Words, Words, Words

November 25, 2000

The news media have finally seen fit to tell us why there are so many ballots with dimpled chad--if you pore obsessively over every news story, that is. Molly Ivins's column this last Thursday and one story in the Washington Post explain that chad piles up in the trays beneath the punchcard ballots, and this chad can pile up so high that there's simply no room for another chad to come off. Hence, the dimple. And since the chad usually doesn't pile up evenly in the tray, it's common for only one chad on a ballot to be dimpled. Technicians from the Vote-O-Matic company, which makes the punch card ballots, explained this to the Palm Beach county election commission and urged that all the dimpled ballots be counted. Palm Beach, however, seems to be using a more strict standard, one that may unfairly partially disenfranchise their voters simply on the basis of what polling machines they used, and may cost Al Gore the election.

Broward County seems to have settled on a standard that accepts dimpled ballots if several chads on the same ballot are dimpled, if the voter voted the straight party line with one dimple, or if there are an unusually large number of dimples in one precinct. Those may not be the criteria I would have chosen, but it seems like a fair and honest attempt to solve the problem.

Dade County's decision to abandon the recount is a failure of democracy, and the commission should be ashamed of itself. Even if it were impossible to finish the count by the Sunday deadline, they could still gather data for the post-certification contest they know is coming. More shameful, however, is the action of the Bush campaign in organizing a rowdy mob that ran riot in Dade County, attacked Democratic officials, and tried (possibly successfully) to intimidate the election commission. These are third-world tactics that only a person utterly without conscience could sanction.

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I haven't mentioned my trip to California, from Election Day to the following Sunday, to see my new nephew and niece. I'm not much of a baby person, but I do have enough vestigial family feeling to make these trips every so often. Right now the babies are too small to have much personality, but they do seem to enjoy their swing and their bouncy chair. Louis seems to eat too fast, with milk sometimes dribbling out of his mouth, and he has digestive problems which make him fussy and unhappy. Sarah is more placid. Both are a lot of work.

This is the first time I've spent election night with my family in decades. Early in the day it looked like Al Gore was picking up all the important battleground states, and we started to relax a little. After the networks announced that Gore had won Florida, we began to relax. We didn't know that the exit polls were based on who people thought they had voted for, and that over thirty thousand Gore ballots would in Palm Beach and Duval counties would either have two candidates or the wrong candidate marked. So when the networks withdrew their projection in Florida, we got nervous again. My sister suggested that Bush could have all the red states and Gore would get the blue ones, a suggestion that's starting to sound better and better. I know some nice people in Texas and West Virginia, but basically, all the states that voted for Bush are places I want nothing to do with. I was up very early to catch my flight, so I eventually decided I couldn't stay up late enough to see the final results (how right I was!) and went to bed. The television was on the other side of my bedroom wall and an hour or so later I thought I heard them saying something about Gore winning, so I slept peacefully. I found out better in the morning, but by then there was a real possibility of a recount, so I spent the next few days checking CNN.com and Salon every couple of hours, watching developments unfold. I'm very glad I chose to take my vacation that Wednesday instead of going into work.

I also got to meet my sister's new boyfriend, and play some board games with my other nieces. Aside from going out to dinner one evening there wasn't a lot of activity, which was fine with me. My goal for the trip was just to see people and relax for a few days. I made my way through most of Helen Vendler's annotation of Shakespeare's sonnets, which was very enjoyable and stretched my brain muscles a bit. At the airport on the way back I gave into temptation and bought a 10-ounce Ghirardelli's chocolate bar, in case I got hungry on the trip, but it turned out I had an hour and a half in Pittsburgh to get from gate 36 to gate 37, so I got some McDonald's french fries instead. And soon thereafter I was home.

Thanksgiving was less eventful. I had planned to go to a movie, but I got caught up in Iron Dragon and never got around to it. Then I planned to go today, and I even got as far as putting on my coat and going outside, when I noticed it was raining, and decided it wasn't worth getting cold and damp, so my new plan is to go tomorrow. We'll see if I follow through.

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