Pregnant chads : LUSENET : TB2K spinoff uncensored : One Thread

Long day of bickering ends recount for now

By Joel Engelhardt and George Bennett, Palm Beach Post Staff Writers
Sunday, November 12, 2000

WEST PALM BEACH -- A manual count of 4,695 ballots in Palm Beach County Saturday introduced such terms as "pregnant chad" to the nation's political vocabulary and added to the uncertainty surrounding the presidential election.

As of 1:30 a.m. today, the county's three-member canvassing board had yet to announce a result. Its labors drew criticism from both Republicans and Democrats. And ultimately, the county will wind up with two counts: one human, one machine.

The human count would cover four precincts. The machine count -- the third of this election -- would include all 462,657 ballots cast, including the four precincts.

Both Democrats and Republicans accused the canvassing board of inconsistency in its criteria for how thoroughly a ballot had to be punched to be counted as a vote.

"The changing standards used to judge ballots, the inability of the officials in charge to explain their procedures and the secretive fashion in which decisions were made risk undermining people's confidence in the results, whatever they may be," Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said in a statement.

And Democrats, unhappy with the shift, continued to bemoan it even as the count continued. "Changing the rules halfway through is not fair to the public," Democratic attorney Ben Kuehne told the canvassing board as it worked.

The machine count was completed for all but the four precincts late Saturday. The hand-count of those four precincts was done at 11:14 p.m., but a machine count of them still had to be completed.

"The purpose of the hand-count is to determine if the machine is counting accurately," Senior Assistant County Attorney Leon St. John said.

Democrats hoped the difference in the human count would favor their candidate, Al Gore, and reveal the need to count all the ballots by hand.

Gore trailed Republican George W. Bush by 327 votes in Florida, according to unofficial results from the first machine recount of nearly 6 million ballots cast in Florida. Democrats have asked for manual recounts in four Florida counties: Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade and Volusia.

With Florida the critical state in determining who gets the White House, the national media gazed all day upon County Commissioner Carol Roberts, County Court Judge Charles Burton and Elections Supervisor Theresa LePore, as they passed ballot cards back and forth, holding and turning them to decide which candidate should get a vote.

Democrats, angered by confusion they blamed on Palm Beach County's ballot, hope the manual count will reveal imperfections that can be used in lawsuits aimed at forcing residents back to the polls.

By a 2-to-1 vote, the canvassing board agreed to track who received votes on ballots thrown out because more than one hole was punched. Burton dissented.

Democrats hoped to prove their confusion argument if most double votes were cast for Gore and Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan, whose placement on the ballot between Gore and Bush caused the confusion.

After hours of poring through questionable ballots one at a time, the prospect of counting all of them couldn't have thrilled the canvassing board.

The board endured a day that began with its own 90-minute meeting, punctuated by questions and legal opinions from vocal Democratic and Republican observers. During that meeting, it canceled a Monday meeting and decided to next meet at 4 p.m. Tuesday, after a court hearing to determine whether an injunction to hold up the results should be lifted.

Then board members waited more than two hours for a sheriff's deputy, accompanied by one Republican and one Democrat, to bring the ballots downtown from Delray Beach.

At the request of Democrats, who sought the manual count, they would scrutinize Precincts 193 and 193E in suburban Boca Raton and 162E in suburban Delray Beach. To bring the number of ballots to 1 percent of the total cast, the canvassing board added Precinct 6B, which is in Cabana Colony in an unincorporated pocket of Palm Beach Gardens.

Republicans criticized the decision to add the precinct because they said it had not been made in public.

In all, six teams of workers would study, sort and count 4,015 ballots by hand.

As the canvassing board labored, lawyers for the candidates scrutinized their every move.

Complaints from Republicans led to a shift in counting criteria. Out went the reliance on sunshine, that is the search for light shining through a hole in the ballot, the county's attorney, St. John, said at a news briefing. Instead, a ballot would be counted if one, two or three of the four-cornered "chads" were punched out, he said.

Kuehne and Republican attorney Mark Wallace scrutinized the ballots as Burton, Roberts and LePore, all Democrats, deliberated.

