The Morning After the Night Before

Three scenes from a botched election

Uneasy race relations, he says, contributed to the tension during the months Miami hosted Elian, the "child of God." In Suarez's view blacks blame Cubans for taking their jobs and passing them by in the socioeconomic hierarchy. Many Anglos also are uncomfortable with the political power Cubans enjoy today. Regardless of that, he adds, Anglos certainly didn't understand the Cuban perspective on Elian, and their media coverage reflected that.

Short and stocky, his blue eyes sharp and quick behind wire-frame glasses, Suarez then digs out a well-worn voter-registration card from his wallet. He points to the initials that indicate he is a registered Democrat. "Since 1969 I was an American citizen and a Democrat," he notes. "After Elian I voted for all the Republicans down the list."

At Miami-Dade County Hall they were prepared for 
chaos, but the day proceeded with an eerie calm
Steve Satterwhite
At Miami-Dade County Hall they were prepared for chaos, but the day proceeded with an eerie calm
Palm Beach residents wasted no time getting their 
messages and mugs before the cameras
Irene Secada
Palm Beach residents wasted no time getting their messages and mugs before the cameras


Live television has an inverse effect. The real-time world seems oddly slow by comparison. So here, as everywhere, it's later than you think. Tomorrow is Japan's today, and Adam Yamaguchi's viewers are waiting to watch Florida tow the nation to a Republican-led future.

"I don't even need to be here," he mutters. In a way he's right. Yamaguchi, who is 21 years old and lives in Los Angeles, flew to South Florida just to film the site of the Broward County ballot recount, a warehouse on SW Second Street near a yoga studio, around the corner from bail bondsmen and a 24-hour pizza joint. He works for Asahi, a television network that covers American news for the Japanese, and admits he could have trained a camera on an office park in the San Fernando Valley. Viewers wouldn't have been able to tell the difference. "In Japan, you know, they're not looking at specifics. They just want to know that they're still counting."

And they want to see that other networks' cameras are rolling, too: "It's not going to make a difference, but I just want to have them in the background."

In Yamaguchi's background a stream of camera people, blue-blazered network reporters, and sheriff's deputies in forest-green polyester wander in and out as receptionist Joan Sykes blithely licks the last drop of Dole fruit-cup syrup from a plastic spoon. "This is just a flukey thing," Sykes says, tossing the spoon and cup into a trash can under her desk and launching into a rambling tale of the real election story the stations never tell. Sykes's scoop, a description of how the warehouse works, is about as scintillating as a segment on a bread factory. But she insists it's compelling. Besides, it's an exclusive. "I picked you," she brightly tells a reporter, "because you kinda look like my daughter."

Camera crews from NBC affiliates, ABC affiliates, and CNN crowd the place. Most media people look bored. They don't speak much to one another, perhaps because they always seem to be talking into cell phones, sometimes two at once. A middle-age member of the Bush contingent is gabbing away: "There were shenanigans to the north of us and to the south of us, but I think we're okay here."

If the liberal press is worried about a Republican administration, no one shows it. Even though he's indoors, a CNN reporter keeps putting on and taking off the wraparound sunglasses that hang from his neck on a cord. Folding tables are littered with take-out food along with liter upon liter of broadcasters' ubiquitous elixir, Evian. A female TV producer offers up the remaining half of a gargantuan sandwich. There is no taker.

The detritus of democracy is all around: a precinct sign with masking tape stuffed in a yellow garbage can, postal boxes stacked with affidavits. A female deputy stands impassive at the door to the glassed-in room where ballots are being recounted. Her arms fold across her chest like those of the doorman at an exclusive nightclub.

Across the room 41-year-old temporary Broward County employee Tony Davis slumps in a metal folding chair. "No, I didn't vote," he says, not looking up. "Just not much of a voter." Scanning the day's newspapers, he admits in hindsight he wishes he had cast a ballot. "You kinda feel like, one vote, what's it gonna matter? I guess if everyone thought that way...." Davis will return to his usual maintenance job when he's done here. He dislikes George W. Bush: "He brought back the death penalty in Texas. We'd be into capital punishment." His co-workers agree. Few of them voted.

Yamaguchi didn't vote either. He had to leave California and didn't remember to get an absentee ballot in time. "I kinda got screwed," he says, consoling himself with the fact that Gore won his home state anyway. As the evening wears on, he grows repentant and then angry. "I'm a total Gore supporter. I hate Bush. Whatever hell and havoc he wreaks on this country, it's our fault."

Just before 6:00 p.m. Broward supervisor of elections Jane Carroll appears, and Yamaguchi hurries over to join the reporting horde. In the bright white lights of the cameras, Carroll's face looks pale and glowing, a full moon. Her lips are painted a patriotic crimson that appears inexplicably Republican. She reports the results of the recount, and nothing has changed, really. A young Bush supporter in white shirt and tie holds up a small disposable camera to snap a picture of the media taking pictures of Carroll. "For posterity," he drawls.

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