By JONATHAN TILOVE
November 9, 2000
c. 2000 Newhouse News Service
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla.
Finally the 2000 presidential campaign is generating some passion. Screaming, in-your-face passion. The kind you normally have to turn on daytime television to witness. And in, of all places, Palm Beach County, that place of balmy breezes and swaying palms, a place people come to cool out.
That the 2000 campaign is kicking into high gear two days after it ended, but didn’t end, is only the latest quirk in what has to be the most bizarre presidential election of modern times.
It is perhaps fitting, then, that the fate of the Republic, the future of the Free World, now rests with the wisdom and reason of the people of Palm Beach County.
The scene in front of the Palm Beach County Board of Elections Thursday was surreal, funny and even a bit thrilling for the sheer intensity being generated around the act of voting.
Inside are the folks who designed, apparently with the best of intentions, the ballot that seems to have led old Jewish women from New York to take a bye on electing the first Jewish vice president (many Gore-Lieberman buttons locally noted that the election was being held in the year 5761 on the Jewish calendar) in order to vote for Pat Buchanan, who thought maybe the United States made too much of a fuss about fighting Hitler in World War II.
Most of the several hundred protesters are Al Gore partisans. A few hardy George W. Bush stalwarts are here too. The terms of the debate are simple: The Republicans are trying to steal the election vs. the Democrats are too stupid to vote correctly.
“I’m saying a card laid is a card played. Virginia Tech would like to play Miami over again. Maybe they win, but you just can’t do that,” says Steve Ellis, a preacher at Jupiter Tequesta Church of Christ.
Ellis wonders why Gore couldn’t be more like Missouri Sen. John Ashcroft, who took losing to a dead man “like a man.”
“No screaming, sniveling, crying,” he says. Ellis is wearing an American flag tie. He has a deep Southern accent rare here and he is arguing the point loudly with Bob Kunst, up from Miami and president of the Oral Majority, a political organization formed to counter Christian conservative initiatives of the 1980s.
“You just want to vote until you win,” says Ellis.
“As many times as it takes,” says Kunst. But seriously, Kunst says, “We want one honest election.”
The dynamics of the situation here have shifted rapidly. The call for a recount is so Wednesday. Thursday, the chant as Jesse Jackson arrives to visit the Board of Elections is, “Re-vote” – either the county or the whole state.
Among the Gore people in this crowd, it is hard to find someone who is not afraid he or she voted inadvertently for Pat Buchanan. And not just here. When you arrive at the West Palm Beach Airport, you are greeted at the Budget Rental Car counter by three workers, all of whom fear they mistakenly punched the voting card for Pat.
“Honestly, it was a very bad ballot,” says Susan M. Morrison, a Republican originally from Long Island who intended to vote for Gore but is not sure she did.
Co-worker Barry Doty, originally from New Jersey, is also a Republican, albeit of the spiked-hair-and-earring variety. He too thought he was voting for Gore but fears he voted for Buchanan. “I lost my glasses that morning.”
The third co-worker, Maureen Jones, has the lilt of the West Indies in her voice. Recovering from finding out she was working side by side with two Republicans, Jones says she and her children also think they may have voted for a man she had never heard of.
“He wants to send the Mexicans back to Mexico,” says Morrison, explaining Buchanan to her colleague.
The Budget team is agreed on the remedy: “I think we should just have a do-over,” says Morrison.
Silotte Elias says she too fears she voted for Buchanan. Elias, who moved to Boca Raton from Irvington, N.J., three months ago, says she pondered over the confusing ballot for so long, an election official came over to assist her. She says the official eventually told her where to vote for Gore, but she suspects the official was up to no good.
Elias has just finished screaming at a Bush supporter, their noses a nose apart. “You steal my vote. He didn’t won it,” she yells, mixing up her tenses.
Elias brings a broader perspective to the demonstration. She lived in Haiti until she was 26. “If we were in Haiti, they would have started shooting by now. Real riots, stores would be closed, people would be hurting.”
Nearby, a very tall man, Gregg Mallinger, is holding a sign, “Jews for Bush.” A tiny old lady half his size is yelling: “He’s an idiot. He wants attention. One Jew for Bush, that’s the only one.”
Around the corner, a young man embraces a woman. He had come to the scene after seeing her, a stranger, on MSNBC articulately arguing the case as a Republican who supports a recount. Only she’s not a Republican, according to a friend. She only plays one on MSNBC in order to make her point more potent. Her name is Ellen. She won’t give her last name. “It’s like Madonna,” Ellen said.
A few blocks away, out of earshot of the demonstration, Nathan Oates and Brittany Weinstein walk side by side, talking separately on cell phones. They are unimpressed by the nearby tumult.
“It’s like an IQ test,” says Oates, a youth minister in Palm Beach County. “If you’re not smart enough to punch the right hole, maybe you shouldn’t be voting.”
Back outside the Board of Elections, the protest continues, people of passion joined by people with their own special causes, the curious and the very curious.
“Reparations for Victims of Driving While Black,” reads one sign. A woman with an ethereal smile circulates through the rally with a sign bearing her cryptic message: “Give John Lennon a Do-over.”