By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
And if they did, here would be the place to find out about it. This is where the 692 Personal Election Ballots — the touch-screen flash-memory cartridges that carry the votes from each precinct — are returned after the polls close. They’re delivered through the loading dock, separated into canvas bags, and tabulated in an adjoining secure area that we can see through windows but can’t enter. The TV reporters are preening in preparation and knocking people out of the way already.
8:49 p.m. Something is drawing people to the plasma screen in the window of the tabulation room. It’s returns from early voting: Bush, 33.46 percent; Kerry, 65 percent. A good start, although not surprising in Broward. The action breaks up quickly as everyone scurries back to their seats with this bit of news. I discover my chair has been co-opted by a Spanish-language television reporter with hair that, upon close inspection, is not perfect.
9:52 p.m. A group forms around the canvassing-board table. Republican lawyers, fittingly clad in black (except for little red, white and blue enamel elephants on their lapels), lean across the table toward the canvassing-board members as they go through absentee ballots that have been challenged. “Boxes checked, looks good,” Ilene Lieberman, one of the board members, says. “These are fairly consistent and good.” The Republican lawyers hover over her like dirty seagulls eyeing a crop of cute little fuzzy newborn penguin chicks to devour. They’d love to take over this nest.
10:02 p.m. Things arechanging fast. Larry Davis, an attorney for the Kerry-Edwards legal team, is standing by. He was involved in the re-count and spent some time in this room in 2000. He’d been looking upbeat an hour ago but wears a dour grimace now. The exit polls were showing a slight edge for Kerry all day, but Broward County is not coming through as the Democratic powerhouse the party had expected. “The margin for Kerry now in Broward is 188,000,” says Davis. “Gore got 208,000. We wanted to get 225,000. That was optimistic. But we need to do better than Gore did.”
10:18 p.m. A Republican lawyer makes her way to an associate producer for 60 Minutesand says, “Good news, turnout in Broward is only 60 percent.” She’s trying hard not to look so pleased that her party’s success relies on the failure of democracy.
10:45 p.m. The tide has turned in Florida. Larry Davis is shaking his head. All the predictions were off again — the final polls, the exit polls, the anticipation of GOP shenanigans, the eyes on Broward and Palm Beach. Already, on the little white monitors, Ohio is shaping up to be the new Florida, with a much closer margin and early talk about the provisional ballots. I follow Davis to the home of Paul Hancock, another lawyer working with the Kerry-Edwards campaign. Hancock argued Bush v. Gorebefore the Florida Supreme Court in 2000. Hancock has a tap with draft beer in his own back yard, but that’s lifting no one’s spirits.
Midnight: By now, we’re wondering how this could have happened. Turnout, it’s clear, wasn’t high enough in Democratic core areas or in other hopeful demographics, like the youth vote, so maybe all the hype about voter mobilization was just that. But why, then, did all the exit polls show leads for Kerry in Florida and Ohio and much bigger leads in the states he carried? What accounts for that discrepancy? Could be the touch-screen machines, the conspiratorial minds among us speculate. Maybe that’s why we didn’t see the Republican onslaught — because it was mounted electronically. “I’m not convinced that’s a possibility,” I say, pulling my third beer. “But you’re not convinced it’s impossible either,” Stephen says. This is true.
3:10 a.m.By now, CNN has called Florida for Bush. Ohio is too close to call. “We’re not going to know anything until tomorrow,” Larry says just before leaving. Hancock goes to sleep. Wolf Blitzer is running hypothetical electoral-vote combinations, including one with a tie, but it quickly becomes clear the prize is Ohio, where Kerry is down by more than a hundred thousand votes. Kenneth Blackwell, Ohio’s secretary of state, says they won’t begin counting the provisional ballots, which may number as many as 175,000, for 11 days. Edwards makes a statement about the Democrats owing it to the American people to have every vote counted. It seems like a long shot, but I guess it’s worth it.
4 a.m. I’m not giving up hope. I start to console myself with the thought that at least there will be no doubt as to whom to blame when the shit really hits the fan over the next four years. When a dirty bomb does go off somewhere, it will be because Bush chose not to secure the world’s loose nuclear material and not because John Kerry spoke out against the Vietnam War. Not like I want that to happen, but I’m very worried it will, and Cheney will have to eat his lying words with that sideways-smirking mouth of his. When the world is on fire, and there are zombies running through the streets, at least we will have the satisfaction of pointing our melting fingers at the nearest Republicans and saying, “This is all your fucking fault.”