Tags: Hanging | Chad

Hanging by a Chad

Thursday, 16 November 2000 12:00 AM

But now many of us aren’t so sure. We’re learning new words like hanging, pregnant and dimpled chad, and things don’t seem so simple anymore.

How accurate are the punch card ballots that were used in Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade and Volusia counties? I spoke with Paul Nolty, the president of the Election Tabulation Network, the company that maintains the voting machines in three of the four counties in dispute. He informed me that the state of Florida certified the machines, which officials in Broward County called "innaccurate," last year.

If more than one ballot in a million is miscounted, the machine fails Florida’s standards. Nolty’s machines passed this test; not one vote was miscounted. If a punch card ballot is correctly cast, the voter’s will is counted with 100 percent accuracy.

The controversy begins when a voter, out of confusion, carelessness or other human failing, somehow miscasts his vote.

We have all learned about the hanging chad issue. This is a recognized handicap in the punch card method. That is why on each ballot there are clear instructions indicating that the voter should check for hanging chads when he is done voting. Multiple votes will not be counted. The counting machine will not recognize circling or underlining ballots.

Thirty-seven percent of all Americans use this punch card method. This is not a problem that affects only Florida. Nonetheless, hanging chads are a fact of life, and many times the machines do not count them. Hand counts can be used to find and count the occasional hanging chad.

But this raises a fundamental question: Are machine counts more or less accurate than hand counts? If machines cannot count ballots with hanging chads, then hand count them. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as that. Human counting of hanging chads opens a Pandora’s box of subjectivity.

In Florida they are counting chads that are hanging on by one and two corners. This is accepted within the vote tabulation industry. But now Florida wants to count chads held by three of the four corners. Industry insiders have never heard of such a standard. A simple twist to a ballot could produce several "votes" on a punch card ballot that has already been counted by machines three or more times!

It’s important to know that machine-counted ballots are counted at a rate of 1,000 ballots a minute. The more you count these ballots the more you weaken the razor-thin paper edges on the chads.

I was told by one insider, who has acted as a witness in previous hand counts, that rooms where they take place are specifically chosen for their flooring. Flooring? That’s right – it’s very common for hundreds of chads to pop out during hand counts.

Officials know this, so they choose rooms with speckled tile to mask the chads littering the floor. He added that vacuum cleaners are kept close by so chads can be regularly sucked up so spectators don’t realize how many of these chads end up on the floor.

Even when hand counters attempt to do their very best to be nonbiased and fair, they have a degree of subjectivity. The issue of subjectivity is extremely important. Remember, if a voter correctly uses a ballot, a machine count is expected to be 100 percent correct. The only error occurs in the voting booth by the voter. Hand counts add subjectivity into a process where no subjectivity existed before.

Let’s say you are counting a ballot that has only one corner punctured. Using Florida’s standard you count that as a vote (a vote that would not have been counted by a machine).

Then the next ballot you get has a completely removed chad for one candidate but it also has a chad with one corner punctured for another candidate in the same race. This is a ballot that would have been counted by a machine. But during Florida’s hand count is this a double-marked ballot? Do you throw it out? Do you count it as a vote for the removed chad? Or do you count it for the partially removed chad? Does it look as if the voter changed his mind? Isn’t this a judgement call?

Should we be making these subjective judgement calls, or should we put the burden on voters being able to understand a voting system that has been used since the 1960s? As if the chad issue wasn’t cloudy enough as it is, now Democrats are suing to count something called a dimpled chad. This is a chad that has all four corners attached, but appears to be bulging. Machines don’t count "appearances"; they count votes.

Remember, Al Gore initially called for hand counts because some folks feared they double-voted or that they accidentally voted for Pat Buchanan. Hand counts will not affect those votes. Hand counts will find hanging chads that will be subjectively interpreted.

We should also realize that in Florida, 27 counties use the punch card method. Is it fair that only four counties would have altered results from counting hanging chads? When human hands begin touching these ballots the will of the voter becomes tainted and subjective. Shouldn’t we count all votes the same way?

The only way we can trust the outcome of the Florida election is to count the votes that were cast by voters who took the time to assure that their voices would be heard clearly, definitely and without the benefit of anyone’s interpretation.

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But now many of us aren't so sure. We're learning new words like hanging, pregnant and dimpled chad, and things don't seem so simple anymore. How accurate are the punch card ballots that were used in Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade and Volusia counties? I spoke with Paul...
Thursday, 16 November 2000 12:00 AM
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