Humpty Dumpty, court decisions and sexy legs


Expanded from the 12-10-00 Sparks (Nev.) Tribune

"When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more, nor less."
— Humpty Dumpty in Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland"

The Egg Man, joined by all the king's lawyers and all the king's men, has found steady work in Florida.

The big bone of contention before Count Antonino and the DC Supremes tomorrow seems to involve standards for recounting ballots. I submit that the biggest, meanest, most badass judges in the land have no idea how such is actually done.

Only Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has ever held elective office. I've not only participated in recounts of several types of election ballots, I've had more relevant judging experience than the U.S. Supreme Court.

Back when I handled a lot of retail advertising, I produced promotions of varying stripes. Ugly car contests for the Reno Autorama. A bigfoot contest and a hot legs competition for a local jewelry store. Once, I even judged the Miss Rodeo Nevada pageant.

I found that no matter how much anyone tried to put rules in writing, there would always be questions and controversies to be settled during the process.

Several similar evaluation behaviors developed every time.

First, the judges would teach themselves how to judge while reviewing the first 20 percent or so of the contestants. This hearks back to a learning curve rule I was taught in personnel management class: you will learn 80 percent of the job within the first 20 percent of the time you're on it.

In the case of the Florida recounts, this explains how some of the ballot counting criteria might have changed as a count progressed. The recounters were using the early ballots to develop methods for the rest of the count.

Is this fair? Perhaps not, but it is certainly legal and allowable under Florida law which wisely and broadly dictates that determining the intent of the voter is the paramount consideration. With 67 counties using various types of balloting hardware and software, no more detailed standard is possible. A legislature cannot micromanage vote counting. More important, it cannot come up with standardized rules if it allows voting standards to vary county by county.

Even then, discretion must be given to local election boards because of the complexity of the task at hand.

I've found that if you trust people to do a good job, they will. My volunteer judges in a wide range of strange contests invariably behaved the same way, teaching themselves how to reach a fair result depending on the situation. I saw the same behavior emerge during the Harry Reid vs. John Ensign U.S. Senate recount right here in River City two years ago.

In my long-ago radio station promotions, I observed one other consistent behavior: the winner was most often a contestant judged late. In one hot legs competition (where the judges could see only the legs of the contestants), the victor was the next-to-last among more than 60 entrants. The same held true every year for the Reno Autorama ugly car contest. Both beauty and the beast were treated in a similar and democratic manner.

Fans of figure skating and gymnastics may notice how TV commentators often note the order of the final contestants as having an impact on the scores, even though the judges in question are highly experienced. The same human factors apply to Olympians, rodeo queens and jalopies.

Because the Supremes have never judged an ugly car, horsemanship or bigfoot contest, a full and fair count in Florida may now never happen.

THE GREAT EQUALIZER. In my promotional days, I learned to add the following to all contest rules: contestant agrees to accept the decision of the judges as final. Which is exactly how the presidential election will end. But the final call won't be that of the voters. Humpty Dumpty rules.

NAACP PROTEST. Concurrent with tomorrow's high court hijinx, the NAACP is staging a "Count Every Vote" rally in Miami. In conjunction with the Florida demonstration, Lonnie Feemster, President of the Reno-Sparks Branch of the nation's oldest civil rights organization, has called a press conference for 1:00 p.m. Monday at the Second Baptist Church, 1265 Montello at Carville in Reno.

The Florida rally is being held "to protest the blatant disenfranchisement of African-American voters," says an announcement from NAACP President and CEO Kweisi Mfume.

"The NAACP will not tolerate this abuse of the precious right to vote, a right paid for in blood," the statement asserts.

NOT LEGIT, SO QUIT. Wal-Mart's corporate arrogance was a contributing factor in the turndown of its proposed northwest Reno superstore before the Reno City Council last month. Nearby residents brought forth photographic evidence of wholesale lawbreaking by the Arkansas-based retailer.

Not only had Wal-Mart allowed illegal long-term recreational vehicle parking, management admitted that it refused to notify RV owners to leave. In addition, Wally World illegally placed dozens of metal storage buildings on the parking lots of its two existing stores. Reno city ordinance allows only three per location.

This Tuesday, in the session beginning at 6:00 p.m., Wally World returns to the Reno City Council to appeal unanimous Reno Planning Commission decisions against allowing those steel buildings to remain while the stores are expanded. Wal-Mart, the nation's largest retailer and importer of slave and prisoner produced goods, has 65 of the illegal containers at its Northtowne store and 34 at its Kietzke Lane location.

If the city allows an exception for one, it cannot legally deny any similar request. A number of years ago, the council passed an ordinance limiting the height of pole-mounted neon signs. McDonald's and Ridgeview Shopping Center applied for variances soon thereafter. Ironically, Ridgeview is located at MaeAnne and McCarran, right across the street from the site where Wal-Mart wanted to place the superstore which the council turned down on Nov. 28.

The yesteryear council granted the McDonald's variance over the advice of the city attorney, who noted that once the burger joint got permission for another 65-foot eyesore, it would be impossible to defend the new ordinance against smart lawyers. Soon thereafter, Ridgeview got its own 65-foot sign which today also advertises a McDonald's restaurant.

The council should back up its planning commission and allow no recounts. The one in Florida is enough.

(Editor's note: After this column ran, Wal-Mart withdrew its applications.)

Be well. Raise hell.

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© Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano,a 32-year Nevadan, is a member of Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of NevadaLabor.com. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988.

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