The observers leaned forward as the counters twisted and turned ballots. At one point, Wallace leaned so close his chin grazed the back of Burton's shoulder.

Instead of holding the computer cards up to the light to see whether the "sun" shined through tiny holes left by voters, the ballot wouldn't count unless at least one corner of the tiny cardboard "chad" had been severed, St. John said.

However, board members continued to use the light to judge whether a corner had been severed. But they refused to count indentations, also called dimples or pregnant chads in ballot lexicon. Through it all, the board tried to follow a 1990 policy it voted to adopt earlier in the day. It rejected a Democratic legal argument to count dimpled ballots.

The count began at 1:43 p.m.

Seventeen members of LePore's staff, drawn from 10 Republicans, eight Democrats and five who have no party affiliation, sat at tables facing two observers -- one a Republican, the other a Democrat. Also in the room were sheriff's deputies and Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents.

In six teams working at three tables before a phalanx of television cameras peering at them through windows, they reviewed ballot after ballot. Thirteen stacks rose in front of them. One for each of the 10 presidential candidates, one for ballots with no vote for president, another for ballots with two or more votes for president and a 13th for questionable ballots.

Initially, observers were barred from speaking. They were to raise their hand if they wished to object to a ballot, drawing the attention of a canvassing board member.

This proved unworkable.

"We can't keep stopping when you all raise your hands," an exasperated Burton said. "This will never work."

Instead, he said, observers could object. Questionable ballots went into a pile marked by a Post-it note with a question mark.

Letting observers speak breaks with county policy, LePore said.

"This is not normal procedure," she said. "My staff is used to doing it the normal way. We have abnormal circumstances."

Observers reexamined several ballots they had previously questioned, resulting in a loud series of objections.

One Republican observer testily told his Democratic counterpart: "Excuse me, just let them do their job."

The Democrat responded "I don't know what you're talking about."

A cell phone rang. "Who has a phone? Out!" Roberts demanded.

After that, the counting went along mostly in quiet.

The piles for Gore were largest, Bush second and questionable third.

After counting four precincts, the questionable ballots numbered about 500. These went to the three-member canvassing board for the pained act of ballot-by-ballot scrutiny.

There the controversy resumed.

They already had found an additional 30 votes for Gore and 19 for Bush in Precinct 193E, giving Gore an 11-vote boost in this hairpin race, state Sen. Ron Klein, a Democrat from Boca Raton, said.

But the board stopped, debated and decided to change its approach. It completed the precinct count using the new standard and then went back and redid the first ballots again before completing its first precinct at 7:38 p.m.

The board made no official announcement of its count at that time. But a reporter observing the count reported these early numbers: Gore, 315 more votes and Bush, 152.

The pregnant chad question continued to vex board members. They could clearly see a vote made, but couldn't accept it. In one exchange, LePore smiled at Burton and said, "I would say no." Kuehne objected. LePore changed her mind. Then Republican Wallace objected.

Staff writers George Bennett and John Pacenti contributed to this story.

-- (The@2000.election), November 12, 2000


Basically, the final decision was to count only politically correct chad, i.e., chad that may not allow sunlight through, but may have one of four corner threads missing. This is fondly known as the "Gore" chad by the election board of Palm Beach.

-- David (, November 12, 2000.

Looks like it's not the will of the people until the lawyers get done with it. Can anyone possibly believe that whatever they finally end up with really represents what the voters wanted? As this story makes clear, they make up the rules as they go along, they go back and reapply new rules to votes counted under old rules and get different results, and then they change the rules again. Just about any court would rule such a process arbitrary and invalid. Then, depending on who "won", we can contest which court is the "right" one. Democracy in action.

-- Flint (, November 12, 2000.


It's more like democracy in traction.

-- dinosaur (, November 12, 2000.

