Point of View: Hallmarks of American democracy: Voting participation, peaceful transfer of power

Rick Christie

| Palm Beach Post

We are former justices of the Florida Supreme Court, who served on that court in 2000 when the presidential election between Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush was too close to call on election night. It took nearly six weeks and more than a dozen legal cases – in our court alone – before the result of that presidential election was determined.

We did not always agree with each other when we served on the Florida high court; indeed, we were on opposite sides of the ultimate ruling in Bush v. Gore that made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. But one thing we agreed on then, and we agree on now, is that nothing is more important than the integrity of the electoral process, the right of every eligible American citizen to cast a vote, to have that vote properly counted, and to have a peaceful transfer of power based on those election results. As we stated in our first unanimous opinion in the 2000 presidential election litigation: “The right to vote is the right to participate; it is also the right to speak, but more importantly the right to be heard.”

During that surreal time in 2000 where the eyes of the country and world were upon us, we wrestled with many difficult legal questions. But not once did either of us, or to our knowledge any of our colleagues, have even the first thought that a peaceful transfer of presidential power was in question. When the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the recount to halt, election officials throughout Florida complied. So did our court, which along with Florida’s citizens accepted the result of the election. Although there was of course partisan rancor and peaceful protests, Gore conceded the election the very next day, and there was a peaceful transfer of power from the Bill Clinton administration to the country’s newly elected leaders.

The peaceful transfer of power has occurred every time a president has lost an election in our country, dating back to when John Adams lost the election of 1800 to his bitter rival Thomas Jefferson. Our country has held successful elections and undergone peaceful transfers of power during world wars and the great depression. Until now, this is a sentiment that has been shared, throughout history, by all of America’s leaders, regardless of political party, background, or ideology. President Donald Trump threatens this unblemished American tradition, refusing

to agree to a peaceful transfer of power as he continues to cast doubt on the validity of the upcoming election.

The president’s claims, along with similar doomsday scenarios involving the Electoral College, are seemingly designed to make people believe that the system is “rigged.” Nothing could be farther from our knowledge and experience. There was no evidence of fraud in the Florida election in 2000. In fact, to our knowledge there has been no evidence of fraud in presidential elections in Florida before or after 2000. What we do know is elections depend on leaders acting in good faith and striving to build rather than destroy confidence in the election. We are concerned that unsupported allegations by President Trump could undermine our citizens’ confidence in the election.

There’s a clear and simple antidote to these efforts to delegitimize the election results: vote. Voting remains the most important tool we all have to make our voices heard, to uphold our democracy, and to ensure that the election result reflects the will of the people.

We also call upon our election officials to count the vote and our courts to resolve any contests within a very short period after Election Day. As we know from our experience in 2000, this can and must be done within a short period of time. Prompt but focused action is necessary so that there will be confidence in the election results. And once that election outcome is known, if a transfer of power is the end result, then that transfer must – above all else – be peaceful.

Make no mistake: Your vote can be cast safely this year without voting in person. As in years past, voting by mail is safe and secure. Even the president, who has criticized mail ballots in general, has stated about Florida: “Whether you call it Vote by Mail or Absentee Voting, in Florida the election system is Safe and Secure, Tried and True.”

Whether you choose to vote-by-mail, vote early in-person, or vote on Election Day (Nov. 3), the most important thing is to make sure you vote. Our democracy depends on all of us to do our part to participate and make our voices heard through voting. Your vote counts and we count on you!

BARBARA J. PARIENTE AND CHARLES T. WELLS, WEST PALM BEACH

Editor’s note: Wells served on the Supreme Court of Florida from 1994 to his mandatory retirement in 2009. He served as Chief Justice from 2000-2002 and was Chief Justice at the time of the 2000 presidential election.

Pariente served on the Supreme Court of Florida from 1998 until her mandatory retirement in 2009. She was only the second woman appointed to the Court and served as Chief Justice from 2004-2006.

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