WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Here in a county that knows a thing or two about Election Day meltdowns, both parties are fretting over what might go seriously wrong before, during or just after the Nov. 6 presidential election.
“More than 50 percent of the provisional ballots are thrown in the trash in this state,” Florida state Rep. Mark Pafford told about 80 retirees who gathered for last week’s meeting of the Golden Lakes Democratic Club.
That’s only a slight exaggeration – 48 percent of the provisional ballots cast in Florida in 2008 were rejected. And Pafford’s warning underscores anxiety in Florida and other states about legal challenges, ballot problems or bizarre outcomes that could bedevil a race that seems likely to be close – conceivably as close as the 2000 contest that people still quarrel about.
Merely the mention of that election unsettles people in Palm Beach County. The county’s poorly designed “butterfly ballot” confused thousands of voters, arguably costing Democrat Al Gore the state, and thereby the presidency.
Gore won the national popular vote by more than a half-million ballots. But George W. Bush became president after the Supreme Court decided, 5-4, to halt further Florida recounts, more than a month after Election Day. Bush carried the state by 537 votes, enough for an Electoral College edge.
Even if everything goes smoothly, it’s conceivable the nation will awaken to a major shock in three weeks: an Electoral College tie between President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney. That would throw the decision to the House of Representatives, currently controlled by Republicans but up for grabs in this election.
An Electoral College tie isn’t the only nightmare scenario that could raise doubts about the election’s fairness and worsen partisan bitterness, which already divides Americans and makes compromise in Congress so difficult.
Campaign activists in many states are bracing for possible confusion, delays and even confrontations in polling places on Nov. 6. They are particularly watching Democratic-leaning precincts where Republicans may challenge some people’s eligibility to vote.