How Poverty Defeated Gore

by Jonathan Wallace

At a few weeks' distance, it is clear that the election was really about one thing: new voting machines vs. old. The Republican precincts of Florida had optical scanners with an error rate of about oneb third of one percent. The Democratic precincts had the Votomatic machines, 1960's technology with an error rate of 3%. In an election so close that a few hundred votes out of millions decided the result, it was inevitable that the Republican machines would defeat the Democratic ones, merely by counting nore votes correctly.

Looked at this way, Gore lost Florida--or to put it more accurately, was not able to prove that he won Florida--because the Republican areas could afford to upgrade their voting technologies, and the Democratic areas could not.

This raises a moral issue. Impoverished groups have voted Democratic for fifty years and more based on promises that the Democratic party has made to lift them out of poverty. These promises have not been kept, at least since the Johnson administration. As I said in recent pieces on Ralph Nader and on Democracy and Illusion, the message has deteriorated from "We will make your life better" to "We are the lesser of two evils." The Clinton administration dismantled Aid to Families With Dependent Children and embraced NAFTA--to name just two actions that harmed the poor. Gore spoke in populist terms, but had he won his administration also would have been driven by the interests of large corporate contributors interested in globalism's by-products of cheap labor and weak unions.

The country may hover near the center for some time to come. On the assumption that future presidential elections will be equivalently close--within the 3% margin of error of the inaptly named Votomatics-- the Democrats would be well advised to find the money to put better voting machines in poor counties. Better still, they might consider keeping their promises to the poor.