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WEB-ONLY EXCLUSIVE
'I Hold the Key to the U.S. Presidency'
Tokyo Bureau Chief Tim Larimer hails from Palm Beach, Florida. An absentee voter, the fate of the 43rd American President is in his hands
By TIM LARIMER

November 11, 2000
Web posted at 2:15 p.m. Hong Kong time, 1:15 a.m. EDT


It's always been kind of pathetic being an absentee voter. Every four years, we go through this charade of participating in the greatest democratic process known to humankind -- or whatever it is the pundits call it. For we absentee voters living overseas, though, it never quite lives up to expectations. Every vote counts, they tell us. Yeah, right.

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Like patriotic souls, we mail in our votes, all the time wondering if they'll get there in time. And if they do, does anybody really open them, and if they do, does anybody really count them, and if they do, does it matter anyway because by the time they are opened and counted they've already declared the winner.

Yes, we're bitter.

Which is why I, for one, am enjoying my newfound political clout. You see, I voted by absentee ballot in this year's presidential donnybrook (we journalists who remember a President before Reagan love to use words like that when writing about elections). And I vote in Florida, the state that apparently has spent a little too much time out in the sun. But wait, there's more. I vote in the county that is at the very epicenter of this electoral earthquake -- Palm Beach.

Uh-oh! Does this mean I could have voted for Pat Buchanan? No, because I carried around the card with the punch-out holes (didn't those go out of style a decade or two ago?) on the subway for a couple of weeks trying to figure out exactly how the darned thing worked. By the way, does anybody realize that we actually got mailed TWO ballots? I don't mean to trigger yet another gripe from Gore's point man William Daley (Daley? Hmm? Isn't there something familiar about that name? Chicago? Elections? 1960?), but the way it works in Florida (again, I think maybe they need to get out of the sun down there), is that you get one ballot that you can send back just in case you don't get the REAL ballot in time. That's because Florida has a late primary, and so all of the candidates for local offices can't be included in time on the real ballot, so they give you a preliminary real ballot without all those candidates so that you can vote in the big one - for the President.

Following all this? Anyway, the first one counts, too, unless you send in the REAL one, on time, in which case they throw out the first one and count the second one, assuming they can figure out who sends what ballots. Well, anyway, we had to sign our names on the back of the envelope (hey, isn't this supposed to be a "secret" ballot?) so I suppose this isn't quite the voting crisis it sounds like it could be. Whatever. Someone will be President, right?

Anyway, voting in Florida, by absentee ballot, means at this moment, in my hands, rests the fate of the most powerful nation on earth. Hell, why not the fate of the entire world, except for Japan, which is of course protected from such outside influences. It's heady stuff, being a powerbroker at a moment like this. But the point is, absentee voters around the world, this is our moment. We count.

I found another member of our elite club of nation-builders this week. He was casually (obviously masking his own newfound power lust) looking for a place to live in Yokosuka, home to a large U.S. naval base in Japan. "My vote might actually be the deciding factor in the country!" he boasted. (Wrong, pal, that's MY vote. But I feel your elation.) A meteorologist in the Navy named Albert Maury, he voted for -- the suspense is killing you, right? -- Bush. His buddy, Jeff Tauzin, another Navy meteorologist, who also hails from Florida, didn't vote. What was his excuse? "I was out in the Pacific, moving from ship to ship, I just didn't have time." Likely story. What nerve, serving his nation at sea, when his nation needed him on the home front.

Now -- if my fuzzy math is correct -- if Gore should end up winning Florida by one vote (hey, anything is possible, right?) then this guy Tauzin should probably consider a new career because he'll be the most unpopular man among the military crowd since, well, since Bill Clinton.

So while you are all anxiously awaiting the final final recount - that includes those precious absentee ballots from overseas -- I already know who won. You think I'm going to tell? Information is power, people, and this is my fleeting moment in the driver's seat. Let Al and George W. and the rest of the country sweat it out a little while longer.

It's nice to know my vote counts for a change.

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