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2000-11-08 - 11:09:25

Election Day II: Wednesday

I stayed up as late as I could last night.

It was 1:30 a.m. on the East Coast, and I'd been lying on the couch watching CNN and MSNBC for hours. I'd seen Bush win a handful of states early on, then Gore come back with some significant ones holding a lot of electoral votes. I'd seen the total see-saw, with each candidate creeping toward the magical 270 mark.

The networks, which had all predicted Florida going to Gore early in the night, pulled it back about 10 p.m., or a little earlier, and that was only the beginning of the waiting. By the time I turned off the television and sloughed off to my room, CNN and CBS had Bush holding a 246-242 lead, while the other networks put it at an even 242 apiece, having not yet declared Nevada's four votes going to the governor from Texas.

I woke up this morning around 10:30, went downstairs and turned on the TV. CNN was in commercial, so I jumped up to MSNBC to see the "Breaking News" (which may have been two minutes or two hours old) that the election was too close to call. But I could see from the electoral count -- Gore 260, Bush 246 -- that Gore had taken Wisconsin and either Iowa or Oregon (I would later find out it was Iowa). All that remained were Oregon and Florida. Oregon's seven votes won't win it for either candidate, so it's up to Florida.

I find it fascinating in this day in age -- with the Internet and high-speed computers, e-mail and Palm Pilots, cell phones and satellites -- that the presidential election has to come down to the painstaking count of Florida's votes. Just before I sat down at the computer, I saw that Florida is expected to be finished with its recount on Thursday -- or told to be finished. Tomorrow. Two days after the election. Amazing.

This hasn't happened since ... well who would remember? John Quincy Adams won in 1824 in the House of Representatives because no candidate had won the majority of electoral votes (Andrew Jackson won 99, Adams 84 and William H. Crawford 41). Each state cast one vote, based on its majority, and Adams won with 13, Jackson took 7 and Crawford 4. Jackson was outraged and won the presidency in 1828.

It appears that some of the confusion comes from the form of Florida's ballot in Palm Beach County, if I remember correctly. The ballot was "butterflied," as one anchor said: Down the left side it listed Bush/Cheney, then Gore/Lieberman; on the right, Pat Buchanan's name was at the top. Each ticket had an arrow pointing to the hole to be punched for that candidate. Reading down the left side, Gore's name was the second listed, but to vote for him, the third hole had to be punched. And now they're finding that Buchanan is getting an abnormally large percentage of the vote out of traditionally democratic strongholds in Florida.

Gore is already the first presidential candidate since George McCovern in 1972 not to win his home state. If Gore takes Florida and becomes president, he would be the first president to take the White House without taking his own house: Woodrow Wilson went to Washington without the backing of the great state of New Jersey. And in 1844 James K. Polk did the same ... without winning his home state of Tennessee.

It's amazing, the history that comes from the confusion. The lessons brought back to the forefront because of the closest election since 1968, and, when it's all over, perhaps in history. It's almost like 1824 again. This presidential election could be in the balance for another 24 to 30 hours.

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