Every vote counts, so it's right to count every vote

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The Independent Online

For the sake of democracy, Al Gore must not concede defeat yet. The Vice-President came under pressure last week to give up gracefully in his campaign to succeed to the US presidency. He was urged to do so on the rather woolly grounds that, by holding out and threatening litigation, he is somehow undermining the integrity of the American electoral process.

For the sake of democracy, Al Gore must not concede defeat yet. The Vice-President came under pressure last week to give up gracefully in his campaign to succeed to the US presidency. He was urged to do so on the rather woolly grounds that, by holding out and threatening litigation, he is somehow undermining the integrity of the American electoral process.

This is nonsense, as was demonstrated by the fact that it was George W Bush's campaign which was in fact first through the door of the courtroom, in order to try to block a full hand count in Palm Beach, Florida. The idea that it is somehow improper to consult a lawyer or consider legal action over a democratic election is taking anti-lawyer prejudice too far. If people in a democratic society are in dispute, then ultimately the courts are the right place to resolve their differences.

Clearly, it would be better if the outcome of the election in Florida could be agreed amicably, but with a result that would be regarded in statistics or precision engineering as a dead heat there is nothing undemocratic about wanting to be sure that more votes were actually cast for candidate X than for candidate Y.

Neither candidate should concede yet because it is genuinely unclear to the non-partisan observer who has won. The 19,000 votes double-punched for Mr Gore and the right-winger Pat Buchanan were probably rightly excluded, unless it can be shown that election officials misdirected voters. However, Mr Bush's recounted majority of 327 (out of 6.2m votes in Florida) is clearly unsafe in the light of the sample counted by hand, rather than machine, in Palm Beach. In addition, there are still an unknown number of overseas ballots yet to arrive, plus reports of unopened ballot boxes which had been lost.

The current impasse in Florida is not, therefore, a "shambles", or any of the other colourfully negative descriptions which have been applied to it. We should instead be celebrating the excitement of an unprecedentedly close vote. This is democracy in the raw. It is important that time is taken to ensure the integrity of the result.

Mr Gore has the added moral argument in holding out that he leads Mr Bush (so far) in the popular vote across the nation. But questions of the electoral system, the design of ballot forms or rickety machines are for next time. As soon as the outcome in Florida is clear, the loser should concede - and not "get snippy about it". But not before.

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