“People kept saying that somehow this was going to be a more accurate count. That’s crazy. These counters were working all day, and the were going to make mistakes. Observers helped, but we couldn’t catch everything.”


Fall/Winter 2001

A One-Way
Ticket to Palm Beach

While David Kendall’s most famous client was celebrating his final Thanksgiving in the White House, Bob Grand ’78 was spending the week with the George W. Bush team observing the vote recount in the Florida county that would decide closest Presidential Election in U.S. history.

by Steve Charles

Bob Grand wasn’t expecting the call. After the tense days of the 2000 Presidential Election, the Bush Campaign finance chair for the state of Indiana was looking forward to Thanksgiving with his family. So when his cell phone rang, he wasn’t eager to answer.

“It was one of the deputy directors of the campaign from Austin, and he asked me to go to Florida,” Grand says. “He told me I could pick up my plane ticket right before my flight left.

“As I picked it up that Sunday, I asked the lady at the counter when I’d be returning. She looked at the ticket and said, ‘Sir, you’ve got a one way ticket to Palm Beach. I don’t know when you’re coming back.’”

Grand visited Wabash during Homecoming Week 2002 to share some of the lighter moments from his four days on the front lines of last year’s recount in Palm Beach County.

“You have to give credit to the Democrats,” Grand said told his hosts, the Will Hays Wabash College Republicans. “They were very well organized in Florida, and all the Republicans had was a skeleton crew. So after the first week of the recount the Bush people began to reach out to lawyers outside of the South, and that’s how I got the call.”

Grand arrived in Palm Beach to find media trucks encircling the Palm Beach Emergency Center where the recount was being conducted. The Republican teams being shuttled in to observe the recount were being trained a few blocks away—up to 100 people jammed into the seven-office Advance Tax Service.

“The owner of the place was a very loyal Republican, and the story goes that he gave his entire office over to the Bush people,” Grand said. “When you looked up on Inaugural Day, the owner of the Advance Tax Service should have been sitting right next to the Bush family, because he really took care of us.”

Grand’s team of observers consisted of four congressional staffers who met him in Florida and one person he chose personally—Indiana Deputy State Treasurer Betsy Burdick, sister of Brandt ’89 and Brian Burdick ’91.

The team was trained on how to check the ballots as they were being handled by the counters (observers were not allowed to touch the ballots), and then Grand and his colleagues were tossed into the fray.

“The Palm Beach Emergency Center is an imposing place already—this is where government agencies are coordinated during hurricanes—but that evening, as soon as we cleared the three armed checkpoints, stepped off the van and walked to the door, the place lit up like daylight,” Grand said. “All these cameras and TV lights were shining on us, microphones were shoved toward us as reporters tried to get our names and figure out which side we were on. And when I showed the guard my driver’s license, all these cameras zoomed in on it. I could hear people calling out my name.”

Once inside, the team members took their places, watching ballots being counted and objecting if they saw a hanging chad on one of the punch ballots or noticed a ballot being put in the stack for the wrong candidate.

“It was difficult for us to concentrate and keep up with the process, but it was tougher for the counters,” Grand said. “These were county employees, they’d been working a long time, and they didn’t really want you objecting and slowing things down. But sometimes the cards were moving too fast for us to see them clearly, and we’d have to slow them down.”

After each session, the Bush campaign workers would ask how many objections each observer had posted. Grand said he was typically in the 10-15 range, but Betsy Burdick would have 75 or more.

“She was an instant hit and did a great job,” Grand said.

On day three, she played an even more significant role.

“This is the day you started hearing about people eating the chads,” Grand said. “So we started to collect them. When a Democrat saw Betsy collecting them off the floor, she told him she was having a contest with her roommate to see who could collect the most chads. The Democrat told Betsy he could help her win the contest, and he took her to another room and gave her a bag of them, claiming that they were chads from a different election. Betsy took that bag straight to the observer team.

“So when you read in the news about bags of chads, that was Brian and Brandt’s sister, Betsy, who exposed that,” Grand said.

The experience left Grand seriously questioning the accuracy of hand counting.
“People kept saying that somehow this was going to be a more accurate count. That’s crazy. These counters were working all day, and the were going to make mistakes. Observers helped, but we couldn’t catch everything.”

Grand mentioned two instances where mistakes were caught.

“They kept track of the cards by putting them in piles of 50, but one late night, we had two counters and the Democrat observer claiming a pile of 400 for Gore; the Republican observer objected and, when the pile was examined by the judges. there were only 350,” Grand said. “These people weren’t trying to be fraudulent; it wasn’t done on purpose. They were just tired and upset.”

“We did see some incredible ballots. One ballot had the Bush chad scotch-taped back in and the Gore chad was punched out; now how many people bring scotch tape to a voting place?

“We saw things like that, and I’m sure the Democrats have their own stories,” Grand said. “This simply was not a more accurate count.”

Grand returned home on Thanksgiving Day, but the recount mania wasn’t over yet.
“I got home, hugged my family, gave my kids some t-shirts, and suddenly my oldest son says there’s a tv truck in my driveway. TV Channel 6 wanted an interview. So my wife has all these family members with us for dinner, and here’s Channel 6 going through with a minicam filming my Thanksgiving, “ Grand said.

“My son, Colin, got on TV, and at school the next day some of the girls thought he was pretty cool because of it.”

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