Meanwhile, Down the Ballot . . .
Americans are divided about the issues, too. Many years ago William F. Buckley quipped that he would rather be governed by the first 2,000 people in the Boston phone book than by the Harvard faculty. This insight came to mind Sunday as I read Harvard law professor Laurence H. Tribe's op-ed in the Sunday New York Times, in which he offered a solution to the disputed vote count in Florida. Mr. Tribe, who is representing Al Gore's campaign in some of the litigation now under way in the Sunshine State, proposes a "corrective election." It would be limited to people who voted on Election Day and who signed sworn affidavits that they would vote for "whichever candidate they had intended to vote for on Election Day" (emphasis mine).
If that is not vague and potentially corrupting enough for you, Mr. Tribe goes on to say that since some voters might swear one way and vote another, "counting rules" should be adopted " to correct no more than the precise violation" that had "misled some Gore voters into voting for Pat Buchanan." These rules would, Professor Tribe says, award George W. Bush and Ralph Nader "the same number of votes each of them won the first time around. New vote totals could become possible only for Mr. Gore and Mr. Buchanan."
On that, I rest my case for the wisdom of Mr. Buckley's truth. It is hard to imagine a more malicious proposal for undermining the democratic process or Americans' faith in the electoral process. For when it is perceived that people's votes mean nothing, that it's all up to result-oriented, postelection rules devised by lawyers at Harvard, our two centuries of success with a constitutional republic will be finished. Meanwhile, further down the ballot and far away from Florida, other important political decisions were being made on Election Day.
The 50 state legislatures saw a slight shift to Republicans, deadlocking party control at the state level much as it turned out in the presidential, Senate, and House races. Before the elections, Democrats controlled 19 state legislatures to 17 for Republicans and 13 were divided (Nebraska's unicameral legislature is nonpartisan). After the election it is 17 for the GOP, 16 for the Democrats and 13 divided, with votes still being counted in Washington state. Democrats picked up one governorship (West Virginia's), so the large Republican majority barely changed.
State ballot initiatives also gave us a divided result. Conservative principles triumphed when public financing of elections lost in Missouri and Oregon, the right to assisted suicide in was defeated in Maine, and suburban growth limitations lost in Arizona and Colorado. Arizona joined California in ending bilingual education. Tax referendums abolished death levies Montana in South Dakota, cut income taxes in Massachusetts and limited property taxes in Washington state.
In Oregon a measure limiting state legislative appropriations to 15% of personal income lost, but one mandating the return of any annual revenue surpluses to the taxpayers won. Raising the cap on the deductibility of federal taxes on state tax returns won; removing it entirely lost.
Voters in many states wrestled with the question of what to do about America's dismal education system. They elected education commissioners, considered bond issues, teacher pay for performance plans and vouchers.
Voucher proposals are the most furiously fought policy battles in politics today. Mr. Gore pledged in the campaign "I will never support private school vouchers," so if he wins there will likely be a federal effort to shut down programs like Florida's A+, which awards vouchers to children in failing schools. Mr. Bush, on the other hand, has a national plan much like the Florida one, to allow low-income kids in failed schools to use federal funds to pay the tuition at a school of their choice.
In California and Michigan, voucher ballot initiatives went down in flames. The California plan was a $4,000 vouchers-for-all-children plan, far too ambitious for an electorate uneasy about making sweeping education policy changes at the polls. The Michigan plan would have granted $3,300 scholarships to students in school districts where less than two-thirds of the students graduate. The education establishment and the ACLU (didn't they used to be for individual rights?) fought it and won.
That's unfortunate, since voucher plans seem to be having a positive impact on low income minority kids consigned to urban America's worst schools. A meticulously designed study released last summer found that reading and math scores of African American students using vouchers in private schools in three cities--New York, Washington and Dayton, Ohio--rose an average of six percentile points (nine in Washington) compared with their public-school demographic counterparts.
Privately funded low-income student voucher programs are significantly improving kids' educations. They are overwhelmingly popular too. In 1999, when the privately funded Children's Scholarship Fund awarded 40,000 scholarships to low-income children across the country, the fund received 1.25 million applications, even though parents had to pay $1,000 a year in tuition. The applicants included 29% of the eligible applicants in New York and 33% in Washington.
A sensible pay-for-performance initiative in Oregon that would have allowed public school teachers to be paid more if their children learned more was defeated by resolute teacher's union opposition. Recall that at their convention this past summer, NEA delegates, Leninists to the last, passed a policy resolution opposing "performance pay . . . or any other system of compensation based upon an evaluation of an education employee's performance."
Likewise a Washington state initiative to expand the other successful school reform effort in America--charter schools--also failed. Charter schools, independently run within the public-school system, are producing extraordinarily good results across the country. Some 2,000 of them are now in operation; their students' test scores are higher, their atmosphere better, parental confidence in them stronger than at bureaucratically bound public schools. The Edison Project's 37,000 largely minority students in 79 charter schools are showing test-score improvements of several percentage points. Better still, they (like the A+ voucher program in Florida) are causing public schools to improve themselves.
So what did the election tell us? That while Americans are deeply divided on the issues, the American system of representative democracy effectively decides who will represent us, make policy choices for us, and provides guidance on what we wish those policies to be. For 200 years it has been succeeding, and if we continue to permit people with common sense--as opposed to experts at Harvard--to make the decisions, the republic will prosper for 200 more.
Mr. du Pont, a former governor of Delaware, is policy chairman of the Dallas-based National Center for Policy Analysis. His column appears Wednesdays.