By Ed Reiter
It’s hard to believe, but nearly a decade has passed since the historic presidential election of 2000, whose outcome was in doubt for more than a month before Florida’s electoral votes finally tipped the balance to George W. Bush.
Few Americans who lived through that political tug-of-war would welcome a similar period of national suspense – so it might be prudent to start making plans for resolving such a crisis if it should arise in the future.
One potential solution involves the use of coinage. And, ironically, the man who suggested it – seemingly with a straight face – was the guy who helped create the 2000 crisis in the first place: consumer advocate Ralph Nader, who played the role of spoiler in that election.
Amid all the uncertainty following the election, Nader proposed a simple way to break the stubborn stalemate between Bush and Vice President Al Gore: Just flip a coin to determine the winner.
“It sounds kind of arbitrary, but I’m not joking,” Nader told The Denver Post. “There’s really no other way to end this. At this point, no one’s ever going to know who really won Florida.”
It’s generally agreed that Gore would have carried Florida comfortably, avoiding all the unpleasantness, if Nader – running as the candidate of the Green Party – hadn’t siphoned off the votes of many Floridians who otherwise would have voted for the Democrat.
As he pondered the electoral mess, Nader suggested the fairest solution would be to have a team of nonpartisan volunteers recount the votes in all the Florida counties. But, he said, that would be impractical timewise and also wouldn’t dissipate the partisan post-election rancor.
“It’s razor-close, and the margin of error is bigger than the margin between them,” he said. “Whoever wins is going to have half the nation against them. It’s going to leave a bad taste in the American people’s mouths.”
Given all this, Nader said, the easiest approach would be to toss a coin. This, he said, could be done in a ceremony telecast around the world, and the two political parties could sell time for commercials to help raise money for the next presidential campaign.
“It’ll give both parties a four-year breather to show America what it’s like to have presidential candidates not indentured to corporate contributors,” Nader said.
It seems highly improbable that Nader’s “simple” solution will ever be adopted – and almost as unlikely that any future election will be close enough to make such a solution remotely conceivable.
On the other hand, there’s precedent for deciding an election by a coin toss. It happened just two years earlier, in 1998, in Ferndale, Wash., after two City Council candidates finished in a flat-out tie, even after a recount. State law in Washington called – believe it or not – for resolving such situations by flipping a coin.
News reports at the time described the coin that was flipped as a 1921 silver dollar. But that, in turn, raised yet another question, at least for hobbyists: Was it a Morgan dollar or a Peace dollar? Both kinds, after all, were minted in 1921.
Determining the winner of a presidential election through a similar procedure would bring up some fascinating issues.
Would a special coin (or a special medal) be struck for the occasion? If so, what would be its design – one candidate’s portrait on the obverse and the other’s on the reverse? (Or would it essentially be a two-headed coin, in the interest of being completely even-handed – and even-headed?)
If an existing coin were used, what would it be? An 1804 silver dollar would underscore the importance of the occasion and symbolize the high stakes involved. A 1913 Liberty Head nickel, having been struck surreptitiously, would be the perfect coin for “stealing” an election. Or perhaps the U.S. Mint might recommend a Sacagawea dollar, looking upon this as a “golden” opportunity to publicize the coin and give many Americans their very first look at it.
Another approach would be to create a new statehood quarter. It would, of course, be issued to mark the state of confusion.
No matter what was used, the coin would become an instant rarity, worth a small fortune because of its key role in such a momentous event.
This is a flip way of treating a solemn subject, I suppose. Then again, what better way to settle a tossup election – than with a real tossup.