Maybe duty, honor and country matter after all. Not to mention taxes.
While the fierce combat over recounting votes in Florida continues, up to 7,600 ballots may still be in the mail from overseas voters, according to a St. Petersburg Times survey of Florida's 67 county election office, which the paper published Monday. And because those votes are expected to come heavily from members of the military service abroad, who often declare residency in Florida because it doesn't have an income tax, those votes are expected to break heavily for George W. Bush.
Of the 12,590 domestic and overseas absentee ballots already counted, Mr. Bush beat Al Gore by 59% to 37% in the 57 counties that kept track of that statistic. Requests for absentee ballots by Republicans outnumbered requests by Democrats by 3,834 to 2,531 in the 25 counties that keep tabs on that.
There are some large unknowns, of course. Some Democrats maintain that the early returns have already accounted for most of the servicemen abroad. All military ballots from abroad go to the Miami post office, from where they are forwarded to county election offices across the nation. And the ballots seem to be trickling in by the dozens and hundreds, not the thousands. In addition, Democrats were counting on a large turnout by Floridians living in Israel, 80% of whom have voted Democratic in past campaigns.
But in the 1996 election, 2,300 overseas ballots arrived in the 10 days after Election Day. Of those, 54% favored Bob Dole, who nonetheless lost Florida. And the St. Petersburg Times says its analysis indicates that overseas returns in heavily Jewish counties don't appear to be substantial.
In addition, there is reason to think the military vote for Mr. Bush may be particularly large this year. "Everybody I talk to in the military is unhappy about this administration," says Elaine Donnelly, president of the conservative Center for Military Readiness in Livonia, Mich. "They have pushed the tempo of operations to the breaking point without providing the necessary men or resources. And they have tried to make a social experiment out of the military."
The American Legion this fall conducted an unscientific poll of its members and active-duty members of the armed forces. By a 9-to-1 margin, they favored Mr. Bush over Mr. Gore. Notes a spokesman pointedly: "Bush came to our convention. Gore didn't."
Military culture may be only part of the story. The Navy Times, the Navy's official newspaper, noted in an article recently that "Florida's tax laws may have put the selection of the next president of the United States into the hands of military voters." More than one in eight service members claim Florida as their legal residence--a pretty good example for the argument that taxes do make a difference to people's behavior.
Of course, given the Gore team's aggressive stance in Florida so far, it might try to dispute the overseas results as well. American Citizens Abroad, a nonprofit organization based in Geneva that describes itself as "dedicated to serving and defending the interests of individual U.S. citizens living worldwide," says it has been receiving phone calls protesting the difficulty of obtaining and filing ballots. It's estimated there are nearly four million American citizens living or traveling abroad.
The Florida recount effort thus far has proved to be a game of inches, a question of a handful of votes here and a handful of votes there. If Republicans find a way to hold off a wholesale count of ballots formerly rejected as defective, the election of the next president of the United States could well fall to the people who must consider most carefully who they would prefer to be their next commander in chief.
That would be Al Gore's worst nightmare.