Steamboat Springs Olive Morton pledged not to look at a television set until it was all over. As the Florida recount progressed, Morton, the chair of the Routt County Republican Party, tried to finish her work as director of community education at Colorado Mountain College.
Routt County Democratic Party Chair Ben Beall, in turn, went to sleep Tuesday night at about 3 a.m. thinking George Bush had won, but just as he drifted off to sleep, his son ran up the stairs and woke him up.
It wasn't over.
"Somehow we have to get to the bottom of this," Beall said.
Election fever has struck America as the presidential election goes down to the wire, and residents in northwest Colorado are not unsusceptible. At work, water coolers and coffee machines alike have become witnesses to the madness. At home, it has taken over family dinner conversations and usurped the usual fare on network television.
Ozzie Zehner, Patti Zehner and Lana Murch sat in Mocha Molly's sipping coffee Thursday morning discussing the election. They had hoped to go hiking but were forced inside by the snow and found themselves following the Florida recount almost against their will.
"Since we can't hike, we watch TV," Murch said. "It's really special to be experiencing history in the making."
Ozzie Zehner, who has his own consulting business, Imagitrends.com, said he thinks the closeness of the vote indicates a real split in the country.
"Whoever gets elected, regardless of whether its Gore or Bush, either way, they'll be facing a split nation," Zehner said. "They should put a high-ranking official from the other side in their administration."
Because the election will be decided by just a few votes in the end, Patti Zehner said she thought it would make people realize the importance of their vote.
"I think it will get more voters to vote in the next election. So people say 'my vote doesn't even matter,'" she said. "Those people aren't saying that now."
Beall, who is also a Routt County commissioner, concurred.
"It shows that everybody's vote counts," he said.
This election debacle was also a boon for political junkies such as CMC Social Science Professor Diane Mitsch Bush (no relation to the Texas governor). She has been teaching about the election all week, helping her students understand what is going on. She said a lot of the controversy in this election stems from decisions made more than 200 years ago.
When the Constitutional Congress met in 1787 to decide on the shape of the nation to come, they put in place an Electoral College, which was a compromise between two factions, the Federalists and the anti-Federalists, she said. Some lawmakers didn't have as much faith in the voting public as did others and wanted some sort of a check on them. That system, which sometimes allows the loser of the popular vote to win the election, may be challenged in the upcoming congressional session, she said.
Mitsch Bush said the ballots that may have had an illegal format in Palm Beach County, Fla., ought not to be glossed over.
"In order for the next regime to be legitimate, I think this has to be redone," she said.
Some of the madness, Morton said, has been inspired by the television media, which prematurely predicted the Florida voters' allegiances twice.
Mitsch Bush also looked at the media's role in the election.
"The media as an institution has come into conflict with the way in which politics are organized," she said.
Because the media groups were competing to be the first to announce the winner of the election, they were especially prone to errors, she said. Therefore, people such as Beall went to bed Tuesday night thinking Bush had won, only to be awakened by word of another stalemate.
Back in Mocha Molly's, the Zehners and Murch finished their coffee and got up to leave.
"It's all going to be decided," Ozzie Zehner said. "We just have to wait."
To reach Avi Salzman call 871-4203 or e-mail email@example.com