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November 19, 2000 - Presidential Election Terms - 2002-02-01

INTRO: VOA Wordmasters Avi Arditti and Rosanne Skirble look at some of the terms that, thanks to the presidential election, have won a new place in the American vocabulary.

MUSIC: "Butterfly"/Andy Williams

AA: Maybe you heard that flutter of confusion over the use of a "butterfly ballot" in Palm Beach County, Florida. Some people apparently voted for Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan when they meant to vote for Al Gore.

RS: That's because the two names appeared close together on facing pages of the ballot.

AA: Well, within a day the term "butterfly ballot" had become, in the words of the Palm Beach Post, "instant pop-culture lingo."

RS: Paul Nolte says he had never heard it before, and he's been in the ballot printing business for twenty-five years. In fact, he's president of the company whose software was used to design the controversial ballot in Palm Beach County.


"We never called this a butterfly ballot. We called it either right-hand pages or facing pages, and it wasn't until last week, after the election, that somebody -- probably in the news media -- dubbed this the butterfly ballot."

RS: "Because?"

NOLTE: "Because rather than opening this ballot up as a book and looking at the content on just the left-hand page, it was opened up as a book but a portion of the presidential contest was presented on the left-hand page and a portion of the contest was presented on the right-hand page."

RS: "Or the wings."

NOLTE: "Right, the wings of a butterfly."

AA: Paul Nolte says officials in a third of the states produce ballots with the software of his Election Resources Corporation.

RS: Some use butterflies, but most choose other designs.


"Nobody ever starts out to consciously produce a butterfly ballot. There is always some reason that it happens, and it is generally always a space limitation. Now in Palm Beach the criteria for printing the ballot, according to what I've read in the paper, is that because of the older population, and the failing eyesight of the population, the supervisor of elections chose to print the candidates' names for president in a very large point size type. Well, in Florida they had ten candidates and running mates for president and they also had a write-in position for president. So that is eleven different contests."

RS: -- and twenty-two candidates in all.


"Well, there are only nineteen voting positions on a page and they needed twenty-two. They had two alternatives, They could have gone back to a much smaller type or they could split the contest up and present it partially on the left-hand page and partially on the right-hand page. They chose the butterfly ballot."

AA: And that's not the only addition to Paul Nolte's vocabulary. We also talked about the word "chad." A chad is that little piece of card that gets punched out of the ballot when voters make their choices.

RS: Later, a machine uses a light beam to look for the holes and count the votes. But sometimes there are problems. Paul Nolte was familiar with the term "hanging chad," but not "swinging chad," "tri-chad" or "pregnant chad" terms that have been used since the voting.


"A hanging chad is a chad that is not completely separated from the ballot. Actually any hole that is partially punched is in effect a hanging chad, it's hanging on."

RS: "Whether it's swinging or attached by three corners which is what a tri-chad must be. So those do count."

NOLTE: "No, a hanging chad or a swinging chad might count one time but not count the next time."

RS: "Now explain that to me."

NOLTE: "In a machine count what might happen is that the hanging chad might actually flop over back into the hole that it came from, in effect covering up the hole. So no vote would count. The next time if you process it back through the card reader like in the case of a recount, the chad may swing back the other way, opening up the hole, and in that case the vote would count."

RS: In a hand count, he says, election officials try to interpret the voter's intent. A hanging chad may clearly signal a vote. But go figure a "dimpled" chad, one that's merely indented.

AA: Turn the ballot over, and it may even look puffy.

RS: In other words, pregnant.


"You know, that one is really a gray area because the voter did not exert enough force to even partially separate the chad from the card. That might be a stretch to count that for a vote."

AA: Which brings us to a "canvass."

RS: But not the kind an artist uses.


"A canvass is a recount of the vote, or the detail of the vote, precinct by precinct, candidate by candidate. And so a canvassing board is just the board that reviews the results and actually then certifies them as being valid."

AA: "And it's c-a-n-v-a-s-s."

NOLTE: "Yes that's correct."

AA: "And what is an undervote and an overvote."

NOLTE: "An overvote is what happens in a contest like Palm Beach County. They had (some) nineteen thousand ballots that were overvoted. It's a contest where the instruction to the voter says 'vote for one.'"

RS: "And so they vote for more than one."

NOLTE: "That's exactly right. The software that reads the ballots will pick up a hole for more than one candidate."

RS: "And invalidate the ballot."

NOLTE: "No it doesn't invalidate the ballot. It still continues to read every contest that's on the ballot, and it's only the improperly voted contests that are in effect not counted."

AA: "And what would an undervote be?"

NOLTE: "An undervote is where you have an opportunity to vote for one and you don't vote for anybody."

RS: Paul Nolte, president of Election Resources Corporation of Little Rock, Arkansas.

AA: That's all for Wordmaster this week. Our e-mail address is or write to us to VOA Wordmaster, Washington, DC 20237 USA.

RS: With Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble.

MUSIC: "Deep Down in Florida"/Muddy Waters