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US Elections: The Only Game In Town

It's the only game in town. The Stanford-Cal college football Battle for the Axe, of course. It's early Saturday afternoon here in sunny Berkeley and the streets are running red with Stanford supporters - even the florist shops have corsages in either yellow and blue for Cal supporters or red and white for the folks from the South Bay. If they win it again, this will be Stanford's sixth win in a row, so the Cal Bears are hopeful that the odds, at least, this time are on their side.

Over on the the other coast in Tallahassee, Florida, entrepreneurial college students are offering frat house rooms at premium rates to all the media folks still stuck there as the vote recount goes from one side to the other of Blind Justice's scales. The media have been turfed out of hotels so guests with long-held bookings for the big game weekend can move in. And, seizing the moment, creative reporters on the telly are using football analogies to illustrate just how far from each side's goal line the play is currently at.

If Blind Justice's toolkit seems more like a gyroscope than a set of scales to those outside America, it's surprising just how fascinated by and informed the American public is about these events. The local librarian said that practically every book about US Government has been checked out: "It's great. It's getting people to read and maybe more people will vote." He thinks it's likely the federal government will vote an appropriation for all the states to use to update their election systems in the wake of swinging chad syndrome.

A workmate confessed she couldn't wait to get home each evening to switch between CNN and Court TV to keep up with developments. For a nation that went crazy over summer for the 'pick a victim' show "Survivor", the idea of the last two contestants on a desert island having to eat craw and wear hair shirts while they await the arrival of a carrier tortoise with news of who's been voted off is pure entertainment. There's also a real sense of pride that democracy will decide this - the alternatives to democracy being variously presented as dictatorship, as in neighboring Cuba, or bloody insurrection as in some other countries where the US has had to intervene.

But there's also the lingering thought that a good old-fashioned duel would settle this just as fairly. A round of fisticuffs in Las Vegas perhaps? They could draw straws instead of clutching at them. Perhaps a game show format could provide a winner - "Washington Squares" maybe, or "Who Wants to be a Commander in Chief?". As a UC Berkeley law professor said at a recent standing-room-only seminar on these events, maybe not even one in 100,000 legal minds in this country understands what is going on here.

Being neither a legal mind nor well-informed I'm free to worry about things that don't even make it to the media. What, I wonder, will happen when the Florida State legislature convenes for its organisation session on November 21? After all, there is a section of the US Code entitled "Determination of controversy as to appointment of electors" that says any state has up until six days before the date fixed for the appointment of all or any of the electors to enact laws providing for its final determination of any controversy or contest concerning the appointment of said electors. Does this mean that before 12 December things could change yet again irrespective of anything the various courts of law determine in the meantime?

Well, I'm blowed if I'm ever gonna find out from the web pages of the Florida legislature because the journals are in PDF format only and I've got a steam-powered Mac with a cocktail straw modem on loan to me and no room to squeeze in the necessary software to read PDF files. There ought to be a law against making information vital to the proper exercise of democracy inaccessible to the people.

Actually I think there is. It's called the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Title II deals with making the programmes, services and activities of State and local government accessible. Visually impaired people and others who rely on software that translates text into the spoken word are essentially denied access to the worldwide web if pages are stored only as PDF files because the software is unable to read them. So even Blind Justice, it would seem, remains in the dark as to what the intentions of Florida's legislature is over the next couple of weeks. And I'll be darned if it isn't that little old Secretary of State's fault since she's the one charged with keeping the records.

In the meantime, there's Thanksgiving. On Wednesday people will be rushing off for the long weekend - Thursday through Sunday - to sit at tables laden with turkey and ham, surrounded by loved and not-so-loved ones on Thursday giving thanks for having survived another year. But please, dear Lord, don't give us another presidential election for another 4 years.

Lea Barker
Saturday 18 November PT

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