Sunday, December 10, 2000

Pity the poor vote-counters

        Be glad you are safely at home this morning, enjoying a cup of coffee, perhaps reading the paper. Be glad you are not an employee of the Leon County Clerk of Courts, hauled into a library reading room this weekend, to divine the intentions of Florida voters, with a brigade of lawyers looking over your shoulder.

        Be glad you do not have to squint at a ballot card around under harsh fluorescent lights and decide whether a tiny indention is a vote that could make either Al Gore or George W. Bush the 43rd president of the United States.

        Be very glad you live in Ohio.

        We have a well-defined dimple.

        When a majority of the Florida Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling Friday afternoon and ordered that thousands of “under-voted” Florida ballot cards be hand-counted, it didn't offer those poor souls whose hands actually have to do the counting much in the way of guidance on how to distinguish a voter who clearly wanted to vote for Mr. Gore or Mr. Bush and couldn't quite manage to do it correctly, from a voter who either didn't care or couldn't make up his or her mind
about the presidential election.

        Figure it out the best you can, was about all the four Florida Supremes had to say on the subject.

        Easier said than done — and even now after the U.S. Supreme Court has issued a stay stopping the count, Floridians have no better advice on how to do it if it begins again

        For years now, Ohio has had a rule on such matters, thanks to a secretary of State's legal opinion: Dimples don't count; chads hanging by two corners or less do.

        But the counters in Florida have no such standard.

        No election for any office, in any place where punch card bal lots are used, has ever been held without a certain number of ballots being cast aside because they were “under-voted” (with no punch the card-reading machines could read) or “over-voted” (with two many holes punched for a particular race).

        It happened here in Hamilton County a month ago. In the presidential race, 2,916 Hamilton County voters' ballots weren't counted because they managed to punch holes next to the names of more than one presidential contender. Another 3,522 punched no holes in the presidential race at all — at least no hole that the ballot-reading machine could detect.

        Were there “dimpled” chads among those 3,522? Could be. But nobody ever held them up to the light to look, because the official count had Mr. Bush winning Hamilton County by about 42,000 votes. There was no need.

        Is there a way of determining the intention of those voters with “over-voted” cards? Not without a Ouija board.

        “Over-votes” are always a mystery. Election officials here say that, from time to time, they will come across a punch card ballot where the voter has grabbed the stylus and punched out chads on every hole in the card.

        You couldn't figure out the intentions of a “mad puncher” any more than you could figure out motives of that guy in Pennsylvania who got in trouble with the law for squeezing every loaf of bread in sight at his local grocery store.

        Some people like to squeeze bread. Some sit for hours popping bubble wrap. Others like to punch holes in cardboard. Some would rather make dimples.

        Go figure. But be glad you don't have to.



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