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TO JAN. 30, 2005

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A few days before the 2000 presidential election, I attended an American Enterprise Institute briefing on the ins and outs of the Electoral College. At one point, a man asked a detailed question about how it would operate amid allegations of voter fraud or contested results in certain states. As the discussion droned on, I wondered to myself why, in this enlightened age, the panelists were spending so much time on such an unlikely issue. Oops. Now, folks can relive memories of the Florida recount at “Vote: The Machinery of Democracy” at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. (Judge Robert Rosenberg is pictured.) The exhibition is refreshingly frank about America’s sometimes dodgy history of vote-counting: Visitors can play with replicas of false-bottom ballot boxes, see a Boss Tweed piggy bank (coins placed in the legendarily corrupt pol’s hand go straight into his pocket), and ponder a 2000 Palm Beach “butterfly ballot,” with a design that’s even more confusing in real life than it seems in photographs. The show also touches briefly on D.C. voting rights: Next to the collection of hand-crafted wood boxes, elaborately engraved ballots, and venerable lever-pull voting booths, a cardboard container that held ballots from the first District of Columbia federal election, in 1964, looks suitably crappy. The show is on view from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily, to Sunday, Jan. 30, 2005, at the National Museum of American History, 14th Street and Constitution Avenue NW. Free. (202) 357-2700. (Louis Jacobson)