The Sunday before the 2000 presidential election, Jeffrey Toobin ran the New York City Marathon.
Days later, he was off to cover the famous recount in the race between George W. Bush and Al Gore.
“I go to Florida, and I was still hobbling around,” Toobin said, alluding to his own race – on foot. “My memory of the recount was that it went on for so long that by the end of it in Tallahassee, I was running again and I was fine.”
Toobin, a senior analyst for CNN and a writer for the New Yorker magazine, told those gathered at the Wichita Bar Association’s Law Day on Friday that the 36-day recount and the O.J. Simpson trial were two highlights of his career.
“The real turning point of the modern history of voting rights is the election of 2000 and the fight in Florida,” said Toobin, author of “Too Close to Call: The Thirty-Six-Day Battle to Decide the 2000 Election.”
Toobin said “the recount still sort of obsesses me,” noting it was “the most single interesting story I’ve ever covered.”
He joked that he’s currently obsessed with the Constitution – of the NBA.
Toobin spoke mostly about the history of voting rights, giving a cursory history lesson on the U.S. Constitution. He noted that the Constitution made no reference to a right to vote until the 15th Amendment was ratified in 1870.
“The 15th Amendment is really the story about the limitations of what you put in a Constitution,” he said.
The 15th Amendment says people cannot be denied the right to vote based on race, color or previous condition of servitude, but nothing changed after it was passed, he said. Blacks still were pushed away from the voting booth.
Now the controversy is about voter ID, Toobin said. He noted that Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach “has been particularly aggressive in establishing voter security requirements.”
Some people think voter ID laws are a cure in search of a disease, believing, he said, that voter fraud is not a real problem and that the laws are an attempt to suppress voter turnout.
“That’s a question that will not be resolved here, but it is certainly a very big one in American politics and in Kansas,” he said. “Virtually all of the action is going to be at the state level. The federal government cannot control and the courts cannot control the rules in every state. The states are going to decide how easy, or how hard, it is to vote.”
The lawyer and journalist began his presentation by noting that he had been in Lawrence recently.
“I’m basically an honorary Jayhawk now,” he said, drawing some applause from University of Kansas fans. He joked that the Kansas State University fans in the audience were silent.
Ted Ayres, general counsel at Wichita State University, later took the microphone set up for audience questions and told Toobin he was welcome to become an honorary Shocker, too.