News from the Votemaster
The closer we get to election day--and it is only 12 days away now--the more likely it becomes that the voters render a split decision with Romney winning the popular vote and Obama winning the electoral college. A new WaPo/ABC national poll of likely voters puts Romney ahead 50% to 47%. This is the first time Romney has hit 50% in this poll. Both sides are enthusiastic, with 95% of the Obama supporters and 93% of the Romney supporters being somewhat or very enthusiastic. Noteworthy is that 52% of the respondents think Obama will win vs. 40% who think Romney will win.
Yesterday's Gallup tracking poll also shows Romney ahead 50% to 47%, but this represents a 4-point gain for Obama in this poll in a week. Romney led by 7 points in Gallup's tracking poll a week ago. While it is difficult to compare results from different pollsters due to different methodologies, Gallup's results suggest that Romney's momentum has stopped and maybe been reversed.
National polls aside, Obama maintains a small but steady lead in the electoral college. In the past 2 weeks in Ohio, nine polls have had Obama ahead and only one had Romney ahead. Three polls were tied. As we and everybody else has said a hundred times, without Ohio, it is nearly impossible for Romney to win, even if he gets every last vote in the Deep South and a large popular-vote margin. In Nevada, Obama has had leads of at least 2 points in all five polls in the past 2 weeks. Another key state is Virginia. There in the last 2 weeks Obama led in five polls and trailed in four. So a plausible outcome is that Romney wins the popular vote but Obama wins the states the Democrats have won the past five elections, plus Ohio, New Mexico, and Nevada, for a total of 271 electoral votes. Virginia would be icing on the cake. With such a narrow victory, Obama would have no mandate at all and we would have 4 more years of gridlock. Of course, an equally narrow Romney victory coupled with Democratic control of the Senate (thanks to the politics of rape), would yield a similar result.
In the best possible scenario, one of the candidates wins a clear victory the evening of Nov. 6 and the other candidate concedes gracefully and everyone goes home. Don't count on it. There are a lot of things that could go wrong.. For starters, the vote totals in some states could be close. It is nearly always the case that some precincts have a lot of trouble counting the ballots and don't report until late in the evening or maybe the next day. If the difference between the candidates is small, these precincts may matter, delaying the results.
If the votes are all counted and the candidates are within 1% of each other in one or more states, all hell could break loose. In some states, there are mandatory recounts if the winner's margin is less than some amount (1%, 0.5%, or some other value). In other states the loser can ask for a recount. The recount could take days. Each side will fly in dozens of lawyers, who will gum up the works.
The second big bottleneck consists of the absentee ballots. The cutoff date for their arrival depends on the state. Some states require the ballot to arrive on election day. Other states require it to be postmarked before election day but ballots arriving within the next week (or some other time limit) are counted if the postmark is correct. If the number of absentee ballots outstanding is greater than the winner's margin, no winner can be declared until the time limit for absentee ballots has passed. The state elections board knows exactly how many absentee ballots were mailed out and how many have come back, so it can compute the number outstanding. States have to assume the worst case scenario: that every one of the outstanding ballots will be cast for #2, so if one candidate is leading by 100,000 votes and there are 100,000 ballots still unreturned, there is at least the theoretical possibility that the election was an exact tie.
The third problem is the provisional ballots. The Help America Vote Act, which George W. Bush signed into law in 2002 in the aftermath of the Florida 2000 election debacle, allows anyone who is refused a ballot on election day to cast a provisional ballot. People can be refused ballots because they do not have the required voter ID, they do not appear on the voter rolls, or some other reason. The voter can try to resolve the problem after election day up to some time limit, for example, by producing the needed voter ID. If voters are allowed, say, a week, to resolve problems, the provisional ballots will not be counted for a week. In a close election, the result may not be known until they are all counted and possibly recounted.
