THE DOOMSDAY MACHINE

The worst thing that can happen Tuesday has nothing to do with either candidate winning. It is the possibility of having no idea who won for several weeks until the Federal courts step in and tell us who will be president. Most of the electorate is old enough to recall experiencing this in 2000, and it's not unduly alarmist to ask if having two out of four elections resolved outside of the democratic process in a twelve-year span – thanks largely to state-level manipulation of the pawns pool of eligible voters by Secretaries of State – would have serious consequences for a country in which political trust and efficacy are already at historically low levels.

So, my concern is not who wins as much as, "How can we avoid having to wonder about who wins?" For reasons that will soon become apparent, the short, vague answer to that question is that one candidate (most likely Obama, based on the current aggregate polling) must cross 270 electoral votes without Ohio. Because there's a very good chance that Ohio won't figure out who won for a couple of weeks at best. Why? Well, first we need some backstory.

After the 2004 elections in which long lines at polling places were a serious problem in Ohio, the SoS at the time decided to offer no-questions-asked absentee balloting. Every registered voter got an application to request one. More than 1,300,000 absentee ballots were requested and mailed out for 2012. Over 1,100,000 have already been returned. But that means that around 200,000 haven't. Stay with me here. Anyone who requested an absentee ballot but does not use it can vote if they show up at their polling place on Tuesday, but they receive a provisional ballot. These ballots are sealed in an envelope and left uncounted until it can be proven that the person did not already vote – for example, by mailing their absentee ballot on Monday, then trying to vote in person on Tuesday. To give ample time for all absentee ballots to arrive by mail, Ohio law states that provisional ballots cannot be counted until 10 days after the election.

To summarize: there could be 100,000-200,000 provisional ballots cast and the state cannot even begin to count them until Nov. 16 at the absolute earliest. If either candidate holds a narrow lead, those provisional ballots could well determine the winner. So we will have to wait. And wait. And wait.

And then eventually the courts will end up resolving the issue. Why? Because Ohio's current SoS is a partisan hack who has decided to defy a Federal court order and issue provisional balloting rules stating that the voter, not the poll worker, is responsible for recording information about the form of ID the voter used when voting in person. As one of the attorneys involved in the copious lawsuits already being filed states:

"The bottom line is that (Secretary of State Jon Husted) designed a form that violates Ohio law by improperly shifting to voters the poll workers' information-recording responsibilities regarding ID to voters, and then he wants to trash votes where there is a problem with the form on the section he misassigned to voters," said Cleveland attorney Subodh Chandra, who filed the motion

In short, Husted is trying to create a reason to discard provisional ballots. To throw them out on a technicality, assuming that some people won't fill out the forms properly. It's the 2012 version of the hanging chad, only the courts have already ruled what he is trying to do illegal.

So. How do we avoid having to care about Ohio on Tuesday night? Because if we need Ohio to determine the winner, we are in for a three-ring circus of unpleasantly long duration. The good news is that there are plausible scenarios that could make Ohio irrelevant. Here's what to watch for on Election Night.

The three key states are New Hampshire, Colorado, and Nevada. Before I launch into the explanation, let me clarify some of the assumptions. I have been as generous to Romney as possible in this scenario, giving him Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina. If Obama wins any one of those three, Romney is basically toast. But I'm going to assume for the moment that Romney wins them and we are faced with an extremely tight race to 270. Even coloring those three large states red, if Obama wins NH, CO, and NV then he cannot lose even if he loses Ohio. Consider a map with those states and Ohio omitted:

In this scenario, Obama is at 253 and Romney at 248. Nevada will almost certainly be Obama's (+6) but the polling is remarkably close in NH (+4) and CO (+9). Winning both would put Obama at 272. Game, set, match.

By winning those three, the only way Obama could lose is if Romney pulls off a surprise/miracle win someplace like Michigan or Pennsylvania. Obama can win without all three – this would require winning Ohio – but Romney cannot win without taking at least one (New Hampshire seems the most likely).

The last NH polls close at 8:00 EST. Colorado wraps things up at 9:00 EST, and Nevada at 10:00 EST. So prepare to be up late, although Obama's poll lead in Nevada is outside of the margin of error and it might be the least competitive of the three.

