Since the election, I’ve turned off the radio music as background
noise in the office and turned on MSNBC as background noise to keep
tuned into what’s going on locally with the nation watching. Those who
know me know that I’m not one who will stay on the sidelines, so I
jumped into the fray this past Friday. The Thursday night before, I
heard on the news that Palm Beach County, Fla., needed volunteers to
help count the ballots. I thought I would take a morning off to help
out — but mainly see firsthand the issues surrounding the hand recount.
I showed up at the location where the ballots were being counted at 7
a.m. Friday. There were groups of people wearing badges
(Gore/Lieberman) and (Bush/Cheney). I didn’t have either of those types
of badges. There were two other lines at the registration desk for
Democratic and Republican counters, so that’s what I opted for. I was
the last in the Republican line; they took me and some official told the
person manning the desk not to take any more counters. After getting a
R-stamped badge, I made it in the doors.
Once inside the building, it was all business. They were seating the
people in groups of four: two counters and two observers (the people
with the fancy Gore or Bush badges). I was seated at Station 2 which
was in the back row of a sloped theater-style room. The TV crews were
located directly behind us in a glass-enclosed area, so my mug might be
on the news. We were given instructions on what to do, and the ballot
boxes were passed out. Our box was precinct 34A. I still have no clue
as to what precinct that is. It seemed to be a small precinct, though,
as most of the ballots were not from that precinct, but were the
absentee ballots from the county. The Republican observer stated that
we were counting the entire county’s absentee ballots. I don’t know it
that was his opinion or fact. There were about 2,000 ballots that were
in our ballot box.
We made 10 locations on our table using stickies for the various
presidential candidates: one pile for undervotes (ballots that did not
have any vote cast for president), one pile for overvotes (ballots that
had more than one candidate hole punched) and one pile for ballots that
were questionable (any ballot that either of the observers found to be
questionable). At the end of the counting, the questionable ballots
were then to be looked at by the canvassing board — three people all
who were Democrats and one lawyer from each major party. The three
board members would then vote to determine the “intent” of the voter on
We started counting the ballots. My job was to pick up one ballot at
a time, carefully holding it at the bottom or on the edges as if it were
a photo. Looking at the first row, I would state which hole was punched
and show the front of the card to the other counter and observers, then
flip the card over to view the back. We were not to have any discussion
with the observers. If observers would object to a ballot, that ballot
was put in the questionable pile; otherwise, the ballot would be placed
in the correct pile. The other counter would take over for me when I
got tired and we took about one break every half hour to rest our eyes
or our joints. Anytime any of us had to pee or worse, it was a big
deal. We had to request a sheriff to come watch our table while that
person left. The sheriff kept everyone including us away from the table
until we were all together again.
Our piles grew pretty fast. We looked at about one ballot every 10
seconds. Many ballots had the chads on the back although most chads
were swung out of the way and tightly compressed onto the back of the
ballot. The Republican observer was objecting to every ballot that
looked suspicious (writing on the ballot, loose chads on the back,
wrinkled ballot, etc.)
We did come across three ballots that had tape on the back. It was
hard to notice and the other counter was the first to see it. We had to
rotate the ballot to a certain angle and could feel the tape easier than
seeing the tape. The tape was cut very precisely and covered one of the
holes, but there was no chad in the hole. The Republican observer
objected to the ballot and it was put in the questionable pile. A few
ballots later we came across a second ballot that also had tape on the
back. If either counter had a question or needed clarification, we were
to raise our hands and a member of the canvassing board would come and
assist us. I raised my hand and board member Judge Burton came over.
We showed him the tape (this second one was holding in a chad).
He pointed out that we were counting the absentee ballots — which
come with a little stylus for punching the chads — and most likely the
voter punched the wrong hole and used tape to put the chad back in and
vote for another. The voter was not in a polling place to receive
another ballot to use. We bought his explanation and continued. Soon
we found a third (in about a span of 12 ballots). We also put this
ballot in the questionable pile.
In hindsight, I think something was suspicious. The tape was cut to
precisely cover the hole and not be seen. I do think these ballots were
doctored by someone. I was more focused on the tape and not which
candidate this was affecting. Plus the only thing we could do was put
the taped ballots into the questionable pile to be reviewed later.
Reading Monday’s news, I see the ballots were taking votes away from
Bush and giving them to Gore.
With Palm Beach County being heavily Democratic, Gore’s pile was much
bigger than Bush’s pile. With four sets of eyes on our work, someone
would catch if a ballot was being accidentally placed in the wrong
pile. This almost happened a few times when there would be many
consecutive votes for Gore, then a vote for Bush. We would almost get
into an automatic mode of putting the ballot into the Gore pile. But no
votes were misplaced by our group.
