Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Show Must Go On

Editor's Note: The Count -- aka Carrie Budoff -- is off today, but here's a first-hand report from the equally talented Natalie Pompilio.

8:30 a.m. No shenanigans. Or we'll call in the deputies.

That's what Chester County election officials advised before starting to recount the votes that will decide which party takes control of the statehouse.

That meant Democrats, Republicans, the press, everyone.

They need not have worried.

9:30 a.m. You've never heard 30 people so quiet. The only sound in the recount room right now is that of paper fluttering through the air as ballots travel from hand to their respective piles. There are seven: Straight Republican, Straight Democrat, Vote for Smith, Vote for Royer, Undervote, Overvote, and Challenge. Three tables in the room with at least six people hovering over each: two election officials, two Republican watchers and two Democratic watchers. Lawyers from both parties mull around the room. A line of other observers sit in chairs along the far wall.

Republicans challenged a ballot first, at 9:49. A short time later, they challenged another. A judge will now assess those votes and Republican lawyer Lawrence Tabas said he was confident both votes fell in his camp.

10:07 a.m. Problems.

Workers have finished counting the votes for one precinct and found they're short four votes. (Clifford Levine, the lawyer for the Democrats, notes they are all votes for Smith.) According to their records, they had 1,010 paper ballots. They're coming up with 1,006. The election workers begin to count the votes again, aloud, in groups of 10.
Levine: "It's one thing for a vote to change. It's another thing for a vote to disappear.")

They find three votes. They can't find another. All work at that table is frozen as they decide what to do next.

Then another table finds they're short one vote. (Another Smith.)

Then the third table, which had looked so promising, comes up five votes short.

Everyone seems puzzled: They hadn't counted on this. "Linda, can we look in the bag? Could the ballot be in the bag?" one election worker asked her boss. Linda answered, "I just looked."

11:07 a.m. All the tables are frozen as the Case of the Seven Missing Ballots is discussed by the lawyers. Tabas and Levine prepare to leave together. They're going to look for the missing ballots -- in the ballot boxes. "Cliff and I are going to go. We're going to check his hotel room," Tabas joked. "They already sent the FBI to my room and it was clean."

11:31 a.m.
Everyone clears the room for lunch - and to figure out what to do next.

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