Chaos at Home, Chaos Abroad

by Caleb Powers | 11/1/04 6:00am

Not to be an alarmist, but the day of reckoning might finally be upon us. And I'm not just saying this because the Red Sox won the World Series, though that's definitely part of it. More importantly though, while we've all been enjoying Homecoming revelries, a lot of wacky things have been happening in the realm of domestic politics: Provisional ballots may or may not be counted in Ohio, people don't know where to vote in Florida, voter registration forms of Democrats have been supposedly destroyed across the country and new digital voting mechanisms will leave no paper trail. With such a plethora of dubious aspects, this election has the potential to cause quite a bit of turmoil in the country. It seems unlikely that -- barring a surprise landslide victory -- a winner will emerge on the night of Nov. 2, or perhaps even within the week of Nov. 2. Simply and unfortunately, the nation is on a collision course with chaos.

The legality of so many technical facets of this election is such a controversial issue that at least one post-election legal challenge by either side seems possible if not plausible. If such a legal challenge were to be brought up, it could end up in the Supreme Court. Based on empirical evidence, my guess is that George W. Bush has an edge there.

If Bush were again handed the presidency by the Supreme Court and not by the electorate -- especially if he loses the popular vote -- I can only begin to imagine the consequences. In the eyes of other nations, American democracy will look like a sham. In the eyes of Americans, especially those who voted for Kerry, the American political system will meet the greatest hostility it has faced in decades if not longer. The Electoral College would almost certainly be reformed if not eliminated. Election rules and procedures would be nationalized. We would allow the over-half-million disenfranchised, primarily minority citizens of the District of Columbia to have a fair system of representation in national politics. Well, let's not get too crazy.

Legal challenges, however, are not the only way that this election could end up out of the hands of the electorate. Another possible, albeit less likely, scenario is a tie in the Electoral College, 269 to 269. The Washington Post computed that there are 33 possible scenarios in which this tie could occur. In the event of a tie of the Electoral College, the electors are given a 41-day period to change their votes and go against the majority vote of their state. If nothing changes, the vote for president would go to the House, where each state delegation is allowed one vote. The vote for vice president, under current election law, would go to the Senate. The funny thing about that is a 50-50 tie in the Senate would normally be broken by the president of the Senate, one Vice President Dick Cheney. Essentially, a tie in the Electoral College would result in a bedlam that would almost certainly have a run through the Supreme Court.

Other unforeseen events have the capacity to further complicate the election. Increasing the chances of chaos exponentially is the remaining threat of a domestic terrorist attack on or before the election. Ostensibly, state governments have done little to prepare for such an event. The New York Times quoted Richard L. Hasen, a professor at Loyola Law School, as saying that of the 10 battleground states, eight do not have contingency plans formulated to deal with a terrorist attack. While many would say worrying about a terrorist attack is playing into the hands of the bad guys, there seems to be reasonable evidence to worry. Earlier this month, Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., shut his D.C. office and urged citizens to not visit the capital until after the election, citing a classified security memo available only to senators. "Comforting" might be the first word that comes to mind, if by "comforting" you mean "not comforting."

Even if no terrorists strike, there is no tie and there are no legal challenges, this election should act as a wake-up call to our legislators that our electoral system is seriously flawed. Having voting machines that leave no paper trail is like drinking gasoline after eating flint and steel and then jumping up and down a lot, except it's dumber than that. It's beyond me how anybody could allow that to happen unless they did it on a dare. Hopefully everything will go smoothly. Hopefully this will all get taken care of before something crazy really does happen. I just don't think it will.