Driving home to West Palm Beach, Fla. to visit my family for the holidays, it was hard not to consider recent events down there, and the way relative obscurity can change to worldwide notoriety in the space of a few days. Sometime during the last month, I remember telling my fiancée, “the best thing to come out of all this is that I’ll never have to tell anyone, anywhere in the world, where Palm Beach County is, ever again.”
My mom and dad, recently naturalized citizens and like thousands of people in Florida voting for the first time, were solidly in the Democratic camp. I called them on Nov. 6 to help figure out where their voting place was, and e-mailed most of my other friends from high school, taking advantage of recent events in my personal life to get out the vote: Hey Eric, great news, I’m getting married in May, See you there. P.S. don’t forget to vote tomorrow for Al Gore.
When word got out about the confusing ballot that earned Palm Beach County supervisor of elections Theresa LePore the international moniker “Madame Butterfly,” I called home to double check on the events of that day. My mom’s proud declaration that she had voted for “Al Gore y Joe Lieberman” could have meant that she thought she had to vote for both Democratic candidates, like in a gubernatorial election, and this misunderstanding had left her over-vote unread by the large plastic Votomatic counting machine that ate and digested her completed ballot. But both she and Dad assured me that they got it right, that the volunteers at the precinct were exceedingly helpful, and that, to them, the ballot was actually pretty clear. They did, however, note the troubles of a few seniors, who could have had difficulty both with the layout of the ballot and with steering the stylus into and through the right hole on the punch card. In the wake of what came to pass in the next month, my dad has vowed to never vote again, to which my mom replies in Spanish, “That’s OK, because next time I plan to vote twice. And if Jeb Bush runs for reelection, I’m going to vote five times. I’m going to make sure it counts.”
I drove by the courthouse, closed on Christmas Eve, half expecting to see some physical manifestation of the Republican scorched-earth strategy, or at least a few discarded TV camera batteries. But there was nothing or no one around. The public’s attention at ground zero of Indecision 2000 had already shifted from the recounting rooms in the Emergency Operations Center on Southern Boulevard to the newly revitalized downtown, and 1CityPlace, the expansive, mixed-use, new urbanist open-air shopping mall.
The storm had passed; in Florida, confusion caused by the ballot, combined with relatives and sympathizers in the highest of places, had trumped the will of the people. But for the most part, the people moved on, concerns about the events on the political stage supplanted by humbler ones closer to home. West Palm Beach has gotten over it; soon, so will we.