- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 15, 2000

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. Chads were everywhere during Saturday's marathon vote recount, and it's not the night janitor who is upset; it's Republican lawyers.
"Chads were seen on the floor during the process," Benjamin Ginsberg, general counsel for the Bush campaign, wrote this week to Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Theresa LePore. "This produces further evidence that mishandling of the ballots, not voter intent, potentially was yielding new votes."
The question of whom the voter picked, Al Gore or George W. Bush, is of paramount concern, especially when a Bush vote might be nullified by an accidentally removed chad for Mr. Gore.
Enough misplaced chads the tiny specks of paper punched out of ballots during voting would imperil Mr. Bush's narrow, 300-vote certified lead in the state.
"There were chads all over the place," said Reeve Bright, an attorney for the county's Republican Party. "The more people who handle them, the more that fall off. I told a computer operator that we ought to bag them all up and sell them on the Internet."
Mark Wallace, the lead Republican attorney in the recount process, yesterday attacked the hand count of 462,000 ballots set to begin this morning in Palm Beach County, hinting that the ballots, which are stored in metal cases, could suffer more damage.
"What will you do to preserve the sanctity of those ballots?" Mr. Wallace asked county canvassing board Chairman Charles Burton during an afternoon meeting.
"The same thing we've always done," Mr. Burton said tersely.
During Saturday's 12-hour hand count of 4,600 votes, stacks of ballots were lined up on three long tables in a small conference room where 17 elections workers, observers and the three-member canvassing board gathered to find out if a total recount was needed.
Ballots were stacked, they were held, they were waved about and they were grabbed.
"The chads have been in every room there has been a recount," Mr. Wallace said. "And to boil this down to which small, paper rectangle is punched out is arcane."
"What we had is three Democrats holding up the card, flipping it around and passing it around. All kinds of people touched these so all kinds of things were happening to them."
A lawyer from Broward County, who asked not to be named, said that Bush attorneys are taking affidavits from witnesses to the mishandling of the ballots.
Paper ballots in Florida and elsewhere have always yielded some double votes, in which someone casts a vote by punching out a chad next to one candidate, then has a change of heart and punches the chad on another.
It nullifies the ballot, although if a voter does such a thing, he can get up to three more ballots.
The voting booth instructions also address the power of chad: "Pull off any partially punched [chads] that might be hanging."
One week after the election, there are still chads all over the floor in the elections office at the Governmental Center here. In the recount room, though, someone has been busy with a sweeper.
A county spokeswoman yesterday denied Mr. Ginsberg's accusation of free-flowing chads.
"I was in there, and I don't recall seeing any," said Denise Cote. "It's not as if they fall off like rain."
But most voting clerks can tell tales of those loose chads, said Bonnie Re, a Boca Raton woman.
"Those little things come off so easily," she said. "I can understand how someone might have to get a new ballot, which they do all the time. But that's all they need to do."
More than 19,000 voters in this county had their votes set aside because of errors, cases in which either no candidate was selected or two were selected. It is hardly uncommon. In 1996, 17,000 ballots were disqualified here.
In 1998, 18 percent of state counties used punch cards like Palm Beach County's to register votes. The most popular method is the optical scan, used by 40 percent of counties nationwide, including many in Florida.
During Mary Morgan's 20 years as an elections supervisor in Collier County on the state's west coast, she endured several manual recounts and also incurred charges of flimsy chads that could sway an election outcome.
"If we were going to do a manual, I would get a vacuum cleaner to make sure there was no appearance of falling chads," said Miss Morgan, who retired in June.
"The more times they are touched, the more chads that come off," she said.

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