Presidency Hinges on Chad

Who will be the next president of the United States? Chad may decide.

What is chad? It is the tiny scored portion of a paper ballot that voters punch out using a small stylus to indicate their preference for a candidate. If a chad is punched completely out of the card, counting machines register each hole as a vote. But sometimes the tiny pieces of paper stay partially or completely stuck to the ballots — which may make it impossible for machines to read them.

Hence, the controversial recount of thousands of ballots in several Florida counties that could decide who wins the presidential election.

There are a half dozen different varieties of chad, including pregnant chads, dimpled chads, tri chads, swinging door chads and, of course, hanging door chads.

A hanging door chad, for example, has one corner still attached to the ballot. A dimpled chad is indented, but still fully attached.

Chads were punched and partially punched all across the nation on Election Day, as several states use the punch-card voting system. But Floridian chads are particularly pertinent as election officials prepare to recount by hand, one-by-one, the more than 400,000 ballots cast in Palm Beach County.

Much Ado About Counting

That manual recount is set to begin Monday, but the chad controversy reared its head on Saturday as the county canvassing board tallied votes from four sample Palm Beach County precincts.

Florida election statutes state that, in a recount, the canvassing boars should try to discern the intent of the voter, when considering questionable ballots — but it does not specify how.

“The question is, what do you do? Does the chad have to be punched all the way out? Do you look at a dimple — is that enough?” Leon St. John, a Palm Beach County attorney explained Saturday. “It’s within the discretion of the canvassing board.”

In 1990, the Palm Beach County canvassing board adopted a procedure stating that a fully attached chad, bearing only an indentation, should not be counted as a vote, while a partially punched chad should be counted.

So, in the morning, it was decided that a ballot would be counted as a valid vote if at least one corner of a chad had been punched. But midway through the painstaking process, the canvassing board decided to go with the “light test.” Officials then began holding questionable ballots up to the light in order to determine their validity.

“Apparently, the test they were applying was if you could see light,” explained St. John.

If light shined through, it was counted as a vote; if there was no light, it wasn’t counted. It seemed a simple enough standard, but the problem with the “light test” is that a ballot with a chad that has only one corner detached may not allow any light through, even though, by the original standard, it should be counted as a vote.

“They … decided to not go with the light test, but to go with the test that’s reflected on the procedures where, if one of the four corners of the chad is detached, then that will be a vote,” explained St. John.

But what about the hundreds of ballots that were already subjected to the light test?

“They are going to go back and go through the stack of the questioned ballots from the first batch,” St. John said last night.

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