How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Chad

My big adventure inside the counting room

I really studied those questionable ballots. John held them up in the light for as long as I wanted. Although it has been widely ridiculed by Republican pundits, looking at the ballots in the light is essential to the process.

There were lots of pregnant chads. It was like a Lamaze class in there. Such ballots actually look like dimples in the front and pimples when viewed from the back. I prefer the term pimpled, since most of the time you can't even see them from the front. And some were John Belushi pimples: big, fat, and ready to pop. Others were of the hard-and-painful variety -- barely there but there nonetheless. I challenged all of them. On a good dozen occasions, for instance, Tim and Crenshaw would call a ballot an undervote and pass it down. John would hold it up, and I'd see a fat indentation for Gore. I'd look over at Crenshaw and he would smile, knowing it was a good challenge and waiting for it.

When I challenged a pimple, Crenshaw, always good-natured, would reinspect it and say something like, "Well, there's six months pregnant, and then there's three days pregnant." Once he looked at me and said in mock consternation: "That's just a French kiss." Another time he uttered, "Why, she's just a couple days late."

In case you couldn't tell, we were having some fun. For instance John decided it was okay for us to cross party lines when it came to checking out women. One sweater-wearing GOP floor leader in particular stole our attention away from the weighty business at hand.

My partner also liked to joke about the severe attitude of some of the Bushites. "I don't know why, but Republicans tend to be very anal," he observed. "These people need to lighten up."

A good example of that was a twentysomething Republican woman in a foursome next to us. When a chad fell off a ballot onto the table, for instance, she pulled out her little plastic Baggie, which I suspect came with the Republican recount kit, and said, "I'll take that." Evidence.

But it wasn't all fun and games. I inadvertently put my elbow on the table at one point, earning a scolding from one of the supervising election workers ("I didn't know an elbow could knock out a chad," John remarked). Sometimes things got surreal, as when CNN was on the huge TV, and I watched live coverage of the room while I was inside it. "Should the manual recounts count?" flashed a headline on the screen. The Florida Supreme Court was meeting that very day to decide whether we were wasting our time.

Our group inspected roughly 1000 of the 2400 ballots in about six hours. When we left for a half-hour lunch break, armed deputies stood guard over our ballots. When we were finished inspecting, it seemed that the GOP's hysterical fears might come true: Gore was making out like a bandit. I had seen 43 uncounted Gore votes (22 hangers, 21 pimples) versus just 6 for Bush, a gain of 37 for Gore. Subtracting a portion of pimpled ballots that I believe were too slight to count as Gore votes, I estimate Gore had a net gain of about 30. I have to say, though, that any sizable pimple should have been counted as a vote. Sure, maybe a few people started punching for Gore or Bush and then pulled away, but hundreds? Alas, it wasn't my call. The fate of those ballots would be decided by Broward's three-member canvassing board.

When the inspecting concluded, John began counting, which itself was a process. The Gore and Bush votes, for instance, had to be broken up into groups of 25 ballots each; the three of us not counting had to watch John carefully to make sure he didn't goof. Once he reached 25, he squared them and held them up to the light for both me and Tim. If we saw the light shining through the three hole, it was a good stack. We caught and corrected two mistakes: one a hanging chad in the undisputed Gore pile, the other a Bush vote in a Gore stack.

While we counted, the foursome next to us with the Baggie-carrying Republican was doing the same. In that group a county bus driver, whom I heard say she also was a great-grandmother, was doing the counting. She tallied very slowly, with about three beats to each ballot. John counted like a bank teller and still took an hour to finish. They were going to be there forever.

"Uh, guys," said the young Republican with a slight Southern drawl, "after she counts 25, can we count them one more time? I'd be more comfortable. We only get one shot at this, y'all."

The three others in her foursome collectively groaned. Was this a Republican ploy to obstruct the process? I don't think so, but it was annoying. Lucky for great-grandma, an election worker came over and said two counts weren't allowed.

Of course not: This process was governed by common sense. It was a great system, wonderfully checked and balanced. There was no room for mischief. Even if Liddy did show up as a Democrat or if an old-school Daley crony pretended to be a Republican, he or she would have been discovered and kicked out. When it was over, I turned in my tally to the Democrats and left feeling as though I'd done something important. Broward did the job right -- unlike a couple of other South Florida counties, which shall remain nameless. But I can't help but feel a little ashamed that we still use a voting system that should have gone out with eight-track tapes. I also know in my gut that a manual recount of the entire state would be the only way to determine the legitimate winner. That won't happen, which means we can all look forward to a bastard President, no matter which side's lawyers prevail.

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