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Martin Savidge: Recount scene 'like a chess game'

CNN's Martin Savidge  

CNN National Correspondent Martin Savidge is in Palm Beach County, Florida, where a hand recount is being performed on the ballots from the presidential election.

Q: What is it like in that room where these ballots are being recounted? Is there chad everywhere? If there is, anyone offering a logical reason for it being there?

Savidge: Let's start with the building. This is the Emergency Operations Center for Palm Beach County, a building whose walls were designed to withstand 200 mph winds. Critics have said it seems very fitting that the room in which the ballots are being counted was designed to handle disasters.

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It's a large room where you walk in and it descends below you. It's an amphitheater setup in a circular shape. The room, during peak activity, is very crowded, but for the most part quiet. You have 25 teams, consisting of two ballot counters and two observers, one Democratic and one Republican. They are constantly picking up, peering at, a ballot, and putting them in one pile or another. Occasionally you hear the word "Object" with a hand shooting up in the air, indicating that either they have a problem amongst themselves or have a ballot that needs the attention of the elections canvassing board.

The three board members are constantly circling the room, talking to the observers and addressing the objections.

From appearances it may remind you of a big-name chess game, but because of what is at stake it's very hard to try and draw an analogy to anything beyond that. It's a very tense atmosphere inside that room.

No one is up to their knees in chad in that room. From where I have viewed I have seen hardly any chad at all. Don't get the mis-impression that the floor or the tabletops look like the streets of New York after a tickertape parade. They don't.

It is not the chad itself which is really that important, especially if it's detached. It is when chad still clings to the ballot where it may be a factor, needing interpretation.

There have been no election officials, that I have spoken to, who have alluded that loose chad is a serious problem, or really a problem at all. However, there is no question that election officials are very strict as to the careful handling of a ballot. They try to maintain the structural integrity of the ballot.

Q: The GOP describes the vote counters as "overworked and burned out," "working from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. each day." Is that the case?

Savidge: I have spoken to a number of handlers over the past three days, and only a few of them have said that the work is particularly fatiguing or tiring. The counters themselves are divided into two shifts, so actually they are working from eight in the morning until three in the afternoon, and the second shift from three o'clock until about nine at night. The elections canvassing board members are the ones who have put in the longest hours.

Q: Who are the vote counters?

Savidge: The counters are volunteers selected or offered by political parties, mostly either Democrat or Republican, or who say they have no party or affiliation.

There are a lot of people who are observers, many of whom have come from out of state. I believe the counters are being drawn from Palm Beach County. They have to be accessible.

Q: Is the process of counting a partisan activity?

Savidge: Ideally the elections officials would like to consider this as an unpartisan function, but they realize that it is not. One of the things they have found, and one of the things they are starting to keep track of, is who it is raising the most objections. If someone is objecting over and over again, they begin a process of identifying them ... and will ask them to leave.

It's as unpartisan as it can be, in a room where they are potentially deciding the next president of the United States.


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Saturday, November 18, 2000

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