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Robert Novak: Setting the electoral record straight

By Robert D. Novak/CNN

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- There has been so much nonsense dispensed during the past 24 hours, that it might be well to set the record straight on a few points:

-- The Electoral College is not a hateful anachronism that stifles democracy. Rather, it protects the Republic and its citizens from a disputed nationwide popular vote that in a close election -- such as this one -- could lead to chaos. The institution also confirms that this a republic, not a pure democracy, and protects the federal nature of our government.

-- The presidential electors are not free agents who pick and choose their presidential candidates. Rather, they are party loyalists who can be depended on to automatically vote for the candidate of their party. A Republican elector in the state of Florida (or anywhere else) is elected only if George W. Bush carries the state and he is then expected to vote for Bush in the electoral college. The elector's name does not even appear on the ballot in nearly all states.

-- The current process taking place in Florida is merely a recount, required by state law because the election is so close. There have been no allegations of fraud, and the recount mechanism has nothing to do with fraud. Even the peculiar complaint that old people in Palm Beach could not understand the ballot does not fall under the recount mechanism. It would require a complaint in court, which would have little or no chance of making progress.

-- The chances that George W. Bush's 1,800-vote margin in Florida will be significantly changed by this recount are just about zero. Recounts seldom ever change things in Florida, or anywhere else.

All this leads to one unmistakable destination: Bush will be elected as the 43rd president of the United States when the Florida recount is finished. The talk by overheated Democrats -- including some aides to Vice President Al Gore -- of somehow turning the outcome around is not realistic and not helpful.

Such talk also obscures a careful look at the reality of what happened Tuesday: a virtual dead heat. Gore could not attract Republican voters. Bush did about as poorly in winning over Democratic voters. The independent vote was split. Thus, Tuesday's vote reflected the real decision in today's American political and ideological opinion.

The question is how far the Gore campaign will go toward challenging the fairness of the campaign -- stringing out the unveiling of a president-elect. If the Gore campaign challenges the recount when it is completed Thursday, then the tension really will be high.

One more point to keep in mind: An unspecified number of overseas ballots -- it was more than 2,000 four years ago -- will be arriving in Florida over the next days. Most predictably will be cast for Bush, following the pattern of overseas ballots in Florida.

It's almost surely over, unless Al Gore wants to keep it going.

Syndicated columnist Robert Novak is co-host of CNN's "Evans Novak, Hunt & Shields," as well as "Crossfire."

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