Wednesday, October 31, 2012

What if neither Mitt Romney nor President Obama wins on Nov. 6?

What if we wake up on Wednesday, and find out that in several states the outcome is in doubt, and neither President Obama nor Mitt Romney is the clear winner? America could be heading for court battles that will make Florida in 2000 look like a tussle at the local PTA.

By Jeremy D. Mayer / October 31, 2012

President Obama, accompanied by American Red Cross President and CEO Gail J. McGovern, speaks at the Red Cross National Headquarters to discuss superstorm Sandy Oct. 30 in Washington. Op-ed contributor Jeremy D. Mayer asks: 'Bigger than any single issue, bigger than the entire agendas of both candidates, looms the question: Can America still peacefully exchange power without bitter controversy and weeks of uncertainty?'

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP


What if neither Mitt Romney nor President Obama is the clear winner on Nov. 6? What if we wake up on Wednesday morning, and find out that in one, three, five, or even more states, the outcome is in doubt, and America is heading for court battles that will make Florida in 2000 look like a tussle at the local PTA?

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The possibility of that happening has never been greater. More than 10 states are putting new election laws into effect in this election dealing with voter identification, early voting, or absentee ballots. Other states are altering their election laws in less obvious ways that affect administration. Each of these changes increases the possibility that there will be unintentional errors, confusion, or systemic failure.

Remember the butterfly ballot in Palm Beach? If that one innocent snafu had not been made by a local Democratic election official, Al Gore would have been easily elected.

But there?s more. The parties and outside groups are lawyering up to respond to these changes, and to the fears that the ballots will be tainted.

On the Democratic side, many believe that millions of voters could be disenfranchised by voter identification laws. Or, voter watch groups will challenge legitimate voters in heavily Democratic precincts, tying up the voting process. If challenges push lines to an hour or more to vote, some voters will be unable or unwilling to wait for their chance to cast a ballot for President Obama.

Democrats also worry about widespread registration fraud on the part of Republicans. In battleground Virginia, it seems that a Republican contractor threw away Democratic registration cards. This follows reports that a firm linked to registration fraud worked for the Romney campaign and the Republican Party of North Carolina, another swing state.

On the other side, Republicans seem deeply afraid of voter fraud, from illegal immigrants or from multiple voting by the same persons.

Patrick Moran, son of Virginia Democratic Rep. Jim Moran, resigned from his father?s campaign last week after being secretly recorded by a conservative activist. The congressman?s son seemed to advise the activist, who was pretending to be a supporter, that utility bills could be used to commit voter fraud.

These largely phantom fears about voter fraud will motivate Republicans to police the polls with unprecedented fervor. As was revealed to many voters in 2000, America, unlike most advanced democracies, does not have, in most states, a nonpartisan election administration system. Instead, elected or appointed partisans are typically in charge of elections. This is such a bad idea, that when we set up quasi-democracies in Afghanistan and Iraq, we didn?t copy our own system.

And unlike almost all other advanced democracies, America has a creaky, state and locally run election system that is woefully underfunded and can be inaccurate. For some widely used voting methods, the fail rate, in which a voter?s intent is unable to be ascertained, is well above 2 percent of ballots cast, which would be an outrage in western Europe. The fail rate is even higher for absentee ballots, as is the risk of fraud.


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