A hanging chad refers to a small piece of paper intended to be punched from a larger sheet of paper, but still remaining attached. The term came into general public discourse during the 2000 United States (US) presidential election when unusually close voting numbers resulted in a hand recount of thousands of ballots in Florida. During this time, there was a great deal of discussion regarding the eligibility of ballots that had a hanging chad instead of a cleanly punched hole, to indicate the voter’s choice of candidate. The term has remained in popular usage, especially among political commentators and figures within popular culture.
The 2000 US election featured a hotly debated contest between then Vice President Al Gore and Texas Governor George W. Bush. On the night of the election, the state of Florida became the center of national attention, as exit polling indicated that Gore had won in Florida and these results were stated by several television networks. Several hours later, however, more votes were tallied and the initial prediction was retracted and changed to “too close to call” by the television broadcasts.
A few hours after that, the state was declared to have gone to Bush and he was named the next president-elect by several stations. This was before some of the more prominently pro-Gore districts had been tallied, however, and the results were eventually found to be so close that a hand recount was required by law before a final result could be given. Though the recount eventually ended under a storm of controversy, the process introduced the general public to the hanging chad and shone a new light on American politics.
During this recount process, the methods used to vote on ballots in Florida were brought into the national spotlight, and the hanging chad came into the group consciousness of the US. The method used to indicate a chosen candidate on the Florida ballots involved pressing a metal piece through the paper ballot to punch out a hole for the preferred candidate. In many cases, this was done cleanly and the desired candidate was obvious to even a casual observer.
Other ballots, however, were not as easily tallied and these became the source of much debate, frustration and controversy. In situations where the chad, the small piece of paper punched out by a voter, was not cleanly separated from the ballot, the result was referred to as a hanging chad. For a four-cornered chad, the term is usually used only in situations where a single corner is still attached to the paper. As the process made national headlines, however, the phrase was used commonly and the hanging chad became synonymous both with the actual paper pieces themselves and with a sense of the general breakdown of election procedures.