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By Kevin Igoe
Originally published in the Baltimore Sun, Sunday, December 04, 2000

OVER THE PAST few weeks, Americans have had a chance to look at our nation's election process up close and personal. They do not like what they see.

I participated in the Florida presidential recount as an observer for the Bush campaign. I was in Broward County on the afternoon that the hand counting of ballots started. The human aspect of the hand count continues to give me serious doubts about its reliability and even the need for its existence in law.

It must be understood how mind-numbing the process of hand counting really is. A Republican and Democratic observer, working with a two-person team of official counters (usually Broward County employees) looked at each ballot in the precinct.

As first one observer and then the other attempted to zero in on a punch hole, perhaps one-sixteenth of a square inch in size, the counter showed both sides of the ballot to the observer. For any reason, either observer could challenge the ballot.

Challenged ballots went to the three-member Election Board of Canvassers (which became household fixtures across America because of cable television news). Those three individuals made the final decision on which candidate, if any, was credited with that vote.

As time passed, the accuracy of the observers and the official counters waned. Looking for punch holes so small took a toll on the ability of eyes to focus. The official counters began to work by rote, sometimes placing a vote for one candidate in the other candidate's stack.

Twice I found stacks of 25 supposed Gore ballots that contained a ballot for Gov. George W. Bush. Twice I found stacks of Bush ballots that numbered 26 instead of 25.

Was this the result of deliberate mischief meant to boost Mr. Gore's vote count? I don't think so.

But I believe that it was the unavoidable result of implementing a system to determine the American presidency based on human beings handling and counting in excess of 1 million ballots. And not just any ballots. These are ballots that were designed to be counted by machines.

These ballots deteriorate the more they are handled. The integrity of the original vote is lessened each time a ballot is removed from its tray, picked up by a counter, handed to the other counter, placed in a stack, counted, counted again and then returned to its tray.

The result: falling chads.

It's true. Chads were all over the tables used for counting. We documented many of those instances with close-up photographs.

Some will disagree about who won Florida, but we should all be able to agree on two points:

  • The moral of the election results in Florida is that you cannot repeal decades of technological improvement and replace it overnight with the hard work of humans who may be totally honest and dedicated to the task at hand but, nonetheless, get tired, make mistakes and lose their focus.

  • Maryland would be well served to implement a statewide voting system based on touch-screen technology, as Baltimore City now has, or an optical character recognition system that reads ballots marked to connect arrows adjacent to a candidate's name.

State and local government must be willing to invest money in our election process or risk losing the confidence of the public in our ability to conduct fair elections and ascertain accurate vote counts.

Kevin Igoe is a Republican political consultant in Calvert County. He was formerly executive director of the Maryland Republican Party.