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"She is for democracy still'

Seventh in a series of articles about the reactions of everyday people to the 2000 presidential election. The series was reported and written before Sept. 11.

Anvil-shaped shadows glide through the gulf, darkening the blue water, threading through the seaweed. Closer and closer. Heading for shore. Two, no, 10. Too many to count.

"Stingrays!" someone screams. "Get out of the water!"

Frightened folks splash and shout along the shoreline. Parents pull children off rafts. Nathalie Taveres and her sister, Marisol, stumble up the beach in their bathing suits, holding hands, helping each other.

"Those animals look awful!" cries Nathalie, 15. "I do not think we have them in my country."

The two teenagers live in the Dominican Republic. Every summer, they spend a month with their aunt and uncle in West Palm Beach. They drive to Pass-a-Grille, at the southern tip of St. Pete Beach, one weekend for a 40-relative family reunion.

"We love to be in America," Nathalie says, toweling her dark hair in the shade of a palm tree on a hot day in August. "I want to move here one day, to be a diplomat."

Nathalie didn't follow the U.S. presidential race closely. Her teacher talked about it in school, though. So Nathalie called her aunt and uncle. Now, she asks again what went on.

"I voted for the wrong person," Anneria Francisco, 44, tells her nieces. "I realized it when I was turning my ballot in. I had to go back and get another. It was terrible. I can't imagine how many other people did the same thing."

"This happens in our country's elections all the time, things like this," Nathalie says. "Our elections were just before yours. People kept waiting to see what went wrong. Nothing did! Then, you all had such problems. Well, everything went wrong, right?"

Her aunt nods.

"Well, I think that made people in the Dominican Republic and other countries feel better," Nathalie says. "At least we are not the only ones who screw up."

All this time, the girls' grandmother has been staring silently at the surf, spooning vanilla ice cream from a Pepsi cup. Now, she starts speaking in Spanish, loud and fast, wagging her wrinkled finger.

"Abuela says she is for democracy still," Nathalie translates. "The American election did not change the way she feels about democracy _ or America."

The grandmother squints across the sea, says something else.

"Do not go into the water," she tells her grandchildren. "The stingrays are still out there. Coming closer."