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Fla. Vote Difference Is Miniscule

December 1, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) _ If George W. Bush and Al Gore were Olympic bobsledders, they’d both get a gold medal and a pat on the back for their dead heat. If they were precision car parts, they’d both make the grade.

Few familiar things in life are judged to such a fine point as the difference in votes in Florida.

Out of 5,825,043 Florida votes, Bush was awarded 537 more than Gore. Rounded off, that’s one in 11,000.

A person is slightly more likely to be born with cataracts or win the big prize in the Pick 4 lottery.

Put another way, Bush’s certified Florida win _ giving him the presidency if it holds up against Gore’s legal challenges _ amounts to a margin of 0.00009, just short of one ten-thousandths of a point.

In many aspects of life, that’s not just splitting hairs, it’s splitting split ends.

They say baseball, for example, is a game of inches. If the Florida vote were a game of baseball, Bush’s margin would amount to less than half an inch around the base paths.

They also say it isn’t over until the fat lady sings. If the contest were Richard Wagner’s 17-hour ``Ring of the Nibelungen,″ Bush and Gore would be separated by about 5.6 seconds of song, hardly time for the lady to clear her throat.

Laurence Tribe, arguing Gore’s side in the Supreme Court on Friday, said the outcome was ``a kind of photo finish″ and what’s going on now ``is rather like looking more closely at the photograph.″

It may not have been the most helpful analogy for Gore; if he and Bush were horses, the Republican’s lead, while very small, would be discernible. Bush would be ahead by just under nine inches, for example, in the 1.5-mile Belmont Stakes.

What courts are deciding, in essence, is where to draw the finish line.

The ratio of Bush’s edge is equivalent to a half inch up the Washington Monument or a nearly 13-foot win in a marathon. It’s about half the size of Leon County _ home of the Florida Legislature and busy courts _ in an area the size of the United States.

It’s as if three fewer Americans stabbed themselves with scissors, something that more than 30,000 people seek emergency room treatment for in a year.

Time-measured Olympic events don’t dip into the realm of ten-thousandths. Most settle for hundredths: U.S. swimmers Gary Hall Jr. and Anthony Ervin shared gold in the 50-meter freestyle with a 21.98-second performance.

Even critical car parts pass muster if they are just one-ten thousandths off, engineers say.

``Anything mechanical that has wear and tear would be within that range,″ says Patrick Berzinski of Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J.

This is, of course, democracy, not ball bearings.

It doesn’t matter how small the edge in Florida, only that there be an edge of one vote.

But that assumes certitude in counting and a fixed finish line. Florida’s twists and turns have been enough to send David Murray, director of the Statistical Assessment Service, into metaphysical musings.

It’s like a journey that begins with one step covering half the distance, he says excitedly. Each succeeding step also covers half the remaining distance.

You always get closer but you never arrive.

``Don’t go there,″ Murray says, as if to himself. ``That’s the abyss.″

To be sure, some things other than Florida elections matter by the tiniest of bits. Pollutants are measured in parts per billion.

Then there is perhaps the most perfect measuring thing of all, the cesium clock. The U.S. Naval Observatory uses about 70 of them along with other instruments for the nation’s Master Clock.

Accurate to one second in 1.4 million years, the cesium clock ``is the most accurate realization of a unit that mankind has yet achieved,″ the observatory says.

Gore lives in the vice presidential mansion on the observatory grounds, working these days for a more favorable realization of a Florida unit.

___

EDITOR’S NOTE _ Associated Press Writer Randolph E. Schmid contributed to this story.

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