Tired eyes watch over recount
By DAVID KARP and THOMAS FRENCH
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 9, 2000
TAMPA -- Around 5 a.m. Wednesday, Supervisor of Elections Pam Iorio pulled into her driveway. Everyone at home was asleep, but her husband had left a light on.
Too wired to fall asleep, Iorio decided to wake her husband. As he was roused, he asked, "Who won?"
"It's a long story," she said.
Iorio only had a hint then of how long the story would become. She did know that the nation's attention would focus Wednesday on how the work by her 25-person office would help answer her husband's question.
She faced a potentially explosive question: Would a recount in Hillsborough change the course of history?
Throughout the day, Iorio would bear witness to the raw emotion of the question. Party activists camped out at her office, making the place look and smell like a college dorm before finals. Reporters from London, Paris, New York and Washington bombarded her with inquiries. Lawyers hovered, searching for errors.
"This is like a Carl Hiaasen novel," said Gil Singer, an attorney for the Hillsborough County Republican Party.
After taking her two children to school, Iorio let the three members of the county's elections canvassing board know that their work wasn't done. The board, made up this year of County Judge James Dominguez and county commissioners Pat Frank and Jim Norman, certifies election results.
Norman showed up Wednesday morning at the Falkenburg Road election center in a Yankees T-shirt and coach's shorts, carrying the sports section.
Dominguez joked about his drive home only hours earlier. "I fell asleep somewhere between McIntosh Road and Forbes."
In a waiting room, party activists for George W. Bush and Al Gore were gearing up for the recount. Chris Griffin, a Tampa lawyer and regional chair for the Gore campaign, brought copies of the elections law to review. Republican activist John Moser brought an entire volume of Florida statutes.
From the room, everyone could see through glass windows the voting machines that would hum all day long. People thought the recount could shake things up.
"There'll be a change in this vote," said Mike Scionti, Hillsborough Democratic Party chairman. "Whether it's up or down . . . you never know."
"I just know there's been dirty tricks somewhere," said Scionti. "I don't believe that," said one of the Republicans.
Scionti nodded. "We're going to have a fiasco here."
In a private office, Iorio sat at her desk, answering telephones and watching CNN.
One moment, she was talking to a London newspaper. Then, a reporter from the New York Times was expected shortly. The French newspaper Le Monde wanted her. So did ABC's 20/20.
With little sleep, Iorio was getting giddy.
"I don't know who I've talked to," she said about all the attention.
In the election warehouse, a growing number of partisans were watching the ballots.
"The fat lady is humming," Scionti said, as the tabulation machines whirred away.
A.J. Matthews, a Republican state committee member for Hillsborough County, showed up wearing a blue golf shirt emblazoned with the words "The White House." He said he had not been able to bring himself to wear the shirt as long as Clinton was president.
"I promised myself I wouldn't wear it again until we had a Republican going to the White House," Matthews said. "I've been waiting eight years."
One of the biggest issues Matthews and others were monitoring involved "chads."
Chads are the tiny rectangular pieces that get pushed out of the ballot when a voter punches in his or her choices. When voters don't punch the chads all the way through, flaps may be pushed up. Then, tabulation machines can't read these votes.
In a recount, some chads may fall off or fold differently, leading to a different total, said Darrell Smith, director of operations and support for Iorio.
"Let the chads fall where they may," he said.
At 4:40 p.m., Gerald White, a Democratic Party activist, asked to see Iorio. In the waiting room, White pulled Iorio aside and leaned into her ear.
He had heard rumors about voting irregularities. Reporters, noticing that something was going on, swarmed around Iorio.
"We want a thorough, full investigation of all the election issues in our county," White demanded.
Iorio reassured the media. "Rumors begin to fly when (people) see what is happening here," she said.
In the tabulation room, everything got quiet at 5:50 p.m. The recount was done.
Dominguez, the judge, huddled around an election computer and later headed for a hallway, where reporters waited.
After all the drama, the air was let out of the balloon.
Out of 369,467 votes cast, the recount showed that Bush got 47 more votes and Gore got 28 more votes. The difference meant 19 more votes for Bush.
"Oh my, isn't the process flawed," Dominguez said.
As reporters engulfed her, Iorio explained that the recent difference was caused by the chads.
"The chads show no preference," she said.
Democrats said they would look at their options. Republicans welcomed the extra voters.
By 9 p.m., Iorio was asleep at home.
"She's down for the count," her husband said.
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