I was talking to Lee County Elections Supervisor Sharon Harrington this week. Naturally one of the things we talked about was all the trouble Florida and our county had with the 2012 election. The huge lines, lack of voting machines, closed polling places and the entirety of the mess spawned efforts to have her recalled – or boiled in oil – I forget which.
I was a candidate then, but am pretty sure the mess didn’t cost me the election, which I lost by a scant 60,000 votes or so.
Anyway the conversation put me in mind of another election that made national news.
That was the year 2000, when Al Gore won Florida. Or was it George Bush? Well first it was one, then it was the other. Then Florida was a national punchline.
I was working as a daily reporter in Fort Myers at the time and when Election Day was over and the smoke didn’t clear I became part of The Recount.
Now we were under a national spotlight – at least in Florida if not here in Lee County. So we all show up. There was me, a representative of each party, another reporter and enough suits for a deck of cards – or two decks.
The scene was bizarre. We sat at long tables. Someone from the Elections Office would bring out a small box full of ballots. She (it was Sharon, an employee then, part of the time) sat on one side of the table with me on the other. She would hold up the punch-card ballot so I could see it. I was of course not permitted to touch the ballot.
So as Sharon held the ballot up I, with my extensive training and experience, was asked to ‘determine the voter’s intent.’
Was the fact that a ‘chad’ was hanging but still attached mean that that was the intended punch? When there were two holes which one did the voter intend to punch and which was the accident? And what in the name of God was a pregnant chad?
And perhaps more importantly why, whenever the last ballot came out of a box, were there a bunch of chads left in the box?
We sat there for hours, them holding the ballots up and me employing my vast expertise to divine the intent of the voter and dutifully writing it down.
If I recollect accurately Gore gained a few votes in the Lee County recount. It didn’t matter. The Supreme Court stopped the whole thing a few days later and the whole process became moot. Bush still won the county big. Republicans won every election in this county back then. Still do.
I still have some of those chads that came out of those boxes. They’re in a little plastic container in my desk.
Some months later when the state went through a spasm and required all new and different election equipment I ended up with ‘my’ ballot box, too. The Elections Office was selling the old metal locking ballot boxes and the spindly-legged voting tables and anything else someone might buy to commemorate the massive electoral shitstorm. I went to the warehouse to write a story as hundreds lined up to purchase a piece of history.
As I was talking to someone I glanced over and there on the pile for sale was the ballot box from Precinct 22. My precinct. The actual box I’d dropped my own ballot into since I’d moved here in 1986.
So I bought it. I don’t remember what I paid. Five bucks? Ten?
Anyway it’s a file cabinet now.