History in the making: Election impact debated

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 8, 2000

The presidency was still anybody’s guess almost 24 hours after the last ballot had been cast, but discussion on the historical, political and even psychological impact of the closest race in U.S. history was already in full swing Wednesday.

&uot;All sorts of weird things are going on,&uot; said Joseph Parker, political science professor at the University of Southern Mississippi. &uot;God only knows when we’ll have a decision.&uot;

Those weird things range from confusing ballots to misplaced ballot boxes to claims of fraudulent voting — all of which can occur in a any election, but whose impact is heightened in this close race.

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&uot;Who knows how long it will take to sort all that out,&uot; Parker said.

Whenever it is &uot;sorted out,&uot; the 2000 presidential election is likely to rank among the closest in our nation’s history based on the combination of electoral and popular vote.

The Nixon-Kennedy election in 1960 was decided by a .2 percent difference in popular vote — about the same margin reported in the Bush-Gore race — but the electoral vote was not as close.

In this year’s race, if Oregon’s electoral votes go to Gore and Florida ultimately goes to Bush, the vote could be 272 to 267 in Bush’s favor, Parker said.

&uot;It would be a squeaker in both&uot; electoral and popular vote, he said.

Other close elections include Hayes/Tilden in 1876. Hayes won 47.9 percent of the popular vote; Tilden, 51 percent.

Eleven electoral votes in three states were in question, and if Tilden had won just one of those votes, he’d have won the election, Parker said. Hayes won all 11.

&uot;The assumption has always been that it was a hanky-panky deal,&uot; Parker said.

As for what historians might say about the 2000 election 40 years from now, &uot;I ain’t got a clue,&uot; Parker said with a laugh. &uot;I suppose they’ll talk about its closeness, like the 1960 campaign is still talked about.&uot;

Jim Wiggins, a history professor at Copiah-Lincoln Community College Natchez campus, was also reminded of the 1960 nail-biter — with one difference.

&uot;What’s so dramatic at this point is here it is the next day, and we still don’t know,&uot; Wiggins said Wednesday. &uot;That certainly wasn’t true in 1960.&uot;

Still, Wiggins is reluctant to predict the historical significance of the 2000 race.

&uot;Unless the winner ends up doing something really positive or really negative,&uot; people years from now will likely not consider the outcome of such a close race, he said.

Before the advent of communication technology, election results took weeks to gather, tally and announce.

&uot;Can you imagine what it was like in horse-and-buggy days, before the telephone, even before the telegraph?&uot; Wiggins said.

&uot;We’re just spoiled by technology into thinking we have to know right now,&uot; he said.

Perhaps most interesting, several people said, is the effect this year’s presidential election might have on the election process, specifically the electoral college.

Under the electoral college system, provided for in the Constitution, a candidate who fails to get the most popular votes may still win a majority of the electoral votes, which happened in 1876 and 1888.

&uot;Up until now, how the electoral college works has been an academic topic that put most people to sleep,&uot; Wiggins said. &uot;Now (voters) are seeing that it really does matter.&uot;

Such a close race, in the popular and the electoral vote, may serve as an education to Americans about obscurities, like electoral votes, in the political system.

&uot;There are going to be a lot of people scrambling for American history and government books,&uot; Wiggins said. &uot;It’s not just going to be a paragraph in the book now.&uot;

Joe Swoveland, a psychotherapist practicing in Natchez, said an indefinite election is likely having an emotional effect on the candidates, the party workers and even voters.

&uot;From the candidates as well as the workers’ point of view, there is a buildup, a buildup, a buildup of emotion,&uot; he said.

And for voters, especially those who may have invested faith and trust in a candidate, the emotional reaction is going to be even more pronounced when the results are finally announced, he said.

Until then, &uot;There comes a point where they go back into survival mode,&uot; where they rest and take care of physical needs, Swoveland said.