Simple Math and Dimpled Chad

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Dec. 12 2000 4:41 PM

Simple Math and Dimpled Chad

"Dimpled chad will be puzzling moral philosophers for centuries," assertsSlate's editor, reflecting the widespread view that they raise a difficult question. But on the question of how or whether to count a dimpled chad as a valid vote--there ought to be no puzzlement at all. In obeyance to the laws of logic and probability, dimpled chad should ALWAYS be counted as valid votes, together with any other mark on a ballot. Here is why:

A mark on a ballot might indicate an intended vote. Or it might indicate nothing at all and be the result of an accident--for instance, an accidental bruise made by a stylus. There is no other possibility. It must be one or the other. But accidental marks, being accidental, will distribute themselves around a ballot randomly. Al Gore will receive a certain number of accident marks, but so will Bush, Nader, Buchanan, David McReynolds of the Socialist Party, and all the other candidates, unto the most minor. And each of those candidates, major and minor, will receive pretty much the same number of accidental marks.

A candidate who receives more marks than some other candidate can have done so only through the active choice of the voters. Thus, if someone does eventually tally up the "undervote" ballots in Florida, and if, say, Gore comes in first, with Bush second, followed by Nader, Buchanan, McReynolds, and so on through the list of candidates, there can be only one possible explanation, logically speaking. The explanation must be that voters chose to vote in that fashion.

May I point out an obvious conclusion? The United States and its Supreme Court are right now bollixed up over a simple logical error. Florida law instructs the ballot counters to determine the intent of the voters. Nothing could be easier or simpler to do. Everyone is making a mistake in claiming otherwise. The ballot counters merely have to tally up all the marks on the ballots and not worry about the intentions of the voters. The unintended marks will cancel each other out, and the intended marks will register differently for each candidate. In short, a hand count of all marks will show the voters' intentions willy-nilly.

I can imagine that the Republicans, in seeing my argument, will still insist on the impossibility of making a fair judgment of the intentions of the voters. But there is no logical basis for making that insistence. The Republicans might have good reason to fear a hand count. Personally, I think they have an excellent reason. But it is not because the results will be inaccurate. On the contrary.

Paul Berman is a New York writer.