Government and Politics


What is a hanging chad?

A hanging chad, also called a bulging chad or a pregnant chad, is the scored piece of paper that remains on a punchcard ballot if the voter fails to fully punch the card to dislodge the paper. The chad gained national and international attention in the presidential election of 2000 when the race between Republican candidate George W. Bush (1946-) and Democrat Al Gore (1948-) hinged on the ballot count in Florida. The vote tally in the Sunshine State was so close that manual counting took place in the days following the November 7 election. News photos showed counters holding punch-card ballots up to the light to try to determine if a voter had meant to poke a chad through, thereby indicating a vote.

But Florida was not the first state where a disputed election came down to ballot inspection to try to determine voter intent. In 1996 a Democratic primary for a House seat in Massachusetts was settled by carefully inspecting ballots and counting those that were merely dimpled by the voter. In support of its decision to scrutinize ballots to determine voter intent, the Massachusetts Supreme Court stated, “If the intent of the voter can be determined with reasonable certainty from an inspection of the ballot … effect must be given to that intent and the vote counted.” The conclusion was that a voter should not be disqualified for failing to completely express his or her intent. A 1990 case in Illinois and a 1981 case in Indiana also ruled in favor of examining ballots to try to determine what the voter meant to do. In all cases, ballots where no clear intent could be determined were set aside. In 2000 the Florida recount ended with a tally of 2,909,176 votes for Bush and 2,907,451 for Gore. In winning Florida, the national electoral vote swung in Bush’s favor. Though Gore won the popular vote with a national total of 51,003,894 votes to Bush’s 50,459,211, Bush managed to carry the electoral college.

On July 31, 1998, President Bill Clinton gestures to reporters that he will take no questions about the Monica Lewinsky investigation.

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