Presidency Hinges on Tiny Bits of Paper
Punch-card ballots, from a technology originally developed for the 1890 census, were used by 34.3 percent of the registered U.S. voters in the 2000 general election. (Charles Bennett/AP Photo)
Much Ado About Counting
That manual recount is set to begin Monday, but the chad controversy reared its head on Saturday as the county canvassing board tallied votes from four sample Palm Beach County precincts.
Florida election statutes state that, in a recount, the canvassing boars should try to discern the intent of the voter, when considering questionable ballots but it does not specify how.
The question is, what do you do? Does the chad have to be punched all the way out? Do you look at a dimple is that enough? Leon St. John, a Palm Beach County attorney explained Saturday. Its within the discretion of the canvassing board.
In 1990, the Palm Beach County canvassing board adopted a procedure stating that a fully attached chad, bearing only an indentation, should not be counted as a vote, while a partially punched chad should be counted.
So, in the morning, it was decided that a ballot would be counted as a valid vote if at least one corner of a chad had been punched. But midway through the painstaking process, the canvassing board decided to go with the light test. Officials then began holding questionable ballots up to the light in order to determine their validity.
Apparently, the test they were applying was if you could see light, explained St. John.
If light shined through, it was counted as a vote; if there was no light, it wasnt counted. It seemed a simple enough standard, but the problem with the light test is that a ballot with a chad that has only one corner detached may not allow any light through, even though, by the original standard, it should be counted as a vote.
They decided to not go with the light test, but to go with the test thats reflected on the procedures where, if one of the four corners of the chad is detached, then that will be a vote, explained St. John.
But what about the hundreds of ballots that were already subjected to the light test?
They are going to go back and go through the stack of the questioned ballots from the first batch, St. John said last night.
And so they did. And at around 2 a.m. ET, the new tallies for the four precincts were announced, adding 14 votes to George W. Bushs original total and 33 to Al Gores. That discrepancy prompted the canvassing board to vote 2 to 1 in favor of ordering a recount for the full county.
Win lose or draw, joked former Sen. Alan Simpson, a Bush supporter, the people of America sure as hell better wonder about the sunlight test and how many dangled and how many hung and how may got pimpled or how many were pregnant and gave birth.
Palm Beach Recount Guidelines
The Gore camp has also demanded hand recounts in three other heavily
Democratic Florida counties. The recount in Volusia County got underway this
morning; Broward County officials will begin a manual recount of ballots from
three sample precincts on Monday; and Miami-Dade County officials are set to
meet Tuesday to discuss the matter. All three counties use the punch-card
But the Bush campaign has gone to federal court to seek an injunction that would block any additional hand recounts. Former Secretary of State James Baker who is overseeing the Florida recount on behalf of the Bush camp says a manual recounts can make for an even more innacurate tally.
How do you divine the intent of the voter on that voting card with those little punch holes? he said today on NBCs Meet the Press. Youre divining the intent of the voter with respect to whether it has two chads hanging down or whether its punched or whether it has an indentation? I mean, thats crazy.
Warren Christopher, also a former secretary of state, is overseeing the process for Vice President Gore.
These are local election officials chosen by the people in their counties theyre doing the very best they can, he said, referring to the Palm Beach County election officials. I think its not very useful to parody what theyre trying to do.
Machine recounts in 66 of Floridas 67 counties showed Bush with a 961 vote lead statewide, according to the secretary of state. An unofficial survey of all 67 counties by the Voter News Service showed the Republican candidate with a 327 vote edge. The Gore campaign hopes there are enough ballots with unattached or hanging chads next to Gores name to give him the lead in Florida and with it, the presidency.
Here is a diagram showing how the different kinds of chad look: