Last night, while the nation trembled in anticipation of momentous changes,

          and the candidates retreated to headquarter bathrooms to apply a coat of hair spray, and the baby-cheeked ward heelers contemplated political posts, and the pols yimmered and yammered on the television screen, Joyce Swadner allowed herself a brief moment of triumph. It is her job to grease the election machinery in such a way that the electorate can concentrate on its anticipation, the candidates on their hairdos, the suck-ups on their promotions, and the pols on their spinning. If she does her job well, nobody knows she's doing it: No dead people file absentee ballots, no polling place lacks an American flag, no janitor opens the basement storage closet on Wednesday morning to find a crumpled wad of uncounted ballots.

          For the past several weeks, the election machinery has been grinding along with Swadner applying liberal amounts of grease. Back in mid-October, in an Eden Prairie print shop, 110 percent of the 200,000 ballots for Minneapolis were printed on cardstock, sorted into stacks of 50, sealed in shrink-wrapped bundles, signed for and double-checked, loaded onto pallets and into a truck bound for the rear loading dock of a Richfield warehouse owned by the Minneapolis Police Department which serves as headquarters for the voter equipment shop.

          The chief safeguard against election fraud consists of counting the ballots: ballots cast, ballots botched, and blank ballots. The dock workers check and re-check the number of ballots in each truck load. Because of the various local races in one or another of the 144 precincts under Swadner's scrutiny, there are 38 styles of ballots that Minneapolis voters encountered yesterday. Out of fairness to the candidates, "because a lot of people just vote for the person on top," the names are scrambled on each style of ballot, except for the presidential candidates, who appear in reverse order of votes received in the last election.

          A sisterhood of blue-rinsed retirees presides over the typical polling place. These are the election judges--tested, briefed, sorted by political party, and transported across the city by Swadner. The friendly clucking and solicitous fussing of this sisterhood inspires a confidence in the overall election process unmatched by, say, overweight Serbs in military fatigues, or apprehensive UN observers in baby-blue helmets. One almost expects an American election judge to insist upon a second helping of steamed baby carrots in a brown sugar glaze for every voter. Nevertheless, a complex rubric governs their behavior. Judges from opposing political parties must initial each and every ballot and attest under oath to the number of ballots they handle.

          The business of actually counting votes is taken out of human hands altogether. Hunched on top of every ballot box sits the ultimate election judge: the tabulator. The brain of a tabulator is its "Prom pack," a programmable read-only memory chip encoded every election by Prom pack programmers in the downtown election headquarters. Every ballot consists of two bar-codes. The first is printed on the upper right hand corner, and must match the Prom pack code for the precinct, or the tabulator vomits the voter's choices. Voters create the second bar code when they complete the arrow next to their candidate's name. Just like a scanner in the grocery store, the Prom pack reads each vote: Coke or Pepsi; Bill Clinton or Bob Dole.

          It takes about two weeks to test every tabulator and its Prom pack with a test stack of 20 or 30 ballots (which are sealed and stored in a locked room after testing). A week or two before the election, a little party convenes in the Richfield warehouse made up of Swadner; her warehouse supervisor, Joe; his full-time colleague; two election judges (a Democrat and a Republican); and any candidates or members of the public with an inclination to attend. The group gathers around a tabulator and runs the test stack through. If all goes well, everyone signs off on the final test, and the equipment is ready to run.

          At the end of the night, all across the city, judges turn the key on the tabulator that calculates the vote. For seven minutes, the printer rattles away spitting out the winners on a cash-register tape. Then two judges (a Democrat and a Republican) drive through the dark to City Hall with their tabulator tape, Prom pack, and ballots. The final destination for the ballots is a locked room in City Hall. Joyce Swadner owns the only key to this room and even she won't enter without a witness for fear of election fraud.

          The light burns late tonight; the queen judge and her minions must tally Donald and Daffy, Minnie and Mickey by hand. The winners apply a second coat of hair spray. The losers and their doorknockers seek solace in their beer-drenched dreams of power. The talking heads discuss the latest murder. And the electorate looks for shelter against the coming storms of winter.

--Joseph Hart


          As if by some uncanny fourth sense (yeah, fourth), Cindy Crawford refrained from writing "some type of autobiography" ("I wasn't interested at this point in my life"). Not quite ready for the garbage heap of super-modelhood yet, Cindy? But the book she wrote instead, "CINDY CRAWFORD'S BASIC FACE" (as if we haven't seen enough of it already), does reveal that her family called the child Crawdaddy "Mole Face." You won't find much more about Mole Face in this over-designed book, which comes wrapped in plastic, smells faintly of urine, and is written in all capital letters (with one finger?). Nevertheless, Mole Face has included some real gems, excerpted below. Who says men are the only Neanderthals?

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