Machines that gave Bush presidency up for sale

The voting machines at the centre of George Bush’s controversial first presidential election victory are now being sold as collectors’ items.

The mechanical devices in which voters punched out holes in cards to select candidates were used in Florida, the key state that Mr Bush won from Al Gore by just 537 votes in 2000.

The small discs of card punched out by the machines are known as chads and were at the heart of the disputed ballot, ones not having been holed known as “pregnant chads” and those still clinging to the card by a thread as “hanging chads”.

Three years ago Jim Dobyns bought 1,200 Votomatic III voting machines, ones used by Palm Beach County during the infamous election after the state replaced them in favour of new technology.

Mr Dobyns, a Republican political consultant, has been selling the collapsible, briefcase-sized Votomatics on eBay or through his web site for up to €50.

Recently, he leased 26 as props to the movie “Recount,” which was about Mr Bush’s Florida victory.

But his list of customers has also grown to include a congressional worker, an executive with the New York City bar association, a few presidential libraries and a number of high school history teachers.

Most of the machines, however, have gone to Democrats still angry about the 2000 election and entranced by the machines.

Owners say they like having a piece of history and that the pieces are a conversation starter, no matter what party someone belongs to.

Chris Chiari, 34, a Florida business consultant and Democrat, bought two of the machines last summer – one for an auction and the other to set up in his den. “I can punch any hole I want. I own it,” said Mr Chiari.

Mr Dobyns’ stock is getting low. He has about 50 to 60 machines left, which he keeps in a storage facility near his home.

In May, Dobyns realised he’d been making a mistake. Every time he sold a Votomatic, he gave away something for free: the chads left in the back of the machine.

He opened one machine and scooped out the chads. He and his wife printed up certificates of authenticity and sat down together to assemble small bags of chads.

At 10 chads per bag, Dobyns thinks he can make about 2,000. He hopes to sell them for £12 (€14.87) each on eBay.

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