Fourth, some state elections may end up in court. The loser can sue the Secretary of State for any number of reasons. For example, if some precinct had more voters than it could handle and the local precinct captain decided to lock the door at the official closing time while people were standing in line to vote. Or someone could sue because the doors were not locked and people were allowed to vote after the official closing time, contravening state law. Lawyers get paid good money to think of reasons to sue.
How long could the counts, recounts, and court battles go on? The electoral college holds its first and only class on Dec. 17. Obviously it is necessary to know who is admitted to the college by then. Actually, states are required to sort out their messes and issue Certificates of Ascertainment by Dec. 11. In principle, the decisions of the state courts are binding--unless somebody doesn't like the results and asks the Supreme Court to step in. Under normal conditions, electors record their votes on six Certificates of Vote, which follow different paths to Congress, which will count the votes on Jan. 6, 2013. In the really, really worst scenario, multiple, disputed electoral votes are submitted to Congress, which then has to figure out what to do.
Three swing states, Virginia, Florida, and Colorado, use touch-screen electronic voting machines, at least in part. Hardware or software errors or hacking could lead to disputes and chaos and put the election results and legitimacy of the winner in doubt. When asked about this, Edward Felten, a professor of computer science at Princeton and one of the country's top expert's in electronic voting security, has stated: "No matter how unlikely it seems now, there's a chance that this election will be so close that it could be flipped by a single voting machine problem in a single place in any one of those states." The problem with most electronic voting machines is that there is no paper trail and no way to do a recount in the event of a dispute.
Electronic voting has a long history of problems, including these:
- In 2006, e-vote systems "lost" 18,000 votes in a Florida congressional election
- In 2011, voters in Venango County, PA, e-voting machines were flipping the voters' choices on the screens
- In a March 2012 municipal election in Florida, the machines gave a different result than the recount of paper ballots
Electronic voting with paper ballots is not a problem. In effect, the screen just makes it easier to vote (e.g., blind people can get the candidates names read out loud) but when the voter has made his or her choices, the machine prints out a filled-in paper ballot for the voter to examine and insert in the ballot box. These can be recounted if need be. It is the machines without paper ballots that are scary.
A group called verifiedvoting.org, which tracks electronic voting, reported 1800 problems with electronic voting machines in the 2008 election. In short, the idea of a voting system where no recounts are possible is a disaster waiting to happen. A President elected by a few hundred votes on electronic voting machines in a swing state whose results were in dispute (especially if the exit polls showed that the other guy won) would lead to a situation far worse than Florida in 2000, where at least it was possible go recount the punched cards. What if the loser refused to concede? What if a huge fight broke out in Congress in January when the electoral votes are counted? Not pleasant to think about.
It is entirely possible that Mitt Romney could be elected President at the same time the Democrats hang onto the Senate. Would Romney be able to govern under those conditions? One theory has it that the Democrats would not be nearly as effective at blocking Romney as the Republicans were at blocking Obama. In particular, a number of Democratic senators from deep red states are up for reelection in 2014. These include Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK), Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR), Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), and Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD). It is possible that the senators from these states might be scared to oppose Romney for fear of blowing their reelection chances. Democrats are habitually incapable of acting as a bloc, whereas Republicans are superb at it. Of course, if the Democrats have 53 or 54 seats in the new Senate, majority leader Harry Reid could give a few vulnerable senators permission to work with Romney and still defeat everything Romney wants. Finally, It would take only 40 Democrats to filibuster major legislation.
All this notwithstanding, it is a reality that the Senate has many more conservative Democrats than it has liberal Republicans, and it might be easy for Romney to convince conservative Democrats to go along with whatever he wants "for the good of the country."
When Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) said that women couldn't get pregnant after being raped, just about every Republican leader turned 180 degrees and began running as fast as he could to get away from Akin. The NRSC instantly cut off all his funding. When Indiana Senate Candidate Richard Mourdock said that when a rape victim becomes pregnant, it is God's plan, the reaction was totally different. John McCain asked for an apology, got one, and went back to supporting Mourdock within 24 hours. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell stood by Mourdock, his support never wavering. How come?
