Thursday, November 30, 2000

Activist observed, knows his chad

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — Hayes Robertson just got home from sunny South Florida, where he preferred ballots over beaches.

        A Republican Party strategist and consultant from Covington, Mr. Robertson spent the long Thanksgiving weekend at ground zero of the battle over the results of the presidential election in Florida.

        Mr. Robertson, 38, a former Florida resident, was a volunteer Republican observer in Palm Beach and Broward counties of the vote recount taking place in the race between George W. Bush of the GOP and Democrat Al Gore.

        As a hard-core partisan activist, Mr. Robertson also spent some time on the protest lines organized by Republicans angry over the recount and convinced that Mr. Gore and the Democrats are trying to steal the election from Mr. Bush.

        “I was able to be a part of history,” Mr. Robertson said Wednesday, “but I'm also completely convinced that what is going on is a joke.

        “The ballots in Palm Beach have been recounted five times now,” he said. “The way they are being counted is so subjective that rules and standards in one county don't apply in the next. And everybody down there is convinced that the Democrats are just going to keep try and counting until they get enough votes to win.”

        As an observer, Mr. Hayes looked over the shoulders of election officials actually performing the recount. A Democratic observer was also present and either Mr. Robertson or the Democrat could dispute the ruling of the election official on each ballot counted.

        “It was long and tedious, but I felt a lot of ballots were getting counted that shouldn't have,” he said. “I know the difference between a dimpled chad and a pregnant chad. Heck, before this I was like most people, I didn't even know what a chad was.”

        Democrats and Mr. Gore's campaign and legal teams have, of course, said just the opposite, that they are prolonging the legal fight to make sure every vote cast will be counted.

        But Mr. Robertson — who also spent time with his family while in Florida — said the Democrats and Gore supporters are trying to interpret voters' intent, which he believes is blatantly unjust.

        Mr. Robertson also disputed claims by Democrats that the protesters are hired political operatives sent to disrupt the vote count and discredit Mr. Gore's legal battle.

        There are nationally known Re publican officials and officeholders in Florida, including former Senate leader Bob Dole, New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman and New York Gov. George Pataki.

        “But I did not meet or encounter any one paid to be there to protest,” Mr. Robertson said. “And I met people from all over who went down there like I did, just to do their part and get involved, people from Florida, Boston, North Carolina, Georgia, Michigan, Illinois, Arkansas.

        “These people weren't hired guns. They were the true believers; and from what I saw nobody ever got out of hand,” he said.

        On most days, Republican protesters outnumbered Democrats by 10 or more to one. “It shows who has more passion,” Mr. Robertson said.

        Fort Thomas Democrat Terry Mann, a member of the Campbell County Democratic Executive Committee, didn't travel to Florida but did say in an interview that the worst move Mr. Gore could make now would be to quit and drop his legal fight.

        “That would be terribly damaging to the Democratic Party,” Mr. Mann said Tuesday. “It would discourage the people who legitimately believe Gore won. To fold his tent now because people are getting bored or tired would be a terrible message to send.

        “Something needs to be said about the fact that he is pushing on even with all the heat he is taking,” Mr. Mann said. “We've seen clear examples of votes not being counted; and people deserve to have their voice heard and their vote counted even if it takes more time.”


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