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Election Too Close to Call? Raffle Is Betting On It

Times Staff Writer

In a tiny village in central Vermont, Gwendolyn Hallsmith found herself thinking: In less than a week, the country would know who the next president was. Then, just as quickly, Hallsmith had a second thought:

Maybe not.

So she decided to capitalize on the possibility that Tuesday’s presidential election would be too close to call, or that some irregularity would preclude a clear victory. The 45-year-old executive director of a small nonprofit agency launched a fundraising raffle -- called “Who’s Out?” -- that would reward the person who predicted the date, hour and minute that the world knew the end result of the presidential election.

“I think people are really anxious,” Hallsmith said. “After what happened in the last presidential election, we really can’t be certain when we will find out.”

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She noted that lawsuits already had been filed in some parts of the country to challenge election practices. Legions of lawyers have lined up on both sides of the political fence to contest whatever happens.

And recent polls have found that most Americans are concerned about the possibility of a repeat of the Florida voting debacle in 2000.

“I thought we could use a little fun right now, something to take some of the anxiety out of the process,” Hallsmith said.

She modeled her raffle to benefit Global Community Initiatives after the annual “Ice Out” competition in Danville, Vt., not far from her agency’s headquarters in Marshfield.

For 37 winters, the country store in Danville has sold $1 raffle tickets to customers to predict the exact moment that a strategically placed weight in the middle of nearby Joe’s Pond will sink -- signifying that the ice has melted at last.

Half of the proceeds benefit the activities fund at Joe’s Pond, named for an 18th century Indian guide known as Old Joe. The other half goes to the winner, who in the 2004 raffle accurately predicted that the pond would thaw at 3:25 p.m. on April 21.

“I can’t imagine that it is known outside Vermont,” Hallsmith said. “But that is what makes it charming -- this quaint little Vermont village custom that we are trying to apply to a broader field. I thought people might get a laugh out of it. And besides, we could use the money for our work.”

Tickets for the presidential election raffle are $5 each and can be purchased at global-community.org.

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Hallsmith said Global Community Initiatives was founded two years ago to help communities around the world and in the U.S. attain ecological and technological self-reliance, known as sustainability. The organization also promotes technical training in low-income areas.

By state law, she said, the raffle could not exceed $20,000 in award money.

She said the most optimistic entry she had received called for the election to be determined at 1:13 a.m. on Nov. 3.

The bleakest submission predicted a decision on Feb. 2, 2005.

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Hallsmith said her own bet was that the winner would be known within three weeks of the election.

“But it’s hard to know,” she said. “And that’s why I thought this would be interesting.”


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