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Letter Box


Letters from alumni about the 2000 presidential election

June 4, 2001

Princeton may have poorly prepared some of us for the 2000 election. In the May 16 PAW, a classmate of mine (Nicholas Clifford ’82) extols his and other Nader voters’ "right to vote for a candidate to our liking" and asks, "Are we less worthy of democracy than other voters?" Undergraduates of my era were spoiled in university elections by a system that allowed voters to rank candidates in order of preference. "Single transferable vote," I think it was called. Alumni Trustee ballots also use preference ranking. Current proposals for U.S. election reform speak of "instant runoff voting," but for now each American can only vote for one presidential candidate at a time.

Foreign democracies are often led by coalition governments formed when no party wins a majority of seats in parliament. Although the U.S. has no formal structural equivalent of the parliamentary system, modern media offer a functional analog to seats in parliament: percentage points in the polls. To form a "coalition government" in the U.S., you must use your percentage points before an election. Because no party’s candidate had a majority in the polls last year, Ralph Nader ’55 could have used his pivotal standing in the polls to negotiate policy or appointment commitments from either major party (if he really found them as similar as Tweedledum and Tweedledee). In return, as a strong party leader, he probably could have delivered a truly decisive margin of victory to Bush or Gore.

Before the election, I shared some of these thoughts with someone in the Nader camp. Later, as the election approached, I asked what was on the table in negotiations with the Gore camp. The answer: there was no table and there would be no table; they did not trust Al Gore.

Recently I learned from The Nation that Nader preferred a Bush win to a Gore win, because a Bush win would shake up the Democrats and drive the major parties apart. Yet Miguel Chavez, a Green city council member in Santa Fe, voted for Gore after the polls said New Mexico was a swing state. He told the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Amicus Journal, "I didn’t vote for Nader myself – though I would have if we had a voting system that honors preference." The off-campus world is more harsh and less just than the Princeton community.

David Holtzman ’82
Los Angeles, Calif.

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April 12, 2001

Regarding the Florida election fiasco and the accompanying political rhetoric, the facts indicate that the presidential election resulted in a tie, in that the margin-of-victory was well within the margin-of-error. This means that, regardless of which candidate was declared winner, 50% of the voters were disenfranchised. It seems to me that the only equitable solution would have been to exclude the Florida State electoral vot (or to split it in two, rendering the same result). Unfortunately the Constitution does not provide for such a solution.

Charles Canfield Brown '53
Jersey City, N.J.

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