The Morning After the Night Before

Three scenes from a botched election

Meanwhile his Democrat counterpart ambles about in a gold Gore 2000 shirt, jeans, and flip-flops, looking dejected and collegiate, like he's just pulled an all-nighter only to find out the exam was canceled.

Outside it's déjà vu. Through the window of a CNN satellite van, the reporter's face reappears, this time on a flickering twelve-inch monitor. Her voice is slightly delayed, but it doesn't matter. In Broward, at least, no one can hear her.

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

Palm Beach

At 2:00 p.m. on Wednesday the Palm Beach County government center is the only place that matters in American politics. Two television sets in the spacious lobby are tuned to CNN and MSNBC. Sheriff's deputies watch the media swarm with slack-jawed interest while a few protestors outside raise signs: "Recount," reads one. "Watch the absentee ballots," warns another.

Twelve television crews pace restlessly. Their cameramen tape microphones to a podium where Palm Beach County supervisor of elections Theresa LePore is slated to appear. It was she who designed the now-infamous "butterfly ballot" that has become the center of the Gore-Bush maelstrom.

Everyone here wears a uniform. TV reporters are slicked up and manicured, and their crews are dressed in scruffy T-shirts and jeans. Dozens of print reporters fall into a fashion purgatory, universally low-tech, carrying notepads and ballpoint pens; men wear loosened ties and women carry big shoulder bags. Their photographers look like refugees from a homeless shelter.

Watching the watchers is veteran political consultant Linda Hennessee, the point woman for U.S. Congressional candidate Elaine Bloom. Sitting cross-legged on a bench outside the supervisor's office, she wears gray trousers and a jacket, both wrinkled. She holds back a cough and describes LePore. "Arrogant," she mutters. "Arrogant, disorganized.... She should come out here and talk to people; that's her job. If there's a problem, she should admit it. I'm worried about her ability to be forthright."

Then the Washington Post's emissary arrives. Sue Anne Pressley, the paper's Miami bureau chief, moseys up and introduces herself to Hennessee. After asking some questions, she makes a startling admission. "So I don't usually do this," she shrugs and smiles disarmingly. "I usually do pets and children." Hennessee doesn't say much until both Pressley and a Sun-Sentinel reporter leave. Then she gets on a cell phone and tells someone she's advising Bloom to file a court challenge if the recount shows her to be within a few hundred votes of her Republican opponent, Clay Shaw. "If it's more than 1000 or something like that, we won't challenge it," Hennessee says of her candidate's second-place finish after a recount. "But this is ridiculous" -- she nods at the swarm of confused activity -- "and if it's within a few hundred, we will definitely go to court."

Later in the day a television news reporter works his way through repeated takes in front of a camera, one for a station in San Diego, another for a New York channel, and a third for Bloomberg News. He's tiny, only about five feet tall, so his producer has given him a suitcase on which to stand.

A young man clad in blue jeans powders and repowders the reporter between feeds. As soon as the camera light blinks on, the pintsize reporter greets viewers in various cities in stentorian tones. He keeps his hand in his pocket to appear casual. Just before the New York feed, he calls his coordinator, who is standing beside the cameraman. "Hey! Is it Cathleen or Christine in New York?"

After a hissed reply, he goes live. "Thanks Christine," he says with a smile, "as you can see behind me, here in Palm Beach County tonight...."

To his left two other newscasters stand in front of their crews. "How much time to the feed?" one calls. When not on camera, they rehearse like actors, practicing their lines over and over. They check and recheck their hair; they check and recheck their ties.

A few minutes later the miniature reporter gets on the phone. "We've booked all the 1:40 seats to Tallahassee," he tells someone. The person on the other end of the line asks a question. "Oh, I slept a couple hours on the plane, but no, not since Tuesday morning."

A cameraman walks by, talking with a companion. "I filed a $10,000 expense report," he says, "and they never even blinked."

Theresa LePore takes a break from the recount and heads for the TV lights. Almost 20,000 of her butterfly ballots were double-punched and discarded, she says. She'll never design such a ballot again. "Hindsight," she observes, "is 20/20."

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