Return of the Chad
November 12, 2001
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The New York Times today unleashes the results of its much-anticipated re-re-recount of some ballots in the Florida election and concludes that "Mr. Gore might have won if the courts had ordered a full statewide recount of all the rejected ballots."
"Might" is a pretty important word there. Mr. Bush "might" have won, too. The bottom line is that after spending $900,000 on this project, the Times and its partner news organizations are not much closer to finding out what they set out to find than they were when they started.
The key information in the Times package of information on this story comes at the end of a sidebar on how the ballot review was conducted.
The Times reports: "In many places, supervisors found it difficult to find all the ballots that were uncounted on election night, even by running them through the machines. The problem was worst in punch-card counties, as chads dislodged and undervotes suddenly disappeared. Even in optical-scan counties, though, supervisors were often unable to exactly replicate the undervotes and overvotes from the election. In all, the research center reviewed 175,010 ballots, more than 99 percent of the approximately 176,446 that were considered overvoted or undervoted in the certified vote total."
This confirms the Republican contention that running the ballots through the machines again and again degrades them and alters the result. And the discrepancy between the 175,010 ballots counted by the consortium and the 176,446 ballots that were rejected by election officials is 1,436. That is a significant variation between what happened on election night and what happened in the media recount, especially considering that under even the most favorable standard to Mr. Gore, he "might" have won the election by only 424 votes.
The Times editorial compounds the error by asserting, "It appears Al Gore might have carried Florida if he had successfully pursued a statewide manual recount of all 175,010 rejected ballots -- a strategy he never tried." But the "all 175,010" number refers only to the number of rejected ballots the New York Times and its partners in the press were able to reconstruct or find -- not the number on election night. Note the careful use, again, of the word "might." Mr. Bush "might" have won, too, given the uncertain and disorderly nature of any such re-re-recount operation.
Tax Law: Today's New York Times carries a news article under the headline "Victims' Funds May Violate U.S. Tax Law." It reports that "tax-exempt charities are generally required by law to respond to specific needs, not to heroism," and it refers to "rules that specifically bar tax-exempt charities from giving money to individuals who are not in demonstrable financial distress."
Smartertimes.com is not a tax lawyer, but common-sense experience shows that tax-exempt charities are all the time giving money to individuals who are not in demonstrable financial distress. Columbia University, which is tax-exempt, regularly gives $7,500 awards called Pulitzer Prizes to journalists -- including those at the New York Times -- who are "not in demonstrable financial distress." The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which is also tax-exempt but which is under slightly different rules because it is a foundation rather than a public charity, awards grants of $500,000 in "no strings attached" support to "fellows." The MacArthur Foundation's Web site reports that "The Foundation neither requires nor expects specific projects from the Fellows, nor does it ask for reports on how the money is used." Financial need is not a criterion in the selection of the MacArthur grant recipients. The Times runs a news article each year on the awarding of these MacArthur fellowships, popularly known as "genius awards." There may be some reason that the MacArthur Foundation can award no-strings attached $500,000 awards to "fellows" but that the Twin Towers Fund can't, according to the Times, award similar grants to the families of police officers and firefighters who died in the September 11 attack. But the Times news article doesn't give the reason, or even acknowledge the existence of the many charities that give money to individuals who are not in demonstrable financial distress.
Housing Crunch: An article in the metro section of today's New York Times offers advice to the mayor-elect on "Easing the Housing Crunch." The article goes on for 10 paragraphs but never once mentions the effect of rent control and rent stabilization laws on the city's housing prices. The Times bothers to talk to only a single "expert." There's got to be more than one opinion on how to ease the housing crunch. And, whether one agrees or disagrees that rent control is partially to blame for the high cost of housing in New York, it seems at least worth mentioning the issue in a discussion of "easing the housing crunch."
Not Surprisingly: An article in the "Giving" section of today's New York Times begins with the phrase "Not surprisingly." This is almost a fail-safe method of making sure that a reader will skip the rest of the article.
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