Ballot messes a Florida tradition
- Ballot messes a Florida tradition
By Mark Lane
c. 2000 Cox News Service
Daytona Beach News Journal
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - It's all very flattering to know
our votes count
extra hard in Florida. But if I had my druthers, some
other state would be
the one to have the final say in this election.
It's not that we're the wrong people to dictate what's
good for the rest of
the country. We're qualified. It's just that when it
comes to counting
votes, well, we have something of a past.
The English can't cook, Italians can't form governments,
Germans can't do
comedy and Floridians can't hold an untainted election.
It's just a
Only three years ago, Miami's mayoral election was so
fraudulent-even by South Florida standards- that it was
overturned by the
courts and 56 people faced criminal charges.
Where I live, in Volusia County, the absentee ballot
handling was so
irregular four years ago that a court had to declare the
winner in the
sheriff's race more than two months afterward. To this
day, speculating on
the identity of "the real sheriff" is a sure-fire way to
start a fight in a
And the last time the nation looked to Florida to decide
the winner in a
presidential race in which the popular vote and
electoral vote diverged?
Oh, don't ask. It was bad. Very bad.
In 1876 Florida only had four electoral votes, but they
were the four
electoral votes that mattered. With most of the nation's
Democrat Samuel J. Tilden was ahead by a quarter million
votes and only one
electoral vote short of victory. Republican Rutherford
B. Hayes needed the
electoral votes of Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina
About 50,000 ballots were cast in Florida-the exact
number will never be
known-and Hayes and Tilden were less than 100 votes
Historians think Tilden probably won the state. Who
mishandling, fraud, selective vote counting and
intimidation were the rule,
not the exception.
Allow me to relate a true hometown story. The town where
I live voted
overwhelmingly for Hayes. The man charged with the
bringing the votes to
the county seat, Loomis Day, had a pretty good idea of
how local politics
worked and suspected that safe delivery of Republican
ballots was not to be
taken for granted. (The county seat would be moved to a
place a dozen years later after, yes, another disputed
Day carried the ballot box by wagon but had someone else
transport a fake
ballot box. Sure enough, the decoy ballot box was
snatched en route.
New Year's Day 1877 arrived without an election winner.
Pundits of the day
speculated about another civil war. Rioting in the
streets was expected.
Congress received three different sets of results from
Florida. The first
canvassing board declared the state for Hayes, a rival
board declared it
for Tilden and in January 1877, a third board appointed
by the new governor
certified the election for Tilden.
Ultimately, Congress' Electoral Commission awarded
votes to Hayes. The decision was the culmination a deal
Reconstruction and sold out the basic rights of Southern
black people for
generations but prevented renewed regional conflict.
Given this rich history, you really don't want to depend
elections to pick The leader of The World's Greatest
Superpower. I'm not
sure I would want Florida's election system to pick the
MTV music awards.
Meanwhile in Volusia County there have been mysterious
fluctuations, ballots found in the back seat of a poll-
worker's car and
registered voters turned away at the polls. The
elections office was
wrapped in yellow crime-scene tape on election night.
There were lost ballots in South Florida. And in Palm
Beach they had a
ballot laid out with the clarity of a VCR programming
The tradition lives.
Mark Lane is a columnist for The Daytona Beach (Fla.)
News-Journal. He may be reached at mark.lane@news-