All other Romney victory scenarios involve the aggregate pre-election polling being wrong by a mile. In the last few elections that has not been the case. To conjure up Romney wins in Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, or Pennsylvania requires the assumption that legions of his supporters have been hiding in those states for months, untouched by the polling process. In fact the exact opposite is more likely to be true since older, whiter people tend to be oversampled (and right-leaning). Regardless, I think one of the best outcomes we can have on Tuesday is to have an outcome; not to have another election decided by corrupt, incompetent local election officials and unelected judges.

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51 Responses to “THE DOOMSDAY MACHINE”

  1. J. Dryden Says:

    Goddammit.

    Shit.

    God-DAMMIT.

    Shit, shit, SHIT SHIT SHIT.

    I live in Ohio. The phone calls from people I haven't talked to in years (*for good reason*) are going to start flooding in before dawn on Wednesday, wanting to know what the hell is wrong with *me.* I'm gonna be the guy who's in Arkham for unpaid parking tickets, catching hell from everyone for what my cellmates have been doing.

    Fuck it. I'm stopping at the polling station, then I'm hitting the booze emporium and maxing out my credit cards, then I'm taking a shotgun to the phone, the satellite dish, and the modem. Just: *Fuck it.*

  2. eau Says:

    Boo! (I'm not saying "Boo-urns")

    As much as Willard in the White House is a horror outcome, I am among the legion who have almost stopped caring about the result AS LONG AS THE FUCKING THING IS OVER SOON. Now you tell us it may well not be as soon as expected? Boo!

    OTOH, Since neither candidate was incumbent in 2000, I'd be interested to know what happens in the case of a long delay this time around. Does Obama lead some sort of caretaker government until a decision is reached?

    Not "look up the answer myself" interested, mind you. Maybe "mildly surprised grunt upon hearing the answer from someone else" interested.

  3. wetcasements Says:

    The GOP noise machine (starting with Politico) has already started up the "Obama wins but it isn't a mandate" meme.

    Yeah. Remember when George W. Bush actually lost the popular vote in 2000 and ruled with modesty and didn't start two wars and give Paris Hilton a tax-break?

    I'm going to be heart-broken if Mitt wins but alas, either away America is pretty well fucked.

    But I will add — absentee voting as a registered Washington State resident was incredibly damn easy. Kudos to the Whatcom County elections board.

    Every state should follow Washington (easy early snail voting) and Oregon's (all-snail-mail as early as you want) examples.

  4. Talisker Says:

    In that case, we should all hope for a large Obama margin of victory in Ohio.

    Back-of-envelope calculation: Suppose 5 million "non-provisional" votes are cast in Ohio (total vote in 2008 was 5.62 million), and Obama wins by 3% (in line with the average of recent polls), for a margin of 150,000 votes. Suppose as well that the maximum 200,000 provisional ballots are cast. They would have to break 75-25 for Romney in order to overturn Obama's lead, which would be seriously unlikely. In this scenario I imagine they wouldn't wait to count the provisional ballots before declaring a result.

    More generally, the winner needs to not only win, but win by *enough* to keep it out of the realm of recounts and legal challenges. Otherwise this could get ugly.

  5. Talisker Says:

    Of course I should say, *uglier*.

  6. Talisker Says:

    Monday morning miscalculation: Actually those 200,000 provisional ballots would have to go 87.5% for Romney in order to overcome a 150,000 vote lead for Obama (thereby adding 175,000 and 25,000 to the Romney and Obama totals, respectively). Not gonna happen. So here's hoping the polls are accurate and Obama has a lead of 3% or more.

  7. Talisker Says:

    @eau: Come what may, Obama is President until (at least) January 20.

    Before then (I forget the exact date), the electors chosen by each state are required to meet and vote for a President. If they fail to choose one, the decision is made by the House of Representatives on a one-state, one-vote formula (which would favour Romney).

