'Dimpled' ballots count in Texas

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From Brooks Jackson/CNN

November 21, 2000

Web posted at: 11:00 p.m. EST (0400 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Dimpled ballots. Democrats are saying Florida ballots should be counted where punch cards merely show an indentation. Republicans say it's simply not enough.

They count them in other states -- including Republican candidate Gov. George W. Bush's state of Texas. Tony Sirvello supervises elections in Harris County -- the largest in Texas -- where punch card ballots like those in the disputed Florida counties have been in use since 1982.

"Since we introduced punch cards in Harris county in 1982, I've probably done approximately 50 recounts," say Sirvello, the county administrator of elections. "At the beginning, some of those were electronic. In the last 15 years, most of those have been manual recounts. And in most of those manual recounts, we have counted what the media is calling 'dimpled chads.'"

Just last year in Harris County, Houston voters produced a squeaky-close race for a city council seat. Mark Goldberg was the apparent winner by a mere 26 votes, prompting opponent Maryann Young to demand a hand recount.

Texas law specifically allows for counting dimpled ballots if "an indentation on the chad ... is present and indicates a clearly ascertainable intent of the voter to vote."

The Houston hand count found 97 more votes for Young that the machine count had registered -- including some ballots that were merely indented. But the recount also found 109 additional votes for Goldberg -- so he won the recount by an even bigger margin than before.

It's not that hard for voters to merely dimple a ballot when they are trying to vote, as Kim Brace of Election Data Services recently demonstrated to CNN.

"We've got a hanging chad right here. We've got a couple of chads that are partially off. Here's a pimple or a dimple," says Brace.

Dimples were counted by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in a 1996 Democratic primary recount for Congress. Generally, state courts count ballots where voter intent is clear.

During Monday's Florida State Supreme Court hearing, Bush's lawyers pleaded ignorance of the Texas law. "I really don't know what Texas law is," Bush attorney Michael Carvin told Justice Barbara Pariente.

Well, we know Texas law allows dimpled chads to be counted -- or any ballot where the intent of the voter is "clearly ascertainable."

-- (in@election.news), November 22, 2000

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