Despite all the vows of "never again" after the Florida fiasco of 2000, the scary scenarios for Election Day 2004 seem only to have increased: A tie vote in the Electoral College. A terrorist strike on Election Day. A disputed outcome in a critical state. \n"When we talk about it around here, we just sigh," says Walter Berns, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and an expert on the Electoral College. "I just hope it's a clear victory so we don't have Florida all over again all over the place." \nWith the electorate sharply divided, the chance of a deadlock in the Electoral College seems all the more real this time after the long-in-limbo outcome of 2000. The National Archives offers an "Electoral College calculator" on its Web site so armchair prognosticators can see just how easy it could be to have the candidates come out even. \nFor example, if just New Hampshire and Nevada (or West Virginia) shifted from favoring US President George W. Bush to the Democrats this time, there could be a 269-269 tie, leaving it to the House to pick the next president and the Senate to pick the new vice president come January. \nThat would leave open the jarring possibility of a Bush-Edwards or Kerry-Cheney pairing, depending on the political leanings of the new House and Senate. \nMore likely is the chance that results from one or more states could be up in the air for a while because of a recount, challenges to provisional or absentee ballots or lawsuits related to other voting problems. Both parties have lawyers primed to pounce at any target of opportunity this time. And the opportunity for challenges has grown under a new federal law requiring all states to allow people to cast provisional votes if their names don't appear on registration rolls. \n"With objections raised and legal teams in place, we could have a hell of a fight," said Thomas Mann, a presidential scholar at the Brookings Institution. \nMichael White, the federal official responsible for coordinating certain aspects of the Electoral College, says he'll be keeping an especially close eye on Colorado, where voters are considering a referendum to divide the state's electoral votes proportionally among the candidates rather than using the existing winner-takes-all formula. A lawsuit is virtually guaranteed if the referendum is approved, meaning the state's nine electoral votes could be a lingering question long after Election Day. \n"That's kind of the nightmare scenario, having the whole thing up in the air on election night," White said. \nThe US presidential election is decided by electoral votes, with each state guaranteed two electoral votes and apportioned additional votes based on population. Winning a state, even by the smallest of margins, entitles a candidate to all of that state's electoral votes -- except in two states, Nebraska and Maine. Those states split their electoral votes, awarding two to the candidate who wins the popular vote across the state and one to the popular-vote winner in each congressional district. \nIt takes a majority, or 270 of 538 electoral votes, to win the presidency. \nAnother quirk involves "faithless electors," who refuse to cast their electoral votes for the person chosen by their state's voters. This rarely happens -- only 10 times in history -- but even one this year could be critical. And one of the five Republican electors from West Virginia is holding out the possibility of withholding his vote for Bush if the president carries the state. \nThe notion of a split decision between the popular vote and the Electoral College tally, which seemed rather unlikely before 2000, now is almost old hat. Mann, for his part, hopes that if this election splits the opposite way from 2000 -- with Bush winning the popular vote and Kerry the electoral count -- it might ignite a movement to junk the Electoral College altogether. \nThe idea got some traction after the 2000 vote, but lost momentum when small states raised objections and got sidelined altogether when priorities shifted after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. \nThose attacks, meanwhile, have given rise to a whole new catalog of nightmare scenarios associated with terrorism. The notion was reinforced when 191 people in Madrid were killed in terrorist bombings last March just three days before Spain's elections. \nMost people have forgotten, if they ever knew it, that 9/11 was a local election day in New York City. Governor George Pataki postponed the balloting for two weeks. \nIt would be a far more complicated matter to postpone presidential voting in all or part of the nation.
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