According to conventional wisdom, now that the presidential debates are over and the get-out-the-vote ground game has begun, Americans will know by Wednesday morning, Nov. 7 whether President Obama has won a second term orbecomes the next president of the United States.
Well…maybe not so fast.
As of this writing, the polls are showing a virtual dead heat in national polls while Obama maintains small but persistent leads in the “battleground” states. However, these leads generally fall within a variety of polls’ margin of error, depending of course on which poll one is reading at any particular time. Based on this data, there is a real possibility that the vote tally in some or all of these states may be so close on election night that there will be calls for recounts by the losing side. This may be particularly important if there are accusations of voter suppression or irregularities. Instead of seeing the winning candidate’s election night speech, Americans may well see an army of lawyers descending on state capitals, briefcases in hand, ready to do battle. It could be Florida 2000 all over again, and not in just one state.
Adding to the potential confusion is that recounts are covered by individual state laws rather than one federal statute. According to the non-partisan National Conference of State Legislatures, less than half of the 50 states currently have provisions for recounts that are automatically triggered if the margin of victory for a candidate falls below a certain threshold. According to their website:
“18 states and the District of Columbia provide for automatic recounts, which are conducted if the margin between the top two candidates is within certain parameters. In other states, a losing candidate or a voter may request a recount.”
Of the seven battleground states that are currently all listed by nytimes.com, politico.com and realclearpolitics.com, only three have provisions for automatic recounts: Colorado, Florida and Ohio. In each state, the margin of victory threshold is 0.5 percent or less of the total votes cast. The four remaining battleground states where there is no threshold are, also according to the site, Iowa, New Hampshire, Virginia and Wisconsin. In each of these last four states the losing candidate can request a recount, although the policies under which this can take place vary from state to state.
Of course, there may be no recounts at all if Obama is able to maintain his current lead in most of the battleground states. If he wins almost all of them, even if the vote is close in states where a losing candidate can request a recount, the GOP would be hard-pressed to pursue recounts which would add more confusion and anxiety to an already polarized American electorate. And even if there is a recount, as Florida 2000 proved, many may not be satisfied with the result, even years later.
On the other hand, if neither candidate can win enough states to get a majority in the Electoral College, there will almost for sure be calls for recounts under any circumstances before the election is decided by the House of Representatives, as mandated by the United States Constitution. Although two Presidents,(in 1801) and (in 1825) have been chosen by the House, it seems unlikely that Americans will willingly give up their individual votes without demanding that every single vote in the contested states be recounted first.
Let the vote counting begin!
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