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California and the West | MIKE DOWNEY

Election Drama in Citrus State Reads Like Pulp Fiction

November 10, 2000|MIKE DOWNEY

It ain't over until the citrus state counts. That's our new motto. Forget that "until the fat lady sings" nonsense. From now on, whenever a contest of any kind is close, it ain't over until every Sunshine Boy and Girl from the state of Florida is heard from--at least once, and if necessary twice.

We thought we'd picked ourselves a president Tuesday, but that's when the orange-juice pits hit the fan. Now, three days beyond election day, we're still sitting here waiting for flip-flopping Floridians to count up their votes.

Go, O.J. state, go.

What a slow-speed chase this one is. Not since Ponce de Leon set out for Bimini has anybody had to go to so much trouble just to find out what's happening in Florida. It could be the first presidential election in history to go into sudden-death overtime. If somebody doesn't find a fountain of youth in Florida soon, voters are going to be dead before they find out who won.

This thing is so crazy, several newspapers in America are probably referring to one of the candidates today as Almost-President-Elect Bush.

We're now living in a nation where after voters cast ballots, somebody needs to ask them: "Is that your final answer?"

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Voting irregularities. That's what people in Florida are anxious about today. It's probably the first time for some older Floridians that they've ever discussed this kind of irregularity. At twilight, Florida was for Al Gore. At midnight, Florida was for George W. Bush. By sunrise, Florida was for Who, What and I Don't Know.

We heard every alibi in the book. Exit polls were wrong. Early indications were premature. Absentee ballots weren't counted. Overseas votes should arrive any minute.

And, our personal favorite:

But I didn't MEAN to vote for him!

That one popped up because Florida's ballots were only slightly less complicated than a Rubik's Cube. In order to vote Democratic, you had to follow the arrows, go back three spaces, pass Gore, collect $200, look left and vote right. Your vote then incorrectly went to Pat Buchanan, a man who in Florida had all the popularity of a large mosquito.

Florida is now the state of confusion. The fate of our nation could come down to some guy with a banjo who goes down to the Caloosahatchee River to gig frogs. Maybe his one vote got lost behind the voting booth at the general store. Maybe he'll be the margin of difference. Maybe, maybe, maybe. (Maybe if the Democrats had let Elian Gonzalez stay in Miami, 30 or 40 of his relatives wouldn't have voted for Bush.)

Is election chaos uncommon?

Not totally. In 1972, in three Arizona counties, a ballot mix-up caused thousands of votes to be cast for both a major party's ticket and the Socialist Workers Party's guy. In 1968, Virginia somehow neglected to count 10,561 votes for president meant to go to George Wallace. (True stories.)

Nevada in 1996 put a "None of These Candidates" box on its ballots, and 5,608 voters checked that one off (as opposed to 4,730 for Ralph Nader). In New York 20 years earlier, 143,037 ballots--mainly for Gerald Ford or Jimmy Carter--had to be discarded as "blank, void or scattered."

But this election's unreal. Every vote in Florida must be blank, void or scattered. Why else would this be taking so long? How are they counting these things--with their toes and fingers? There are children on "Sesame Street" who count faster than this.

Florida's not our only confused state, either.

It's got nothing on Missouri, where the Senate race was won by The Ghost and Mrs. Carnahan. And then there's Tennessee, where to be popular, a native son apparently has to be able to kill a bear, like Davy Crockett. Be looking soon for Tennessee Al Gore's first country song, "Thanks for Nothin.' "

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And speaking of Gore, what's with that concession call to Bush? In fact, why does anybody feel the need to concede? Why can't a winner call a loser? You don't jump a net in tennis after you lose. It's sportsmanlike to win graciously, not to lose graciously.

Finally, our heartfelt thanks go out to the media, winners of this year's Blunders and Bloopers competition. Souvenir hunters are searching for a valuable collector's issue of any newspaper that didn't print the wrong headline.

ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN, meanwhile, are reporting today that they are all equally stupid and irresponsible.

Personally, we think it's too close to call.

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Mike Downey's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Write to: Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012. E-mail: mike.downey@latimes.com

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