“One Vote in 2000”

The following is a guest post from William P. Wood, former chief counsel to the California Secretary of State:

Coming up to a tumultuous presidential election, with questions and concerns raised about the election process itself, it’s worthwhile to revisit what some California elections officials, airline pilots, diplomats, and nurses did during the 2000 election to make sure one badly injured voter got to cast his ballot.

Forty-eight hours before the polls opened in California, Sunday morning in November 2000, I got a call from Rob Lapsley, the chief deputy for Bill Jones, the Secretary of State. I was chief counsel. Rob said that Bill had just spoken at a church in Los Angeles. Gloria Wei approached him, asking if he could help her husband vote on November 7. Andrew Wei was a registered voter in LA and he was on Singapore Airlines Flight #006 on October 31 when it crashed in Taipei, Taiwan. He was recovering in a Taipei hospital’s burn unit.

Bill promised to help and Rob wanted me to see what could be done on such short notice.

I hurried down to the office, getting hold of our elections lawyers, Pam Giarrizzo and Oliver Cox, who agreed that something had to be done, if there was any way to make the election laws work for this injured voter. One saving grace: the time difference between California and Taiwan was fifteen hours ahead, we had gained some critical time.

While we started combing through the election laws, seeing what could be put together, I called the victim’s wife and told her what we were trying to do and she thanked us. The next series of calls went to the American Institute in Taipei, the de facto United States embassy in Taiwan. The two diplomats I briefed, Charles Bennett and Patty Hill, were also anxious to help out.

The election lawyers constructed an “emergency absentee ballot” that could be faxed to Taipei. But the law of that time didn’t allow it to be faxed back. I spent the rest of Sunday and Monday morning on the phone with the Los Angeles County Registrar, Connie McCormack. She had a few other things to do in those hectic hours before the election, but she and I spoke a dozen times about the logistics of making sure the voted ballot was physically delivered to her before the polls closed at 8 p.m. on November 7.

The clock was running. I faxed the emergency absentee ballot, instructions on how to vote it and put it together for some privacy and security, and got it to the Taipei hospital. Nurses were standing by to help the Andrew Wei complete the ballot. One of the diplomats from the American Institute then drove the voted ballot to the Taipei airport where China Airlines had agreed to fly it to Los Angeles. It was a thirteen hour flight.

The plane landed at LAX and an employee of Singapore Airlines picked up the ballot and drove it to Norwalk to the Los Angeles County Registrar’s Office and delivered it to Connie personally. The ballot arrived at 4:30 in the afternoon, November 7, 2000.  Hours to spare.          

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