- The Washington Times - Friday, November 10, 2000

The media has made a mountain out of the Palm Beach County ballot, alleging some voters were confused in voting for president, mistakenly choosing Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan instead of Democrat Al Gore. I have lived in Palm Beach for the last several years, am a Florida resident, and have voted, most recently on Tuesday, without any problem. The Palm Beach County ballot, by any reasonable standard, is an acceptable instrument.

Palm Beach County's supervisor of elections sent out a sample ballot two weeks before the Nov. 7 election. "You are urged," read the introductory statement in the sample ballot, "to become informed on all candidates and issues on the ballot so that you may make your selections before going to the polls. It is legal for you to mark your choices on the SAMPLE BALLOT and take it into the voting booth to aid you in voting."

The sample ballot included a reproduction of the punch card on which choices would be made, a sketch of the punching instrument, as well as specific instructions for inserting the punch card in the voting booth. These same instructions, plus diagrams, were included in the voting booth as well as the statement that "if you make a mistake, return your ballot card and obtain another."

In addition to the Republican and Democratic presidential choices, there were eight other minor-party candidates listed on the ballot, as well as a write-in choice, with an arrow pointing to the punch card area for selecting the voter's choice. Because of the large number of choices, as well as the fact the county has numerous elderly voters, the presidential names were spread over two pages (with the punch card holes in the middle, separating the facing two pages), thereby avoiding the small-type scenario that a single-page presentation would have illustrated. The punch card hole for Al Gore was No. 5, as indicated by the arrow, while that of Pat Buchanan was No. 4.

This presentation was not only legal (state law gives the county authority on the layout, while the state mandates the order in which candidates are listed), but easy to read, more so than ballots I've been used to, in terms of my voting experience in the Washington metropolitan area during more than a quarter-century of residence.

Voting in Palm Beach County is made easy, too, because the county employs an ample number of individuals at a decent rate of pay ($90 for the day) to not only monitor the process but assist individuals in the event of errors made on ballots. Although at least one local TV station reminded prospective voters on Monday that state law mandated that an individual spend no more than five minutes in the voting booth, I've never seen any election official timing voters, even though my voting history has seen lines of individuals waiting to vote.

To be sure, there may be problems in the system of voting in Palm Beach County, but the ballot isn't one of them. And, unlike my experience in the Washington area, voter registration in the county provides the voter with helpful information, to wit, a voter identification card that identifies the individual by name as well as a voter number, provides a detailed description and address of the voting location, as well as the procedure for inquiring about absentee ballots, changing party affiliation, and contacting appropriate offices.

One final point: Voting in any area in the United States is not only a serious responsibility, but one that recognizes that those moments in the voting booth are one of the most private that a citizen has in exercising a constitutional right. Nobody but nobody should know how one voted and once that exercise has been completed, complaints about the process or the choices made are unsustainable because, quite obviously, they can't be authenticated.

Thomas V. DiBacco, professor emeritus at American University, lives in Palm Beach, Fla.

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