  8. Xynzee Says:

    @eau: picking up Taliskers… Because we used to vote directly for the Veep, this makes things even more interesting. The VeeP will still be up for grabs. So this then gets sent to the Senate which is also 1 vote (under the incoming Senate). So unless something goes horribly wrong, we should see a Democratic Senate. Even if it's 50-50, Biden being the VeeP and the deciding vote there, we could get a Rmoney/Biden situation for the next for years.

  9. Xynzee Says:

    I've been wondering: given that Sandy slammed into NYC, and that urban areas generally lean Left and their sheer mass tends to skew the EC, how does the storm look to be affecting the polls for NYC? It would suck if this suddenly turned NY into a player by mistake.

  10. Xynzee Says:

    D'oh!! …next *four* years.

  11. Talisker Says:

    @Xynzee: Yes, we could see President Romney and VP Biden if this gets resolved by Congress. But I think we can safely assume a Romney administration would ignore Biden as much as possible. So Biden gets to kick his heels for 4 years, apart from the occasional tie-breaking vote in the Senate… *unless* something happens to Romney.

    Cue 4 years of right-wing paranoia that somebody might assassinate Romney. If this rather unlikely scenario came to pass, the conspiracy theories would make the JFK assassination look like the peaceful death of Teddy Kennedy. Also, expect a paranoid freakout if Romney appears even slightly unwell.

    Short of Godzilla flattening NYC on polling day, New York will not be in play. It went 63% for Obama last time. But depressed turnout in NY and New Jersey might significantly reduce Obama's percentage of the popular vote and make a popular/electoral vote split a little more likely.

  12. c u n d gulag Says:

    After 4 years of treasonous, traiterous activity, the politicians and the rest of the brown-shirt Fascists that comprise the Republican Party, should they lose, will not accept what Scalia said to Democrats after 2000, 'You lost, deal with it.'

    And when they lose, there WILL be blood.

    I think that angry old white crackers will use their 2nd Amendment rights, and go nuts.
    And I hope the Federal Government is ready to cull that herd that watches FUX Noise, and listens to Radio Rushwanda.

  13. Talisker Says:

    I suppose the other interesting scenario for Romney/Biden would be if the Democrats gain enough seats in 2014 to control both houses of Congress, and they have (or choose to find) grounds to start impeachment proceedings against Romney. Again, this would likely make the Clinton impeachment look like a playground squabble.

  14. Major Kong Says:

    Ohio had a partisan hack Secretary of State in 2004 as well.

    I've voted in Ohio since 1994 and you will NEVER convince that there wasn't something hinky about the 2004 vote in Ohio. I've never seen the like of it before or since.

  15. c u n d gulag Says:

    I feel better about this election today than I have in months.

    Cup O’ Schmoe Scarface is bitchy, very bitchy, this morning. Mika was talking about Florida, and the voter suppression there, and all that idiot Joe could say, was, “Benghazi,” over and over again – with his arms crossed the whole time.

    This is what LOSERS DO!

    Having said that, I’m SOOOOOOOOOO tired of this election!

    And what the idiot’s on the right, and Politico (but, I repeat myself), don’t acknowledge, is that President Obama will have a greater percentage of WHITE males and females, than Romney will Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Gays, and any, and EVERY, other minority in this country.

    And Schmoe just said, “Benghazi, Benghazi, ” again. So, I feel even much, MUCH, better.

    Say it AGAIN, YOU FECKIN' @$$HOLE!!!

  16. who knows who toes Says:

    Possibly it's hard to add anything. let me repeat that i don't understand why the federal govt can't step in to make voting efun experience. asy. wa, or, mt make the process a 15 minute fun time… why can't ohio step it up. i watched some fox news and msnbc yesterday…. on the one Bengali… a story i don't understand at all… then these lines in polls that were 6hrs or longer on msnbc

  17. Bryan Says:

    All of the above holds true if you trust the voting machines.

  18. Major Kong Says:

    "Benghazi" is the right-wing message machine attempting to make a mountain out of a molehill by repeating the talking-point over and over.

  19. blahedo Says:

    wetcasements sez: "Every state should follow Washington (easy early snail voting) and Oregon's (all-snail-mail as early as you want) examples."

