out the other 10,000 would garble it beyond recognition.

What to do? First, let's ask what it is about the Seminole County application-doctoring that makes it not a mere illegality (which it definitely is) but a true injustice. Namely: Those 5,000 Republican voters who failed to fill in their voter-ID numbers were given a second chance (doctoring by operatives) that wasn't available to any Democratic voters who made the same error.

The Earthling's solution (patent pending): Go find 5,000 registered Democrats whose absentee ballot applications were disqualified for lacking a voter-ID number, and let them vote. This solution would be undeniably just, would harmonize perfectly with Gore's rhetoric, and, as a bonus, has a distinctly Democratic sound. (Be inclusive, not exclusive.) And it would do much less harm to the legitimacy of a Gore presidency than tossing out 15,000 ballots would.

There are a few technical problems, but they all seem solvable:

1) There probably aren't 5,000 Democratic absentee-ballot applications in Seminole County that suffered from the exact deficiency that those Republican operatives fixed. OK, so go to other Florida counties. After all, the votes were aggregated statewide anyway. A statewide injustice deserves a statewide remedy.

2) How do you decide which 5,000 of all eligible Democratic voters would get to revote? Select them randomly. Use a computer random-number generator. Or, better yet, let Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris draw names from one of those lottery drums—live on television!



Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

How Tattoo Parlors Became the Barber Shops of Hipster Neighborhoods

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  News & Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
Buy a Small Business
Oct. 1 2014 11:48 PM Inking the Deal Why tattoo parlors are a great small-business bet.
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 9:39 PM Tom Cruise Dies Over and Over Again in This Edge of Tomorrow Supercut
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?