Voting FAQ

Answers to your questions about the news.
Nov. 13 2000 6:19 PM

Voting FAQ

He's up, he's down, his chad are so pregnant they need to be induced. What's the deal with this election?

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What's the origin of the word "chad"?

The word first appeared in 1947, according to Merriam-Webster, to describe the little rectangles of paper that are created when punching holes in data cards or other larger sheets. The etymological origin is unknown. Grammatically speaking there are no "chads" because "chad" is a plural noun.

If it's not a really close election, do officials bother to count absentee ballots?

Yes, but it takes a while. The reason absentee ballots are not counted by Election Day is that state election officials have to check the names on the envelopes of the mailed ballots against voter registration lists to make sure people haven't voted twice.

When is an election officially over?

When the results are certified, in most states by the secretary of state's office. It takes days or weeks for the results from all counties and absentee ballots to go to the office so a certificate of election can be issued. In most cases this is just a technicality because the results are so clear that the winners celebrate and the losers concede.

Who won the Oregon presidential election?

Al Gore, according to The Associated Press. The state, which has the first all mail-in presidential vote, won't certify until Nov. 27. Officials say it wasn't any glitches in the system that delayed declaring even the unofficial winner, it was the closeness of the race. Gore is leading by about 5,600 votes. Oregon has an automatic recount if the difference between the two top vote getters is less than two-tenths of 1 percent of the total votes cast. In this case, a recount would be triggered if the margin were 2,800 votes or less, so a Gore win looks assured.

How many different ways are there to cast a vote?

Five. The oldest, paper ballots, were used by 1.7 percent of the U.S. electorate in the last presidential election. Mechanical lever machines, which register votes through counting wheels, not ballots, were introduced in 1892. Though the machines are no longer manufactured, they were used by 20.7 percent of the voters in the 1996 presidential race. The now internationally famous punch-card method of voting, a result of the nascent computer industry, was first used in 1964. In 1996, 37.3 percent of presidential voters cast their ballots that way. Optical scanning, or Marksense systems, like those used to read multiple choice answers on standardized tests, were used by 24.6 percent of voters in the last presidential race. The newest technology, direct recording electronic (DRE), is an electronic update of the old lever machine. Voters enter their choice on touch-screens or through buttons. Last time 7.7 percent of voters made their selection this way.

For more voting questions, click here  and here.

Explainer thanks Paddy McGuire of the Oregon Secretary of State's office and Eric Olson of the Center for Voting and Democracy. For more information see www.fec.gov.

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