John McCaslin

The FedEx delivery truck pulled up in front of this columnist's home over the Memorial Day weekend carrying a large heavy box that had to be turned sideways to fit through the front door.

I felt like "Mr. Parker" (the role personified by actor Darren McGavin in the 1983 film "A Christmas Story") when the large crate arrived at his house holding the infamous woman's-leg lamp sporting fishnet stockings.

Like the movie character, I tore into the box, anxiously tossing aside several layers of bubble wrap. Whatever it was, it was made of thick aluminum and it was big — as large as a suitcase. It had a handle and latches that, when opened, cause the entire ... well, whatchamajigger ... to unfold into an — er, mass of confusion.

"Property of Supervisor of Elections Palm Beach County Florida," the worn sticker on the outside of the contraption read. "Assembly Instructions Enclosed."

I start at the beginning.

"In front of you is an actual Votomatic voting machine used in Palm Beach County Florida during the 2000 presidential election," it begins.

As instructed, I placed the "suitcase" on the ground, opening both latches and then the lid. I next removed the aluminum poles from the underside of the top cover of the machine, in doing so unleashing hundreds of tiny "chads" that fell like confetti to the floor.

I assembled the poles (each pole is a leg made of two pieces), closed the lid and resecured the latches. Turning the thing over, I placed the four aluminum poles into the holes on the underside. Next, I carefully lifted the machine by its handle and flipped it over, opening the latches once again and raising the lid. I lifted the beige side flaps, slowly inserting the lid into the catches. Finally, I plugged the cord into an electrical socket.

Presto! Before I knew it, I had set up a Florida voting machine — a Palm Beach County polling station, folks — in my living room. In fact, it came equipped with three dozen now-worthless ballots from the Nov. 7, 2000, election in Palm Beach County.

"Voting Instructions. Step 1: Using both hands, insert the ballot card all the way into the vote recorder. Step 2: Be sure the two slots in the end of your card fit down over the two red pins. Step 3: To vote, hold the voting instrument straight up. Punch straight down through the ballot card for the candidates or issues of your choice. Do not use pen or pencil. Step 4: Vote appropriate pages. Legal time limit for voting is 5 minutes. Important notice to voters: be sure all holes are cleanly punched. Pull off any partially punched 'chips' that might be hanging."

Chips? I thought they were chads? Anyway, just for fun, I punch my hole for Al Gore.

John McCaslin

John McCaslin is a contributing columnist on and author of Inside The Beltway: Offbeat Stories, Scoops, and Shenanigans from around the Nation's Capital .

Be the first to read John McCaslin's column. Sign up today and receive delivered each morning to your inbox.