AUSTIN, Texas -- I'd say Jebbie Bush has a problem. Not that he didn't have one before, but now he is in a dill pickle.

The R's best strategy at this point is to make the hand recount process into the zoo that they have been claiming it is for two weeks. Chaos! Unleash the dogs of war! Contest every ballot! Foul it up past the deadline! Protest every dimpled, preggers, hanging, swinging, light-shining-through chad in the entire bunch!

Scream, yell and threaten myocardial infarction over any chad that lands on the floor, on the grounds that it clearly constitutes electoral fraud -- and besides, someone might eat it!

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's problem with this strategy is that it would rather clearly indicate that his state is so loopy that it can't conduct a simple hand recount. This whole thing is a public relations disaster for Florida, which has now eclipsed, temporarily, both Texas and California as the most bonkers place in the nation.

The fact that quite a large number of the residents of Jeb Bush's state are calmly recounting ballots and making obvious decisions about the voters' intent puts him in a fork, as they say in chess. Either his brother loses, or he claims that his own people are morons. This is not a happy choice.

Actually, watching a recount is enough to convince you that your fellow citizens are quite bright. For those of you who have never been there or done that, a recount involves major amounts of simple common sense. No matter how partisan you are, sometimes it's clear what the voter intended, and sometimes there's no way to figure it out.

Buck Wood, perhaps the best election lawyer in Texas, uses the old Art Linkletter line, "People do the darndest things," and they do them to ballots.

Let me say this to anxious Texans who may be worried about our position as the No. 1 Most Peculiar Place in the nation: I wouldn't trade our Duval County for their Duval County in a contested election if you were to offer me a million dollars.

Dimpled chads, for Pete's sake -- you don't even have to cheat to count a dimpled chad. What is that to the time we had 87 dead people vote in identical handwriting in identical green ink and counted all of them? If there's a case in Florida that might remotely compare to Texas on a good electoral-fraud day, it would be this Seminole County, where they may have to throw out all their absentee ballots. What were they thinking?

This is hard cheese on our Texas Republicans. The other day, I worked up a twinge of sympathy for GOP strategist Karl Rove. Of course we hand-recount the stupid punch ballots here.

In Harris County, they've done it 50 times in the last 20 years. In Travis County, there was a famous contested primary in 1974 that led to a regular auditing committee at every election.

What happens with the punch-card system -- and this is A-B-C to everyone who had ever been involved with these contests -- is that the trays underneath the ballots fill up with chad. People punch through an entire ballot, they leave the little pieces of detritus, and the trays that collect them are only about one-quarter of an inch deep.

Furthermore, it is not at all unusual for the chad to clump in the front or the back of a tray, so you get a series of ballots where people tried to punch through and couldn't because they hit a pile of clumped chad underneath.

Ken Wendler, a Travis County chairman in the '70s, says that one thing he learned after a great snafu is just to see that the chad trays are cleaned out before every election, because half the time you find them full of old chad from some bond election. It's a lousy system, so of course we still have it in Texas because it's cheap.

After this entire campaign, would you expect anything else from this state? What's amazing is that our electoral laws aren't as contradictory as Florida's. The Texas Legislature had a fit of bipartisan sanity one day, and the impetus came from the Republican, Bush-appointed secretary of state, Tony Garza.

Despite my partisan stake in this, I am still fascinated by the ways in which we seize upon the evidence supporting our side and totally reject the evidence from the other side. And it's so much easier to notice people on the other side doing that.

For example, George W. Bush claiming throughout the campaign, "We trust the people." And then complaining after the election: "No way can you trust people. What idiots are recounting these votes?"

Likewise, note that Al Gore, who a few weeks ago was touting the virtues of the Electoral College, now glories in the moral superiority of the popular vote.

Does this mean we should give up in despair on these two hopeless hypocrites? Nah. They're pols -- get a grip.

Molly Ivins is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at COPYRIGHT 2000 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.