The Republican observer was objecting to too many ballots, I feel. I
think he was objecting to anything he felt odd with the ballot, but it
was beginning to look like he wanted to make more work for the
canvassing board. A second Republican observer took his place for a
while and he did not object to any ballots, even to some I would have
objected to. So I think this might have been a more personal thing on
the part of the observer and not a party objective to slow down the
recounts as some have suggested. The Democratic observer sparingly
objected to a ballot.
The chad issue was blown way out of proportion in some respects.
There were many chads still attached to the back. They were the
swinging door type chads still attached at two corners and compressed
into the back of the ballot. Both the machine count and the hand count
would tabulate these the same. Only one ballot had a hanging chad by a
thread. It was obvious who the voter wanted to vote for but we put it
in the questionable pile anyway (thanks to the Republican observer).
We did have a chad fall off a ballot but we were not sure of which
ballot. It just showed up on the table after a stack of ballots from
the box were processed. Again my hand went up and Theresa LePore asked
if any of us had a problem with the chad. We all said no, thinking only
of the safety of that poor little chad. I wanted to bring it home and
save that poor little chad, but Theresa said we could not leave with
anything, so the chad stayed to fight its own battle. (It ended up on
the floor by the end of the day). We all doubted that the chad popped
out of a ballot and created a new vote. It was most likely a hanging or
swinging chad. I like this new lingo! These ballot cards were not all
that flimsy. If we were careful in handling the ballots, there is no
way we could accidentally pop out a chad that was not initially loosened
by a voter. I feel any chads that do fall off are the chads that should
have fallen off in the first place.
I did see several dimpled chads and this should be a concern. We
noticed these mainly on ballots that did not have any candidate
selected. Some dimples were so slight that they were hardly
noticeable. I have large doubts that anyone can discern the intent of
the voter for these ballots. All of the ballots that had the dimpled
chads for the presidential column were clearly punched for the other
less important races, so I feel the voter did not want to vote for any
presidential candidate (we did have several ballots like that). It
would be easy for someone (intentionally or not) to hold the ballot and
have a fingernail cause the dimple. This could be caused by anyone from
the person who first gives the ballot to the voter, the voter at any
time before dropping the finalized ballot into the ballot box or anyone
thereafter. Or the person could have put the stylus into the hole then
changed his or her mind and not voted for any candidate. I did notice
some counters not being too careful how they handled the ballots. All
of these dimpled ballots were placed into the questionable pile and were
to be looked at later by the canvassing board.
Remember, the canvassing board is Democratic, so they could easily
say the voter intended to vote for Gore. Most of those dimpled ballots
were on Gore’s chad. I would be very suspicious if the board gave the
vote to Gore, when the rest of the races on the same ballot had chads
that were cleanly removed.
I do not know of the outcome of our questionable ballots as I had to
leave at 2 p.m. I left before we finished our ballot box. Another
Republican counter took my place. When they would have finished
dividing up the piles their task was still not complete. The canvassing
board would have to vote on the questionable ballots and each
counter would have to tally up the number of votes in the different
piles and compare their results to each other and the results of the
machine count. If they end up with different tallies the piles would
have to be reconciled and perhaps recounted again.
As expected, the Gore pile was about twice as large as the Bush pile.
Buchanan had about two ballots and Nader had about a dozen. A few other
piles (Browne and another) had one or two votes as well. Some piles of
the more obscure candidates had no ballots. There were several ballots
that had no presidential candidate at all, while only two ballots had
more than one vote in the same race. One had both Buchanan and Gore and
the other had five or six candidates selected. That second person was
on a roll. I wonder why the person voting for both Gore and Buchanan,
if unintentional, did not get a second ballot? Perhaps he or she wanted
to vote for someone who would be the average of Gore plus Buchanan —
When I left the building to go home I was surrounded by the media,
and several microphones were (politely) shoved in my face. They asked
several questions concerning what went on inside. The questions were
biased to show the Democrats in a more favorable light. My answers at
the time were more in defense of the Republicans based on the tone of
Anyway, I enjoyed the experience. Those I worked with were
conscientious and friendly. We did joke a little, partly to relieve
some stress. Everything was in good-natured humor.
I’m not sure I’ll go back to help again. From what I have observed,
the hand recount should not significantly change the final vote tally.
If Gore wins, it will be by the partisan voting of the canvassing board
on the dimpled chads. I did get the feeling that at least Judge Burton
and Theresa LePore wanted to do the right thing. I did not have an
opportunity to talk to the third member of the board, Carol Roberts, so
I will reserve comment about her.
I’m already looking forward to the elections in 2004. See you at the
David Anderson is a resident of Palm Beach County, Fla.