BUYING THE ELECTION; THE RESULTS MAY BE IN, BUT COLLECTORS KEEP COUNTING

Election Day 2000 became Election Month 2000. Despite the political drama, American did not panic, riot or burn figures in effigy.

No, it was business as usual, which meant Americans did what Americans do best: capitalize, merchandise and advertise. While history was in the making, the opportunists were making a killing. The Internet especially allowed small businessfolks to move nimbly, and while indecision may have affected timid stock markets, the delay accelerated sales of political bumper stickers, T-shirts and gag gifts (chad-inspired, of course). Sales were boosted further when consumers put their partisan differences aside and hedged their bets by buying from both sides.

Of course, not every sale has been a success. Stephen Thomas was one of the early sales pioneers to hawk an election T-shirt on eBay (depicting a butterfly ballot vote for Pat Buchanan and the words, “Don’t blame me, I voted for Gore”). “One would think people would have noticed that I only sold three my first week,” writes Thomas in an e-mail. The following week, about 30 T-shirt designs followed suit, some oddly similar to his own.

Still, even as Al Gore was making his concession speech, merchandisers were opening up the concession stand for Election 2004 goodies. So, while the results may be in, the cash counting continues as political mementos become collectibles. We found several of them for you, and they’re included below.

For consumers intent on owning a scrap of history, just remember: Every vote may or may not count, but every dollar does.

From chads to riches

* Chad jewelry. For the well-dressed politico, the online fine jewelry company Enjewel (www.enjewel.com, 866-365-3935)has pregnant chad cufflinks ($100), dimpled chad earrings ($100) or a lovely butterfly ballot necklace with a hanging chad ($125), all in silver. Florida residents get a break: a special 15 percent discount “if they can fill out the order form correctly!” The Web site hit the motherlode, considering it just launched in October. Its exclusively designed pieces have been up for barely two weeks, and Enjewel has been besieged with orders from every state. As for which is selling the best, “believe it or not,” chief executive officer Sheldon Ginsberg avows, “It’s a dead heat.”

Paper chase

* Ballot cards. You can buy a set of 10 actual Florida ballots (unused) for $9.95 from www.netchad.com. The site www.votechad2000 does one better with a set stamped “Merry Christmas And a Happy New President.” Procrastinators can use the excuse that the Supreme Court held up their holiday cards.

* Chad confetti. At www.votechad2000.com, its faux chad confetti actually comes from the little holes punched out of binder paper, but demand has still been high. Why? “It’s a pet rock kind of a thing,” says Terry Hinckle, a self-described “old ad guy.” Over at www.netchad.com, they’ll sell you Authentic Ballot Chad, but it’s a do-it-yourself deal: You have to punch out the little buggers from Florida ballot cards. Sorry, these chads haven’t been certified by the secretary of state or even the janitor.

* Adopt A Chad. Those with big hearts and a little shelf space can adopt a chad at www.netchad.com. The kit comes with a certificate of adoption, “sanitary” carrying case and one pregnant chad. Nonparty-affiliated chads are $3.95, while Democrats and Republicans have to pay $1 more.

Button down

* Buttons. It seems like everyone is offering the ubiquitous political button, including the “proud master vendor for the 2000 Republican convention” (www.gopshoppe.com), PoliticalGifts.com (www.democraticgifts.com) and www.politicalshop.com. The assortment in the last includes “Chad Happens” and victory button packs for Bush/Cheney or Gore/Lieberman. Those who like to vote twice can get the 10-button set for $35 (sorry, no Pat Buchanans). “West Wing” fans can indulge their political dreams with a “Bartlet 2000” pin featuring a presidential Martin Sheen. The site’s “CEO and janitor” Sharon Clemons, who believes the elections spurred an interest that will push sales for a while, says the best seller before the election was “The Kiss,” depicting the lip-smacking vice president and wife. The best seller now: “re-TALLY-ation 2002-2004: Dems Take All!!” ($5 each or 10 for $30).

* Coins. The Minnesota-based Washington Mint has been selling its silver Gore/Bush-headed coin (Gore’s face is on one side, Bush’s on the other) for $29.95 (800-558-6468, www.washingtonmint.com). Park Avenue Numismatics’ double-headed Proof Decision 2000 Commemorative Coin comes in five different metals (including pure silver) and sells a three-coin set (silver, bronze and nickel) for $24.95 (800-992-9881, www.parkavenumis.comc).

* Cards. Play them right with the “Election 2000!” deck (www.election2000game.com). The goal of the $9.95 game, modeled after “I Declare War,” is to gain the most electoral votes as possible. It can be played three ways: Ideal, Real-World and Contest.

* T-shirts/sweatshirts. The Internet magazine Salon.com features its typically impudent take with pictures of Al Gore and George W. Bush dolls kicking each other and saying things such as “Recount this” or “I’ve got your compassionate conservatism right here, pal” ($16-$30, www.cafepress.com/salondir). Then there’s the one with them standing side by side, saying, “I’m with Stupid.”

* Stamps. America wasn’t the only nation thrown into a tizzy. Cast your vote of sympathy, if you will, for the Republic of Liberia, which makes stamps of U.S. presidents. A Nov. 17 press release admitted that “(a)midst the chaos, stamps of both men were issued.” The dual stamps were withdrawn and, Liberia promised, “the remaining quantity of the losing candidate’s stamps” would be destroyed. Naturally, a few have made their way to places such as eBay.com and www.stampville.com (the site sells the complete stamp and souvenir sheets of both presidents for $29.99). Yes, you can slap these on an envelope and send them on their way until the rate hike.

eBay watch

Only the quick, the creative and the lucky survive in this crowded flea market of entrepreneurs and fly-by-night dilettante sellers and collectors. The big auction, however, probably took place on Yahoo.com: the Ryder rental truck that delivered 462,644 disputed ballots from Palm Beach to Tallahassee. Although the American Red Cross charity sale ended Dec. 12, at press time the Red Cross was still confirming the winner by asking bids exceeding $25,000 to send a fax confirmation.

Here are just a few of the thousands of items available on eBay:

* Newspapers prematurely announcing George W. Bush’s victory.

* Florida ballots. So far, no bidders for the never-opened (therefore, never used) Miami-Dade County absentee ballot, either because the opening $10,000 price is high or nobody wants to buy from a nonvoter. An autographed Palm Beach County ballot features the signatures of ballot designer Theresa LePore and canvassing board member Carol Roberts. “The bidding on this starts at $300,” writes the seller, “because the odds of any of them ever agreeing to sign this again are slim to none.”

* More chad. One seller claims to have recovered actual chads from the floor of the Palm Beach County Emergency operations room following the manual recount ($9.95). Another crafted Christmas tree ornaments from Hillsborough County, Fla., chads ($1).

* Votomatic. This is a machine that counts butterfly ballots like the ones (that used to be?) in Palm Beach County.

* T-shirts. They run the gamut, from “Sore Loserman” (also through www.largerthanlifegraphics.com) to “Voting for Dummies: A Reference For Florida Residents Just because you’re dead doesn’t mean you can’t vote. We’ll show you how!”

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