Repeat of 2000 in US vote?
- Published: 3/11/2012 at 05:31 PM
- Online news:
WASHINGTON A nightmare scenario similar to the disputed 2000 presidential outcome looms over Tuesday's US elections as the Romney and Obama campaigns gear up for legal challenges in the close race.
People cast ballots on Friday, the last day of advance voting ahead of Tuesday's general election, in Johns Creek, near Atlanta. (EPA Photo)
Already, the campaigns have deployed legal teams to Palm Beach County, Florida, one of the trouble spots in the 2000 recount that finally awarded the White House to Republican George W. Bush over Democrat Al Gore by a margin of a mere 537 Florida votes.
Back then, it was hanging "chads" in punch-out ballots and confusing arrows on other ballots that held up the outcome until the US Supreme Court stepped in and halted the recount five weeks later.
This year, there's a different set of problems.
For example, in Florida election officials were trying to straighten out printing errors in 60,000 absentee ballots, which have made them difficult to read for the automatic counting machines.
In Ohio, where polls say Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney are in a tie for one of the most important prize of the election, officials are bracing for thousands of challenges of provisional votes. These are ballots cast on election day, but set aside to be counted later after residency or other voting-rights questions are resolved.
Obama's camp told the New York Times last week that the Democrats had 600 lawyers on standby in Cuyahoga County alone to ensure nothing goes amiss in the region that includes Cleveland, Ohio's largest city.
The outcome of very close races in any of the 10 battleground states will be the decisive factor in whether Obama or Romney captures the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House. The results could be thrown into weeks of uncertainty as legions of lawyers battle it out.
"It's certainly possible," said Dan Tokaji, an election expert and professor at Ohio State University. "And it looks like the most likely (state) to pinpoint is Ohio."
Some swing states have legal mandates that require a recount in certain circumstances. For Florida and Colorado, a recount would be triggered and overseen by the respective secretaries of state if there is a difference of 0.5% or less between two candidates.
In Ohio, it takes 0.25% to trigger a recount. Tokaji says that a margin of under 20,000 votes could meet that criterion.
"It would be a mistake to call the election on election night if the difference is in the low tens of thousands (in Ohio)," he said.
In the five other states considered "swing" states by the Moritz Election Law centre at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio -- Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, Virginia and Wisconsin -- legal challenges would have to come from the candidate. Pennsylvania and North Carolina are also considered by some to be swing states.
No Republican has ever won the presidency without winning Ohio's electoral votes, currently 18. That's why provisional ballots are such a key issue there.
In addition to a series of legal battles over new election rules fought this year in Ohio, conservative groups such as True the Vote have organised massive challenges to the right to vote by millions whom they believe may support Obama.
Teresa Sharp, an African American who lives with six family members in Cincinnati, is an example. She has been living at her address for nearly 33 years. Yet a challenger -- the Ohio Voter Integrity Project -- claimed her address was a vacant lot, implying voter fraud, according to an account in New Yorker magazine.
Her family had to go before the elections board in September to prove their residence. Yet due to the last-minute uncertainty, her vote, along with those of about 200,000 other Ohioans, may be considered provisional on election day.
That means she will be allowed to cast a ballot, but will have to make another trip to the election board within 10 days to prove again her address and other details. Sorting out those and other issues that trigger provisional ballots could considerably delay Ohio's results.
In most of the swing states, formal confirmation of initial election results can take a week or more before any challenges can be mounted. In Ohio, counting of provisional ballots won't start before Nov 17, according to Matt McClellan in the Ohio Secretary of State's office.
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