What if the future of the United States of America rested on the shoulders of Champaign County?
I recently watched that new HBO movie, Recount, about the ‘truth’ behind the 2000 presidential election. The movie focused on the story of the citizens of Palm Beach County, Fla., where little old ladies misread ballots and the hanging chad changed the course of American history. Gore won, and then he lost, and then he won, and then he lost … all because the members of a small county didn’t have their act together.
This got me nervous thinking about the situation happening in our beloved Illinois community. Champaign City Council meetings frequently feature discussions about whether or not we should plant more trees in residential neighborhoods. What would happen if the nation’s eyes were beading on us to make the decision regarding our next president?
It’s November 7, 2000. Bush vs. Gore
Illinois as a whole is largely democratic. Even though Champaign County is pretty equally divided between Democrats and Republicans, let’s hypothetically assume that the Democrats win out, allowing Gore to take Champaign County. (In 2000, Gore actually did win Champaign County, but for all practical purposes, we are unaware of these results as of yet).
But November 7, 2000 is a Tuesday. There are plenty of drink deals at Champaign bars on Monday nights. Some college students walk into the polls hung-over and dizzy from a long night of drinking. The ballot looks blurry, and some accidentally punch in “Bush” because we forget that there are two presidential nominees with four-letter last names.
Additionally, it happens to be the end of the farming season. Farmers have been working frantically to prepare for the heavy snowstorm that’s soon approaching. (Remember, this is before Gore and global warming ‘existed,’ and when we actually got snow in November). They’ve been preparing their crops to survive the cold winter months in order to produce for next year. Their hands are worn and their joints are tight. So when they go to punch in their vote for Gore, they are unable to push the dimple entirely through, producing a chad that is undetectable by the counting machines.
Before we know it, CNN, Fox News and a cavalcade of other news stations are parked up-and-down Green Street. There isn’t enough parking as is (which is an issue for a later city council meeting), but the news crews find spots and crowd our small university town with their coverage of the election. Champaign County is on the news, and now Secretary of State Jesse White needs to address the nation on the next order of business: Will we recount the ballots according to our citizens’ intentions; will we just declare an ‘unrightful’ winner according to the votes cast; or will White’s mesmerizing tumblers continue to deter us from the issue at hand?
As shown in the film, Palm Beach County is made up of mostly elderly citizens. While many admitted their voting mishaps and chose to boycott Bush mistakenly winning their county’s votes, they didn’t have enough muscle to throw off the political authorities and lawyers breathing down their necks. Officials from each party were selected to recount the votes. When the votes were properly counted, Gore was on his way to winning Palm Beach County. But this was quickly interrupted by the aggressive protests of Republicans (who realized they were going to lose Florida and the presidency if they didn’t act quickly). The distraction and pressure was too large for Palm Beach County citizens to rationally conclude that the votes should shift from Bush to Gore. Consequently, the Republicans win out.
Should this scenario have happened in Champaign County, no party’s aggression would have disrupted our county’s flow. College students as a whole are very outspoken. And even when we’re wrong, we like to think we’re right. Our college campus has virtually every activism group imaginable. Every issue from recycling to the Iraq war can’t help but be argued. We even persist on going toe-to-toe with that crazy guy on the quad who preaches that we are all sinners.
We all remember what happened with Chief Illiniwek. And despite the very conflicting views regarding the issue, a decision was enforced. Even when local politicians and members of our community were as aggressive as those government officials, a decision was made in our twin towns that became final. On the night of the Chief’s last dance, it didn’t matter if you were facing the Chief or had your back turned at halftime. Everyone was in the same stadium, and everyone was cheering for the same basketball team. That’s one of the sweet surprises of living in Chambana — despite all of its diversity and contradicting views, in a time of national controversy, we would still come together for the bigger picture.
Although, it would make a great movie to see large masses of Democrats and Republicans yelling at one another across Green Street.
How do you think Champaign-Urbana would have handled a recount?