Two reasons. First, Akin inserted his foot into his mouth before the deadline for withdrawing from the race. The Republican powers that be were fervently hoping that their announcement of turning off the money faucet would cause Akin to drop out. He didn't. Mourdock's transgression came less than 2 weeks before the election. He can't drop out now. The ballots have long been printed and voting has started. For better or worse, Republicans want to hold this seat and they have to compete with the candidate they have, not the one they might want.
Second, Akin made such a basic error in biology that he seems like a complete ignoramus. While Republicans deny global warming, denying that is more credible to the voters than denying how babies are made. Also, Mourdock's point--life begins at the moment of conception--is widely believed by Republican voters. So when McConnell says that he, too, believes life begins at conception, he is supporting a position that millions of Republicans also support. Mourdock didn't literally say either he or God supported rape, so his statement is somewhat more defensible than Akin's.
Nevertheless, it took only a day for the DSCC to get an ad on the air in Indiana just featuring a clip of Mourdock from the debate where he said it, followed by a woman saying in an incredulous voice: "God intended that a woman be raped and become pregnant?" The Indiana Senate race was pretty close and this incident could be the thing Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-IN)--who, ironically, is pro-life--needs to nail down the seat.
In 2008, younger voters turned out in droves and provided the momentum for Obama to carry many swing states. This year, many of them are apathetic and aren't going to bother to vote. Some of them are disappointed that Obama didn't achieve all the goals they were hoping he would achieve. Older voters realize that no politician ever achieves all his stated goals--and certainly not when the opposition is determined to block every single one no matter what. Younger voters just see politicians squabbling and don't realize what is actually going on in Washington, so they are disappointed and give up easily. Team Obama will have its hands full on election day getting these voters to the polls in the record numbers that were achieved in 2008.
During the first half of October, Romney raised $112 million to Obama's $91 million. These amounts do not include expenditures by outside groups. For example, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson just gave another $10 million to Romney's campaign. Adelson is under investigation by the Justice Dept. for possible criminal activities involving his casinos. No doubt he hopes that a Romney administration would be grateful enough for his help to overlook these trifles.
|Arizona||44%||52%||Oct 21||Oct 21||Rasmussen|
|California||53%||41%||Oct 14||Oct 21||Public Policy Inst. of|
|Colorado||46%||43%||Oct 23||Oct 24||Project New America|
|Colorado||48%||48%||Oct 23||Oct 24||Marist Coll.|
|Colorado||51%||47%||Oct 23||Oct 25||PPP|
|Florida||47%||45%||Oct 23||Oct 24||Project New America|
|Iowa||49%||47%||Oct 23||Oct 24||PPP|
|North Carolina||48%||48%||Oct 23||Oct 25||PPP|
|Nevada||50%||47%||Oct 23||Oct 24||Marist Coll.|
|Pennsylvania||51%||46%||Oct 24||Oct 24||Rasmussen|
|Virginia||45%||47%||Oct 23||Oct 24||Fox News|
|Virginia||48%||50%||Oct 24||Oct 24||Rasmussen|
|Virginia||51%||46%||Oct 23||Oct 24||PPP|
|Wisconsin||51%||45%||Oct 23||Oct 24||PPP|
|State||Democrat||D %||Republican||R %||I||I %||Start||End||Pollster|
|Arizona||Richard Carmona||44%||Jeff Flake||50%||Oct 21||Oct 21||Rasmussen|
|California||Dianne Feinstein*||55%||Elizabeth Emken||38%||Oct 15||Oct 21||Los Angeles Times|
|Nevada||Shelley Berkley||45%||Dean Heller*||48%||Oct 23||Oct 24||Marist Coll.|
|Nevada||Shelley Berkley||45%||Dean Heller*||50%||Oct 23||Oct 23||Rasmussen|
|Virginia||Tim Kaine||46%||George Allen||44%||Oct 22||Oct 24||Zogby|
* Denotes incumbent
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