With an election this close, the table is set for a series of scenarios that could keep us up all night and may have us watching court dockets as much as vote totals in the days and weeks following November 2. Ignoring the real possibility of voter fraud and legal shenanigans in various states, here are some scenarios that might keep you up all night.
2000 All Over Again
If Bush and Kerry split the states just as Bush and Gore did in 2000, Bush would win the presidency with 278 electoral votes. After the 2000 census, Bush states picked up seven electors giving him the cushion he needs in case he would lose a state like West Virginia, Arkansas, Nevada, or New Hampshire. Still, Kerry could win the popular vote by wracking up big margins in cities and the coastal counties of California. In 2000, Al Gore won the popular vote by almost 540,000 votes but only after winning California by more than 1.5 million.
2000 in Reverse
Bush seems to have successfully stopped his debate-inspired slide and has rebounded in many national polls. The most recent polls in battleground states, however, show some signs of weakness for the president. Bush can win substantial margins in Texas, across the south, and in the Mountain West while doing tolerably well in the midwest so that he can win the national popular vote. He can do this and still lose the electoral-college vote. If every state voted as it did in 2000, with the exception of Florida going to Kerry, the Democrat would win with 287 electoral votes. If he only added Ohio to Gore’s 2000 mix of states, he would win with 280 electoral votes. Interestingly, most of us would have predicted this scenario as the more likely one for 2000 than Bush winning the electoral college but losing the popular vote to Al Gore.
Disputed Votes in Disputed States
We have already begun to see both sides preparing for a possible post-election fight. Like the Persian King Xerxes who went into battle with his “10,000 Immortals,” Kerry has surrounded himself with 10,000 volunteer lawyers ready to battle in courts all over the nation. Bush’s team has also assembled its own legal department. Here is why: In 2000, 59 electoral-college votes were controlled by just 24,731 voters. Florida was won by just 537; New Mexico by 366; Iowa by 4,144; Wisconsin by 5,708; Oregon by 6,765; New Hampshire by 7,211. Slight changes in any of those states could have meant a very different electoral outcome. The reason we didn’t see “hanging-chad” like recounts in the other states was that the Gore campaign calculated that Florida was their best chance of picking up the needed electors (New Hampshire being the only other close state Bush won). If the electoral gods conspire to give us several states that are close and that could tip the balance, we could see Kerry’s army of lawyers take to the battlefield.
It’s All Tied up
It is possible that we could end election night with a 269-269 tie in the electoral college. If it happens, two possibilities could unfold. First, an elector could defect from one camp to the other before voting. That is not likely. Otherwise the House of Representatives would be called upon to choose the president. What could happen in the House? Stay tuned to this column in coming days for an analysis of that eventuality. A tie could happen in several ways. Based on a starting point of the 2000 results, the most likely scenarios resulting in a tie would be:
Scenario 1: All states vote the way they did in 2000 except the swing states of New Hampshire and West Virginia that both go to Kerry.
Scenario 2: All other states vote as they did in 2000 except Colorado or Louisiana who vote for Kerry.
Scenario 3: All other states vote as they did in 2000 except Colorado voters vote to split their vote and Kerry takes four of the nine electoral votes and Kerry is also able to win West Virginia.
Scenario 4: All other states vote as they did in 2000 except Colorado voters vote to split their vote and Kerry takes five to Bush’s four and Bush wins New Mexico.
Scenario 5: All other states vote as they did in 2000 except Bush picks up Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and New Mexico but Kerry picks up Colorado, Florida, and West Virginia.
Scenario 6: All other states vote as they did in 2000 except Colorado and Arkansas vote for Kerry while Bush picks up New Mexico and Maine’s 2nd Congressional District.
Stock up on your snacks and beverages of choice, practice your deep-breathing techniques, settle into a comfortable chair, and get ready for a possibly long night!
–Gary L. Gregg is director of the McConnell Center for Political Leadership at the University of Louisville and editor of Securing Democracy: Why We Have an Electoral College and Considering the Bush Presidency (with Mark Rozell). Gregg is also NRO’s official electoral-college dean.