The national parties have been quietly setting post-campaign strategies for some time, preparing for close races, recounts and just about everything with a vast number of House and Senate seats in play across the map.
Publicly, operatives from both parties said they are focused on winning elections. But attorneys and volunteers have already begun fanning out across the country, setting up camp in key tossup states — Colorado, West Virginia, Nevada, Washington and California — to monitor elections and be prepared for any recount fights.
With two recounts fresh in their minds — the 2008 Minnesota Senate race, in which Democrat Al Franken emerged victorious, and the 2000 presidential race in Florida, in which the Supreme Court ruled in favor of President George W. Bush — the parties have taken something from recent recount losses.
“There’s a feeling that the Democrats were more prepared in 2008 for the Minnesota situation,” one Republican strategist said of the eight-month process. “The most critical time is the first hours, not the first days and weeks.”
To be ready, the parties have been preparing strategies and adding staff well in advance of today — lessons they learned from Minnesota and Florida, said Nathaniel Persily, an election law expert at Columbia Law School.
“It can be very difficult to predict which races will require recounts and which legal issues may pertain to each race,” Persily said. “But the legal teams for each party have become experts at assessing risks and preparing for the unexpected.”
Privately, Republican operatives acknowledged that the National Republican Senatorial Committee, National Republican Congressional Committee and the Republican Governors Association have already put plans in place to deal with any recounts or ballot challenges.
According to Republican attorneys and political operatives, the GOP is wary of having a repeat of the 2008 Minnesota recount, which saw former Sen. Norm Coleman (R) ousted by Franken following a lengthy recount process. The party has extensive plans to send lawyers and resources to any states where challenges may occur.
One Republican operative said the GOP has already put together a tentative list of potential Senate recount campaigns, including Illinois, Colorado, Washington and Nevada.
Democrats are playing it relatively close to the vest, insisting they are focused on today’s elections and documenting any instances of voter fraud or intimidation. But Democratic attorneys and operatives privately acknowledged their post-election strategy is in full swing.
Washington, D.C.-based attorneys and volunteers are being dispatched to Senate battlegrounds, in many cases prompted by specific campaigns that have quietly asked attorneys to come to their states in the waning days of the election, a Democratic attorney said.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is working with individual House campaigns to ensure they have plans in place to include local lawyers as well as the committee’s voter protection attorneys.
“All the field work we are doing is the best preparation for a recount,” DCCC spokesman Ryan Rudominer said. “If there is a recount, there is a plan to immediately redirect the well over 700 field staff to voter protection activities. That said, we plan to win on election night.”
One attorney familiar with the Democrats’ strategy said last week that lawyers have been asked to travel — or be prepared to travel — to states such as Arizona, Texas, Maryland, Michigan and Virginia.
But unlike the 2008 cycle, when President Barack Obama’s campaign machine was able to effectively coordinate poll watching and subsequent recounts, Democrats said this year feels significantly less coordinated, with the campaign committees and individual campaigns doing much of the work themselves.
“In ’08, it was a very well-oiled machine. But this time it feels very disjointed,” one Democratic attorney said.
State elections officials have also been preparing for the possibility of recounts. Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, who oversaw the 2008 Senate recount, said he has heard from officials in Colorado and Oregon, where polls have been up and down for the statewide races.
“When it’s so unstable, that’s when you can get a recount,” he said, noting that his election administration team had projected that the 2008 race would require a recount. “The statewide recounts are very unusual, but they are really high octane.”
NRCC spokesman Paul Lindsay said the GOP is prepared “for the reality that many of their races will not be decided on Election Day,” with staff and volunteers on hand if they are needed.
A GOP attorney who has been involved in past recounts said that at this point, Republicans are “doing the relatively traditional things” in preparing, including putting together teams of lawyers and dispatching volunteers to monitor vote counting and other Election Day activities.
But the real action is unlikely to come until later in the week after it becomes clear which races are close enough to warrant contesting the results.
“The problem with recounts, frankly, is you can never tell where they’re going to be. And where you think they’re going to be, they’re not,” the lawyer said. “It’s always a last-minute scramble.”