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Oct 30, 2004 6:41 pm

What Could Happen After November 2

Americans may wake up next Wednesday morning and find that once again their votes did not yet elect a president. This year, problems could arise in many states, creating more widespread and contentious disputes than in 2000. With the election too close to call in ten states, including Florida, the two parties have hired some 17,000 lawyers to scrutinize results and file cases in court. And they are prepared to spend tens of millions of dollars in this effort. If results are closely balanced in states that matter in the election, the lawyers will question votes down to the individual precinct. No human system is precise enough to withstand that kind of intense scrutiny.

Controversy and litigation is already underway, with the Republicans interested in minimizing the vote, especially in heavily Democratic minority communities, in the name of preventing fraud. Its an old trick that goes back to the GOP's "Operation Eagle Eye" in the presidential campaign of 1964, another "anti-fraud" operation focuses on minorities neighborhoods.

Here are some of the issues that could arise in 2004. First, the new Election Assistance Commission, established by the federal government after the 2000 election, has mandated that states must allow individuals who claim they are registered, but are not on the voting rolls, to file provisional ballots, which will be counted only after verification of the voter’s registration, which could take days, even weeks. In close states, the party’s lawyers may put under the microscope each of these individual ballots.

Second, although Florida has eliminated the punch card technology that produced unreadable ballots in 2000, other states still use this technology, including the swing state of Ohio. Officials in Ohio claim that, unlike Florida, their state has established criteria for recounting punch card ballots. But such recounts are necessarily uncertain and are likely to spark the kind of litigation that prolonged the verdict in 2000.

Third, Florida and other states have installed new computerized voter machines, similar to ATM’s. It is uncertain, however, that there will be enough trained workers at the polls to assure that the technology works well and resolve problems with individual voters. Moreover, computer experts are uncertain as to whether the new technology can be protected from illicit tampering. The technology used in Florida and other states will not include a paper trail to provide an independent verification of the computerized results.

Fourth, there will likely be a record number of absentee ballot in 2004 cast by mail from overseas and in the United States. These ballots will be carefully scrutinized for completeness, valid signatures, and timely arrival. Ballots cast by military personnel pose special difficulties because officials are under pressure to count such ballots regardless of their validity.

The 2004 election may not be razor close, and perhpas we’ll have a clear winner on election night. The 2000 election was an aberration, not the norm in American politics. In the five prior presidential elections before 2000, the winner prevailed by at least 6 percentage points in the popular vote and a greater than 60 percent majority in the Electoral College. Polling data is not precise enough to determine whether the election will be nearly tied or whether a candidate will achieve a clear lead on November 2.

Many Americans hope that in the event of a close election, the parties will exercise forbearance in the challenging of results. However, the contending forces may decide that the outcome of the election is so important that every effort must be made to gain victory for their candidate. Regardless of the outcome or lack of outcome on November 2, American democracy remains strong and resilient and will survive even another storm over election results. The next president will be judged not by election controversies, but by his success in solving the daunting problems facing the United States and the world.

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Jim Blowers - 10/31/2004

I have been following your 13 keys and their application to the election. So far you say that Bush is 4 keys down, so he will win. I thought that myself. But then I began to feel that, although the numbers say that the economy may be on the upswing (although the stock market lurches every time oil rises in price), the people don't feel it. The jobs don't seem to be there for them. So I felt that Key 5 (short term economy) had fallen. Recently I looked at some polls which show things like 44 percent of people feel the war in Iraq is going poor or only fair. It seems that Iraq is a steady drip, drip, drip of bad news on a good outcome (ousting the Husseins), so I felt that Key 11 had fallen (foreign or military success). With six keys down, I predicted Kerry would win. But then I thought, if Kerry wins, the keys predicted it, since Key 11 had fallen. If Bush wins, the keys predicted it, since Key 11 must have held. I call this "backward interpretation". When the election occurs, that seems to determine when a key is fallen. Therefore, I regard the keys as useless to determine the outcome of this election, and I am looking at the polls, although they are beginning to look useless, too, with so many of them contradicting each other. There is no way to predict this election, and the result could be a mess that will take days or weeks to resolve.