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Are We Headed for Another Electoral Mess?

Chuck Kennedy/KRT/Newscom
The 2012 presidential election could be another close race. There’s a possibility President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney could face a tie in the Electoral College, throwing the outcome of the election to the House to decide. If that happens, Stuart Rothenberg writes, the political climate in America will get even uglier.

For Democrats, an electoral vote deadlock would be a problem because Republicans currently have a majority in 33 state U.S. House delegations while Democrats have a majority in only 17 (counting D.C.). One delegation (Minnesota) is now tied.

While those numbers will change after November’s elections, the GOP is likely to have a majority in at least 26 state U.S. House delegations and quite possibly many more in the next Congress. An Electoral College tie therefore would almost certainly result in a Romney victory.

If either of these scenarios comes to pass in November, the country is headed for a very difficult period. But even a razor-thin victory in 2012 is guaranteed to produce conspiracy theories, anecdotes of voters turned away at the polls or ineligible people voting and charges of irregularities. Mistakes still happen.

University of California-Irvine School of Law professor Richard Hasen believes that voting technology has improved substantially since the 2000 elections, when hanging chads and confusing ballots caused complaints about votes not being counted and resulted in an election decided by the Supreme Court.

But if the Help America Vote Act of 2002 and other remedies have improved the likelihood that votes will be counted accurately, our electoral process is still filled with flaws, says Hasen, whose new book, “The Voting Wars: From Florida 2000 to the Next Election Meltdown,” will be published by Yale University Press in August.

Partisan election officials still run our elections, and levels of competence vary from state to state and polling place to polling place, says Hasen, who points to an April 2011 Wisconsin Supreme Court race where more than 14,000 votes in Waukesha County initially weren’t added to the state vote totals. When, following a canvass, the votes were counted, the initial outcome of the election was reversed.

“The next [election] meltdown will be much worse [than in 2000],” predicts Hasen, citing the presence of social
media.

Hasen argues that instead of opening avenues of communication and trust between people, social media — particularly Twitter ­— has made people more partisan and less tolerant. Communication is shorter and meaner. And social media makes it easier for people who are angry or suspicious to generate an uproar and organize protests that will challenge the legitimacy of the election outcome.

For those of us who are already tired of partisanship and screaming, a clear win by either Obama or Romney certainly is preferable to any sort of messy outcome. But it’s wise to prepare for the worst.

Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.

 

Correction: May 31, 11:22 a.m.

An earlier version of this column counted changes in the number of electoral votes after the most recent reapportionment but inadvertently ignored the changes following the 2000 census. As a result, it said that George W. Bush would have had a 278-260 advantage in the 2000 race given the current electoral votes of the states he carried, when in fact his advantage would have been an even larger 285-253. In addition, the column counted Wisconsin as having a split House delegation, when in fact Republicans currently hold five of the state’s eight Congressional districts.

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