Naked City

Every Vote Counts

When the counting started in Broward County -- one of the three Florida counties conducting a manual recount in the contested presidential election -- the mainly Democratic canvassing board ignited a fierce and mostly incomprehensible debate, currently being duked out in the Florida Supreme Court, over whether election canvassers should count so-called hanging chads, swinging chads, pregnant chads, dimpled chads, and so on, as votes for either candidate. (Chads are the little pieces of paper that are detached when a voter punches out a hole in a punch ballot).

"Recognizing that they are not extracting the votes Al Gore needs, Gore supporters now want to change the rules halfway through the process by lowering standards," Republican Montana Governor Marc Racicot told reporters at a press conference on Sunday. Sneaky Democrats.

In fact, Florida election code does mandate a manual recount by appointed bipartisan "counting teams," at the request of any affected candidate, party, or political group. If the counting teams are unable to determine the intent of a ballot, "the ballot shall be presented to the county canvassing board for it to determine the voter's intent." The code is silent, though, on what the canvassing board should do if they are equally at a loss, as they are in Florida, to determine the voter's intent.

Oddly enough, considering all the protests coming from George W. Bush's camp, the Texas Election Code goes into detail on this very point in an amendment passed under Bush's predecessor, Ann Richards, in 1994. The code calls for a punch ballot to be counted when "at least two corners of the chad are detached," or when "an indentation on the chad from the stylus or other object is present ..." The amendment ends with the open-ended provision that votes may be counted when "the chad reflects by other means a clearly ascertainable intent of the voter to vote." Under the Texas code, in fact, hanging chads and swinging chads, as well as tri-, pregnant, and dimpled chads, could all count as legitimate votes.

Moreover, according to another amendment to the Texas Election Code -- this one backed by Bush himself in 1997 -- in the case of a recount, "a manual recount shall be conducted in preference to an electronic recount." Which may come as a bit of a surprise, considering that the Bush camp is fighting a manual recount in Florida every step of the way.

In fact, the Texas and Florida election codes have remarkably similar provisions to govern how and when a recount is requested and carried out.

Bush's attorneys and supporters have been silent on the parallels between the Texas and Florida election codes. They were much quicker, however, to point out the parallels between the Palm Beach butterfly ballots Gore campaign manager William M. Daley criticized as confusing and the ballots by which Daley was elected to his own Illinois judgeship. Who's being sneaky now?

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