First came 2000, when the world blamed us for W. Then came 04, when the nation wondered why South Florida cant seem to run an election better than, say, Iraq.
But now the votes have been counted, and aside from a few glitches, polling places in Broward and Palm Beach counties seem to have shed the label of the Worst Place to Vote in America. Instead of failing to count them all, we helped the nation pick President Barack Obama -- and we did it without anyone wondering what the hells going on in Florida.
Just in case, our correspondents fanned out across South Florida on Tuesday. We didnt find the catastrophe that was expected, but what we found were stories about voting -- about voting when it actually counts.
Election Night in West Palm: Chicken Wings to Hot Dog Buns
5 p.m. Outside of the polling station at the library on Clematis Street: An elections clerk who gave his name only as Donald said almost every one of the 871 voters assigned to his precinct had voted already. Donald said that after the polls closed, he intended to put all the ballots in a big box, lock it up, and take it to a meeting place. The meeting place is top secret. They dont want me getting vandalized or anything, so I dont even know which office I have to bring it to yet. I have to call. He added that a Republican and a Democrat are required to drive the ballots together. After working 14 hours, he said, he wanted only to relax with a Budweiser. I hope my wife dont want no nookie-nookie. I dont have the energy for that.
6 p.m. Allen Mergaman of the Palm Beach Coalition for Election Reform (a nonpartisan watchdog group): Mergaman was worried about counting absentee and provisional ballots. The optical scanners at the polling places those are good, he said. But the high-speed tabulators used to count absentee ballots? In a test, those counted only 73 or 74 of 500 ballots. The machines were supersensitive to folds in the paper, Mergaman said, and there had been instances of the machines counting backward once they reached 70,000. Mergaman had alerted lawyers for both campaigns and was leaving it in their hands. He was off to an election watch party.
7:15 p.m. At the Obama campaign office: About 50 volunteers crammed themselves into the small office. Men rolled in a giant-screen TV, and a volunteer passed around a collection basket saying, We need soda, we need liquor, we need chicken wings! Lewis Berman, a retired journalist and economic consultant, called the excitement like a nightclub. Matt Miller, who has been volunteering for three months since attending Camp Obama training in New York, said the election was all Ive been thinking of for two years straight. What am I gonna talk about after tomorrow?
7:45 p.m. At the corner of Okeechobee Boulevard and Military Trail: About 50 Obama supporters took over the street corners yelling,Yes we can, and yes we did! Four boys from a dance crew called Maskuline were breakdancing and had invented an Obama dance. A cop driving by teased the young crowd when he asked over the megaphone, Isnt it a school night? The kids rubbed their chins they hadnt decided whether to declare themselves a holiday tomorrow or not.
9:15 p.m. at the Little Owl saloon in Lake Worth: Cara Jennings, an incumbent and the highest-ranking member of the Green Party to hold office in Florida, watched returns that showed she would hang on to her Lake Worth City Council seat. Jennings who has roots in left-leaning activist movements and has in the past called herself an anarchist hinted that she would not run again and begged others to start grooming themselves for office: I really do want to be a radical, so I cannot be in office all the time!
11:30 p.m. at the Hampton Inn in Deerfield Beach: Several Democratic groups had met to watch the news. The crowd roared when CNN called the election for Obama, and when John McCain gave his concession speech, everyone gathered waved goodbye and said Thank you to Sarah Palin. A drunk guy in the back of the room kept yelling You can do eet! until he switched his refrain to Get it done, get it done, like a hot dog bun.
Chefs (and Kooks) for McCain/Palin
If you were looking north on Federal late on Tuesday afternoon, you saw a swarm of McCain supporters waving signs and American flags, cheering to passing traffic, blowing air horns, shouting politics out of a combination of bullhorns. They gathered by a Target parking lot at the corner of Oakland Park Boulevard and U.S. 1. Across the street, a smaller group of Obama supporters countered them with homemade signs and bullhorns of their own.