California left waiting for election results with the rest of the country

By Michelle Locke Associated Press Writer
Thursday November 09, 2000

LOS ANGELES – Californians are hot-wired to the instant Information Age, with the Internet in their palms and cellphones in their ears. But that didn’t help much Wednesday as online Californians waited in line with everyone else to find out who will be president. 

“It’s unbelievable,” said Laird Malamed, executive producer of Santa Monica-based Activision, an independent software publisher and distributor. “I can e-mail every single person counting the votes in Florida and they couldn’t tell me a thing.” 

In the state that spawned Silicon Valley and its speed-to-know culture, waiting was a novelty. 

“We live in this age of wanting everything right now, right this minute, news on demand. People are used to that,” said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit group which promotes putting campaign information online. “I think it’s kind of taken some people aback that we don’t know who the president is.” 

The presidential election was a walkover in California; with voters wrapping up their 54 electoral votes for Vice President Al Gore. 

But nationally, the election went into triple-double overtime, with everything hanging on a recount of the votes in Florida, where Bush was leading but by a very narrow margin. Bush cautiously declared victory Wednesday; election officials expected to finish a recount Thursday. 

Tuesday night, Malamed was sitting in his living room watching TV coverage of the election and scanning the Internet by way of his wireless laptop.  

“I fell asleep thinking Bush won and woke up in the middle of the night thinking nobody won.” 

He wasn’t alone in his confusion. News organizations declared and then undeclared a presidential winner, an example of how instant information can turn into instant misinformation if fast overrules fact. 

The slow vote highlighted the low-tech world lurking behind the curtains of the voting booth. 

Riverside County made history by using computer touch-screens and a few other counties use modern scanning systems, but in many counties a trip to the booth was a step back in time. Voters used straight pins to poke holes in computer punch cards — cutting edge technology of the 1960s. 

Even the timing of the election is a throwback, left over from the days when “farmers went to church on Sunday, came to market on Monday and voted on Tuesday,” said San Mateo chief elections officer Warren Slocum. 

One day, voters may cast their ballots by Internet, if designers can figure out a way to go high-tech without going high-risk. 

Tapping on his laptop in a Santa Monica bookstore, writer Bruce P. Gordon wasn’t quite sure if he was ready for that. 

“Accuracy is more important,” he said.