When counting the chads, does it make any difference if there is a clean clear punch hole for another candidate? It should be obvious that if there is a clean punch hole and a chad (a dimple, or dent in the paper that fails to penetrate the card for the ballot impaired) the chad should be ignored as an attempt by the Democrats to change the outcome by voiding the ballot. If the sunshine can not get through, this is another attempt by the Democrats to pile on the sh-t so that the light can not get through. (couldn't resist) At this rate the recount will take another month and they will be deciding that the first 153207 ballots were reviewed under the second critera, no it was the third criteria so we do not have to redo that stack and is this 137,902 ballots included in the 4th revised criteria tablulation. This is too much. At least the machine count was consistent.

-- Big Dick Dailey (Pollwatcher@integrity.cen), November 12, 2000.

...At least the machine count was consistent.

Unfortunately, it gets less consistent over time. But the problem there, IMHO, isn't so much the machines as it is the media (the card media, not the talking heads on ABCNBCCBSCNNFOX). If you've ever had the opportunity to notice, the voting cards aren't of quite as heavy stock as the standard IBM 5081 card. That's on purpose, since they have to be perforated so they can be "punched through" with just a stylus. They were never intended to be fondled as much as they're being fondled now. And if there's too much fondling, they get pregnant and give birth to chads. The system was acceptable -- and innovative -- 20 years ago, since that was basically all they had to work with. (But this isn't 20 years ago, and it might be time for some of these election supervisors to retire and get the hell out of the way...)

-- I'm Here, I'm There (I'm Everywhere@so.beware), November 13, 2000. might be time for some of these election supervisors to retire and get the hell out of the way.

I just realized that that comment might be a little harsh and unjustified. The Supervisor of Elections doesn't approve the budgets -- the Board of County Commissioners (in Florida) does. They may want to upgrade, but it would cut into the favorite project of the Chairman of the Board of Commissioners. My apologies.

-- I'm Here, I'm There (I'm Everywhere@so.beware), November 13, 2000.

In my county, north of Palm Beach, we use the "Accu-count" ballot. If you have ever taken a multiple choice test with the fill in the circle answers, you can visualise our ballot here.

With this system you take your ballot, fill in the circles that indicate your choices with a special pen in the booth, slip your ballot into a manilla envelope with the top sticking out one-half inch, walk ten feet over to the machine and feed in your ballot. If your ballot has ANY mistakes the machine tells you RIGHT THEN AND THERE, and the poll worker watching the machine will get you a new ballot. And yet those rich, smart, wealthy people in Palm Beach seem unable to get a correct count, while our much more rural county had ZERO difference in vote totals for either candidate after the first recount.

Makes you wonder how they got so rich, they can't even conduct an accurate election.

-- Uncle Deedah (, November 13, 2000.

Unk, I like that "right then and there" component. Catch any errors right at the source. Makes way too much sense to be used in most places, though. Hmmmmm... Maybe if they redesigned the ballot to look more like a Bingo card...

-- I'm Here, I'm There (I'm Everywhere@so.beware), November 13, 2000.


Perfect analogy!! I've seen some blue-haired ladies running 15-20 bingo cards at a time - WITH NO PROBLEM AT ALL!

Too funny!!!


-- Deano (, November 13, 2000.

In another knock on the intelligence of the PBC voters...

Per Paul Harvey, it was reported on Conan O'Brian last night that a great number of Palm Beach voters had written to their election officials with letters of complaint regarding the confusing ballot. Unfortunately, these letters failed to reach the officials because most of the envelopes had been incorrectly addressed...[pause] "to their cats".

(Hmmm. Not sure if this translates well in writing. Maybe ya had to hear it.)

-- CD (, November 13, 2000.

Elsewhere I've seen speculation that sometime in the next few months we'll have a Top 100 song titled, or by a band named, "Pregnant Chads".

-- No Spam Please (, November 13, 2000.

Let me see if I get this. A machine is designed to read cards that have been punched by another machine. A group of humans speculate as to the standard a punched card must meet to be readable by the mechanical card reader. The humans then apply these speculative criteria to determine how each card would have been interpreted by a functioning mechanical reader.

Under such conditions, on what basis should accuracy be expected of a manual recount.

-- David L (, November 13, 2000.

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