There is a widespread belief in the African American community that many voters were wrongfully purged from voter rolls and that police tried to intimidate people with roadblocks near polling stations. Republicans had their own complaints, including the decision by TV networks to call Florida for Gore even as polls remained open in the Panhandle.
But the way events played out, all eyes on Election Day quickly turned to Palm Beach County. That morning, voters began howling. Panicked Democratic politicians descended on LePore's office. By that night, she was surrounded by lawyers, reporters, TV cameras. By the next day she was on live TV around the globe, and planeloads of Gore and Bush fixers were landing hourly at the airport.
"I call it my perfect storm -- without George Clooney," LePore says. "The whole 40 days or whatever it was is really a blur to me."
Carol Roberts, the feisty Democratic county commissioner who sat with LePore on the three-person canvassing board, recalls, "Theresa had had very little sleep. She lost 20 pounds during that period. She looked like hell. . . . She had bags under her eyes, she was wound tight as a drum."
LePore's friend Karen Clarke argues that LePore refused to be partisan during the recount, infuriating everyone on both sides.
Some close friends of LePore turned against her, including Jackie Winchester, the former supervisor of elections and LePore's mentor. But today Winchester acknowledges the flukish nature of the situation. Other elections officials have probably made worse mistakes without the whole world noticing, Winchester says.
"She was very unlucky."
LePore says she has apologized for the confusing ballot, but she quickly follows this with a string of exasperated statements:
"No good deed goes unpunished. I did it for a reason. Hindsight's 20/20. I'm sorry people were confused."
She's said these things so many times they've become like bumper stickers.
She repeatedly talks about voter error. On absentee ballots people are supposed to draw a simple line connecting two points, but instead they circle the name, or check it, or draw arrows to it, or cut it out from the ballot entirely with a knife. She's gotten ballots carefully sealed in an envelope but utterly blank. As a lifer in the election office, she knows the bitter truth: People find all manner of ways to botch a ballot.
"How many people looked at the back of their punch card to make sure the holes were punched through, like they were supposed to?" she says of the hanging-chad problem of 2000.
She accepts blame for not doing more voter education in 2000, and adds, "And the voters get the blame for not following instructions. I physically cannot be at every machine to see that the voters are following instructions."
In politics, there's an unwritten rule that voters must always be praised, that their wisdom must never be questioned. But you don't hear that from LePore. In the LePore Democracy, voting is an accident waiting to happen.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company