YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

California and the West | MIKE DOWNEY

Chad Becomes the New Word of the Year

November 15, 2000|MIKE DOWNEY

My wife voted Nov. 7 at a little schoolhouse. For whom she voted is nobody's business, but since she's the one who made the colossal mistake of marrying a member of the media, you can take a guess whether I will respect her right to absolute confidentiality or blab to the world how she voted.

(For Al Gore.)

I have since found myself prying further into this woman's privacy, a full week beyond the election.

"Did you punch a hole in your ballot?" I inquired.


"A whole hole or just half a hole?"

"A whole hole."

"You didn't dangle any chads?"


"A flapping chad? A swinging chad?"


And being an astute individual who once had a home in Palm Springs but never in Palm Beach, she didn't even need to ask what "chad" meant. I'm so proud.



I have never used the C word in conversation until this week. (Or at least never before with a lower-case c.)

Every year or two in this great multilingual nation of ours, we learn a new word. I still remember "rad" from the 1980s, and also how we began using "bad" when something was actually good. As in: "That band is bad, man," or "That cat Shaft is a bad fellow."

Chad's our new word for 2000.

I looked it up in my dictionary, but it didn't exist. The closest I could come to it was "chador," which is the garment that some Muslim women wear to cover their heads and bodies.

A chad, as it turns out--pay attention, you Scrabble players--is a teensy-weensy fleck of paper, smaller than confetti. It's a dangling particle that doesn't get poked loose when you punch a ballot.

Who would have believed that a few lousy chads could decide one of the closest elections in the history of American politics?

Florida's vote recount--under the strict supervision of Secretary of State Katherine "The Countess" Harris--has been taking an excruciatingly long time because precinct workers are checking thousands of ballots to see whether they are chadded, semi-chadded or utterly without chad.

Except they couldn't take too much time, since The Countess from the state capitol was in a big, big hurry to get a final Tallahassee tally.

Thus, this whole election could hinge on a bunch of holes.

I haven't known whether to laugh or cry, watching Palm Beach County's more myopic election volunteers on TV, squinting at every ballot--front and back--to see whether it had a good hole or a bad hole. With all the commotion over chads, this election was 90% inspiration and 10% perforation.

You could practically read their lips:

"Think that's a chad, Marge?"

"No, Gladys--I think that's lint."

Imagine how many registered voters now curse themselves for neglecting to check whether they'd destroyed every last speck of chad.

In order to conduct one of our typically scientific media polls, I took it upon myself Tuesday to ask a couple of Florida friends how chad-conscientious they'd been.

Jim Dunn, 50, is general manager of a Toyota dealership in Hollywood, Fla., and he and his wife, Michele, voted (both for George W. Bush) at a polling place in Broward County.

"My ballot was chad-free," Jim assured me.

He added that while watching a Miami vs. San Diego pro football game Sunday, he spotted two fans in the stands dressed in gorilla costumes, carrying signs that read: "Florida Election Officials." Ouch.



Voting on a punch card in Sarasota County, meanwhile, was Kerry Slagle, 52, president of a newspaper syndication company, and his wife, Ellen.

"Until this week, we did not know what a chad was," said Kerry. "We knew Chad was a country in Africa, and also half of a former rock 'n' roll duo. But we didn't know on election day that we should look to see if we'd left a chad on our ballots--or a Jeremy, either."

But that was yesterday, and yesterday's gone. It's too late to do anything about it now. If the Slagles of Sarasota unforgivably left any chad, the wrong man could end up president of the United States!

I'm just glad we live in a state like California, where our choice between Gore and Bush was clear-cut. No chad controversy here, my friends. Those poor folks in Florida, their work is cut out for them.


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

Los Angeles Times Articles