    No, that's a bad idea. Early voting (in-person, *someplace*) is a great thing, but absentee/mail-in voting should be restricted to those who absolutely cannot physically go to the polls (which is an even smaller set now, due to early voting): military, people abroad, and people immobile in nursing homes. Otherwise it is far too easy for people in power relationships in a household or at work to require others to fill out and mail a ballot under their supervision. Bad, bad, bad.

    (Of course, DRE voting machines without paper trail are far worse still. Thankfully some people in a position to affect things are now starting to fix that, but there are still a lot of states where non-VVPT DRE machines are the norm, or even required.)

  20. blahedo Says:

    (As a further aside: In the state of Illinois, every single voting jurisdiction—that's every home-rule city plus every county—gets to pick its own vote-management system, within some constraints. So there's DRE, there's scantron in a variety of formats, it's really all over the map. I didn't realise it was different in other states until fairly recently!)

  21. Talisker Says:

    A couple of other thoughts:

    Not all of those 200,000 possible provisional ballots will be cast. Some of the people who requested one will not vote at all (at least not in Ohio, they might have moved out of state). If only 150,000 are cast, and Obama has a lead of 150,000 in non-provisional voting, then clearly Obama will win. Alternatively, if Obama's lead is only 100,000 votes (2%), then those 150,000 provisional ballots would have to break 84% to Romney in order to overturn it. Again, I imagine this would result in the state being called for Obama without counting provisional ballots.

    The "impeach Romney, get Biden" scenario may be exactly what the Founders had in mind when they originally gave the office of VP to the election runner-up. If a President is impeached, he has the additional punishment of seeing his rival given power.

    We think of the VP's job as taking over for a dead President. Historically, 8 Presidents have died in office and only 1 was impeached (well, technically Nixon resigned, but he would have been impeached very shortly if he'd stuck around). But IIRC the Founders were very concerned about corruption of public officials, and they might have imagined the ratio of impeachments:deaths being reversed.

  22. Fitzroy Glibherbert Says:

    The way it needs to be: Obama surpasses 270 with the votes Ed outlines here….and then wins OH, VA, and FL in a few days or weeks. I hope they run up the score.

  23. sluggo Says:

    How can anyone screw this up, without screwing it up on purpose?

    Seriously. Paper ballot. Fill in the proper circle. Scan it and deposit into a locked box. Done. Instantly tallied, and a fucking paper trail.

    It ain't rocket science.

  24. bb in GA Says:

    @talisker

    that would be 2 impeached (Andrew Johnson during the post Lincoln period and Bubba – 0 removed) and Nixon you wish, but he was smart enough to read the tea leaves.

    <bb

  25. Geeno Says:

    @bb – He did say he was counting Nixon as an impeachment even though technically he wasn't. I think he was equating impeachment with simple removal from office, regardless of actual means.
    Don't argue that Nixon removed himself. It was a parade of republican Senators going to the WH and telling him they were going to vote against him in the trial if it happened that caused him to resign.

  26. HoosierPoli Says:

    200,000 outstanding ballots is a pretty small slice of the Ohio electorate. I think it'll be clear enough to call by early Tuesday night. Anyway, I'm giving Obama Virginia, too, which makes the whole thing rather moot.

  27. JulMonty Says:

    What's everyone drinking tonight? I have red wine, a celebratory drink!

  28. Tim Says:

    It shouldn't be this complicated to run a transparent fair election.

    It defies belief that there hasn't been more movement for:
    1. Independent redistricting commissions to prevent gerrymandering
    2. Simple, transparent methods of voting that inspire some confidence. Don't try to replace pen and paper unless you have a clearly better alternative.
    3. Stronger guarantees that ensure people can actually make it to the polls (i.e. guaranteed early voting, or a right to take time off work to vote)
    4. Stronger protections against meddling with the vote by introducing some serious consequences for officials introducing arbitrary restrictions and playing fast and loose with voter roll purges and other voter challenges.

  29. Tim Says:

    My preferred (but totally unrealistic for the US) solution to some of these problems: compulsory voting. There's no room for excuses from officials about why it's ok that people aren't making it to the polls.

