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Ballot messes a Florida tradition

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  • amayesd@worldnet.att.net
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 10, 2000
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      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
      cultural thing.
      Only three years ago, Miami's mayoral election was so
      breathtakingly
      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
      crowded room.
      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
      ballots counted,
      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
      to win.
      About 50,000 ballots were cast in Florida-the exact
      number will never be
      known-and Hayes and Tilden were less than 100 votes
      apart.
      Historians think Tilden probably won the state. Who
      knows? Ballot
      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
      more convenient
      place a dozen years later after, yes, another disputed
      election.)
      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
      Florida's electoral
      votes to Hayes. The decision was the culmination a deal
      that ended
      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
      on Florida
      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
      counting
      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
      diagram.
      The tradition lives.
      Mark Lane is a columnist for The Daytona Beach (Fla.)
      News-Journal. He may be reached at mark.lane@news-
      jrnl.com.)
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