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The Gore-Bush Vote Gap Put Into Perspective

November 12, 2000|STEVE CHAWKINS

Take a good long look at the sheet of newsprint you're reading now.

Savor its width--12.5 inches--and its length--22.5 inches.

Now think of your last visit to The Oaks mall. Savor its massive area. Think of how long it took to traipse from one end of The Oaks to the other, of the untold miles trod at The Oaks by untold shoppers.

Got it?

Sheet of newsprint. Oaks mall.

Oaks mall. Sheet of newsprint.

Here, at last, is the point: As I write this, there are 327 votes separating Al Gore and George W. Bush, according to the most current Florida recount. The fat lady, I hasten to add, has cleared her throat but has not yet begun to sing. In the hours and days to come, these numbers of the moment will be washed away in a surge of new ones. But just for fun, let's go with 327 for now.

So OK, I haven't gotten to the point yet. I'm not accustomed to writing about numbers. My math is fuzzy. I'm feeling faint and whispery, the way I always get around decimals. Please forgive me while I get, at long last, to the point:

Think of the 327 votes that could determine the leadership of the Free World as . . . this page of newsprint.

Now think of the 101 million votes that were cast for president across the country.

If a page this size represents 327 votes, then 101 million votes are, amazingly, represented by the gigantic Oaks mall. Actually, The Oaks mall plus half a dozen good-sized three-bedroom houses.

Are you with me? I know it sounds unbelievable, but I've done the math.

Sheet of newsprint (1.95 square-feet). Oaks mall (605,266 square feet).

Tiny vote gap (327). Huge turnout (101,498,570).

Same difference.

I started down this twisted path as I was trying to comprehend the astonishing events of the past few days.

Obviously, I haven't succeeded.

All I can say without fear of contradiction is this: It was one really close election.

Well, there are a few other things too--the kind of small, semi-mathematical Eureka moments that pop up when a writer spends .63 hours too long with a calculator.

I learned that 327 people--far more than can cram into your kitchen during a party--are not very many in the grand scheme of things.

I learned that you can find 327 people if you stop and talk to every sixth resident of tiny Piru. If you've ever been to Piru, you know that 327 isn't a lot.

I learned that 327 people wouldn't quite fill two of the small, dark boxes in which we suburb dwellers have learned to enjoy movies.

I learned that the difference between 327 and 101 million is the same as the difference between finding a quarter under your seat cushion and discovering a check there for $77,598.25.

With as few as 327 voters swinging the national election, I calculated the equivalent number of voters who could swing a Ventura County election. It's not 327, or 127, or even one. It's three-quarters of a voter, or, to be precise, .74. Perhaps a voter minus a soul.

These idle meanderings revealed something else to me as well.

When you do the math, you can't help but realize the breathtaking power of small numbers--and the truth that every vote, in fact, counts.

Yes, we can rail--and with good reason--about the electoral college and poorly designed ballots, political viciousness, campaign vacuousness, corporate bribery. The system is more than flawed; it's even more imperfect than the sum of its participants' imperfections.

In the end, though, a majority of one--or, for that matter, 327--can, for better or worse, rule the day.

That's not quite a miracle, perhaps, but it's got my vote.


Steve Chawkins can be reached at 653-7561 or at

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