The state of the Union rests on the state of Chad

The Recount

You thought it was a country in Africa. Sometimes, in this country especially, it is a man's name. But here in south Florida, a different sort of "chad" has leapt to the top of everyone's lexicon, with all its variations, such as "pregnant chad" and "dimpled chad".

You thought it was a country in Africa. Sometimes, in this country especially, it is a man's name. But here in south Florida, a different sort of "chad" has leapt to the top of everyone's lexicon, with all its variations, such as "pregnant chad" and "dimpled chad".

The chad, in case you were wondering, is the little rectangle of partly perforated card meant to drop off when a hole is punched but sometimes doesn't.

Chads have become our obsession. We are living and breathing the pesky things. If the difference between a "hanging chad" and a "swinging door chad", eludes you, for example, you are in serious trouble. And so, for that matter, is democracy in America.

Nowhere was it more critical than in the offices of Theresa LePore, Palm Beach County elections supervisor, at the weekend. It was in this small room, separated from the rest of the world by big glass windows, that an initial hand-count was made of 1 per cent of the votes cast in the County on Tuesday night. It went on for almost 12 hours.

The scene was as comical as it was grave. A process that repeatedly veered close to pandemonium was potentially going to decide - at last - the American election.

At first, they couldn't even get started. Everything was in place by early morning. Long wooden tables and folding metal chairs were ready for the 17 ballot counters, all of them women. Waiting to oversee the count were lawyers from the two parties and the three members of the county canvassing board.

Not until almost 1pm did a sheriff's van, bearing the metal ballot boxes from four of the County's precincts, sweep into view, to be swallowed by the scrum of awaiting media. Finally, the ballots, 4,600 of them, were delivered inside.

The task was straightforward - or at least it was meant to be. When voters prick the little punch holes on the ballot cards, sometimes they don't push all the way through. When that happens, electronic counting machines can miss a hole and therefore a vote. A hand-count is meant to allow for the visual detection of these semi-punched holes.

All started well. The commission had agreed on a light-test standard. Each card was held up to a fluorescent lamp. If light shone through the spot for a particular candidate, a post-it note was attached and it was added to that candidate's pile. Each counter had a third pile for ballots they still weren't sure about.

Then the arguments erupted and we entered deep chad territory. About two hours into the count, the canvassing board - Ms LePore, a local judge and the county commissioner - changed the rules. The status of a vote was to depend on the status of the chad.

Getting to the moon would have been quicker than explaining this change to the assembled journalists, who received regular but mostly inaudible briefings from a county spokesman who himself was evidently confused. But, really, it wasn't that difficult.

In brief: a "pregnant" or "dimpled chad" was one bearing an indentation left by the voter but which had not become detached at any of its corners. Those would not be counted as votes. Other chads with one corner, two corners or three corners detached - "hanging door", "swinging door" and "tri-corner" chads respectively - would be counted.

With the outcome of the election potentially in the balance, the atmosphere inside the room was charged. Several minutes would be spent on a single card, with the board members and the lawyers holding it at every conceivable angle before agreeing on which kind of chad they were in reality studying.

One of the canvassing board members was heard to sigh: "I'm losing it, I tell you," at one point. There was hardly a moment throughout the whole process when one of the counters or lawyers was not raising a hand with a question or an objection.

An exhausted Judge Charles Burton blurted at another: "I have had 44 objections in, like, 30 seconds." Finally, in the early hours, the bad news came. Bad if you were a county official or a weary reporter but good for Al Gore. The count had yielded a net gain of 19 votes for the Democrat - 33 in all - to warrant a hand count for all 462,000 votes cast in the county last Tuesday. That should start today. Yesterday, Palm Beach County rested.

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
New Articles
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering