The Dimpled Chad Dilemma

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A Republican observer looks at a ballot Tuesday, November 21, 2000

Here's a quick quiz. Which of the following most accurately represents the will of a voter: A hanging chad, a dimpled chad, a partially detached chad or a two-cornered chad?

If you know the answer, please contact Florida's board of elections immediately. They could use your help.

As the hand recounts drag on in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties, canvassing officials have run into a substantial number of ballots whose punch holes are not actually punched, but are sort of poked or prodded or rendered somehow concave. Democratic observers are pushing vote counters to include those indented ballots (most of which appear to favor the Gore-Lieberman ticket) in the state's ultimate tally. At least 300 dimpled ballots have been set aside in Palm Beach County, where they await orders from Florida's Supreme Court. On Tuesday night, the court appeared to have not addressed the issue, though they did cite a ruling from the Illinois Supreme Court, which allowed certain dimpled chads to be counted.

Deep in the Chad of Texas

Republicans are up in arms over this tactic, arguing there is no logical connection between a slight ballot depression and voter intent. What if, they demand, a voter who is pondering his or her choice between Al Gore and George W. Bush rests the stylus on the Democrats' chad for a moment and then decides to forgo the vote altogether? Should that hesitation really be counted as a vote?

Unfortunately, no one seems to know.

If only this scenario were unfolding in Texas. While election law in Florida is inconclusive with regard to the inclusion of dimpled, hanging and detached chads, Lone Star State voters need only create a depression on a ballot in order for their vote to count. (Thanks, in part at least, to Governor George W. Bush, who signed the "voter intent" decree into law just a few years ago).

But without the benefit of such a forward-thinking executive branch, Floridians were stuck. Democrats were hoping that the justices will not only allow the hand recounts to continue and order them to be included in the final tally but also establish a uniform methodology for hand counts. Republicans, of course, wanted an even more conclusive response to the nagging question of voter intent: They were hoping the Court would call an end to the recounts altogether and toss the ballots, dangling chads and all, out the window.

Some Dimples Count in Illinois

Amazingly enough, there is a precedent for this seemingly absurd debate. In 1990, the outcome of a fiercely contested race for an Illinois House seat turned on dimpled ballots. After a recount established a tie between the candidates, the state's Supreme Court Justices personally examined 27 indented ballots and decided that eight of them "exhibited clear voter intent," a ruling that handed the race to the incumbent.