  30. Chicagojon Says:

    The three key states are New Hampshire, Colorado, and Nevada
    What the fuck is wrong with this country. Seriously…NH, CO, & NV deciding the fate of the country?

    Also – fucking Ohio. I swear I hate that state. Even when they vote blue they can't count the ballots right and end up red (twice IMO) and they seem to lead the nation in voting asshatery.

  31. Dr. Mac Says:

    @ blahedo: "Otherwise it is far too easy for people in power relationships in a household or at work to require others to fill out and mail a ballot under their supervision. Bad, bad, bad." Vote-by-mail works really well here in Oregon on all levels. Your concern of coercion was considered in the pre-implementation analysis but was not deemed significant. Certainly it probably happens, but so difficult to quantify. Just review Oregon's recent voting history to discover an efficient and trouble-free answer to the above issues.

  32. bb in GA Says:

    @Geeno

    Made no representations at all about Nixon vis-a-vis what you said. I agree 100%

    I would say when Howard Baker and Barry Goldwater say "We are gonna fry your ass if we get the case." and then you quit….you read the tea leaves.

    Thanks for clearing up what he meant…I see it now.

    //bb

  33. Elle Says:

    Unfortunately, like Maverick deciding to re-engage and be Ice's wingman again, the cavalry is riding to Romney's rescue. Because prayer is like a giant Bond-villain-esque laser that you can aim at pesky problems, and with strength that correlates precisely to the number of participants engaged in it.

  34. sluggo Says:

    @bb,

    Horseshoes, hand grenades and Nixon are all close enough to count.

    Houseplants were smart enough to read those tea leaves.

  35. mel in oregon Says:

    big deal if it takes a month to find out who won. 4 more years of change no one can believe in, or 4 years of another corporate moron. but don't worry too much obama ass kissers, he's gonna win. you just won't like his politics after he does the grand bargain though.

  36. sluggo Says:

    @ Tim

    Amen! Compulsory voting! Yeah baby! You got that right! Smartest thing written in the history of the Interweb!!!

  37. sluggo Says:

    @ mel

    'big deal if it takes a month to find out who won.' just when i heard the smartest thing on thing on the web, you go and say the dumbest thing on the web. we went through this very scenario in 2000. it took a month to find out who won and that ended up with hundreds of thousand iraqis, thousand of americans dead, billions of dollars wasted/stole and the economy in shambles. are you kidding me?

  38. bb in GA Says:

    @sluggo

    The 'Bad Things' that you recited were not a result of the month long wait, but rather a result of the outcome with which you disagreed.

    Arguably, the month long wait would have been superfine if Mr Gore had been the winner and then none of the Bad Things would have happened, amiright ?

    <bb

  39. Talisker Says:

    @Geeno, bb: Yes, I did have in mind the colloquial use of "impeachment" to mean removal from office. I'm aware that in the US Constitution, it's impeachment in the House followed by trial (and acquittal for Johnson and Clinton) in the Senate.

    @Dr. Mac: Intimidation of absentee voters is difficult to quantify, so there's no evidence of it, so it's not deemed a concern? Sounds like circular logic to me.

    To be clear, I think absentee voting is fine if you physically can't get to the polling station, but making it routine is problematic, because it's (potentially) no longer a secret ballot.

  40. JazzBumpa Says:

    I love it that those of us who prefer a seriously flawed candidate over an odious elitist oligarch who has niether a moral code nor a definable position on any issue and will turn the clock back by as many decades or centuries as congress will put up with are ass kissers.

    Can't we get a better variety of troll?

    Oh — wait. Mel's an (ahem) conservative, so — no, we can't.

    Well, shit.

    JzB

  41. cromartie Says:

    It defies belief that there hasn't been more movement for:
    1. Independent redistricting commissions to prevent gerrymandering

    In a very nice piece of symmetry, that just happens to be Issue #2 here in Ohio.

  42. Major Kong Says:

    So, if Romney loses, do you suppose we'll be hearing "He didn't even carry his home state! Ha! Ha!" like we had to in 2000?

  43. eau Says:

    @Talisker, @Xynzee: Thanks for the intelligent answers to my lazy/stupid question.

  44. SiubhanDuinne Says:

    So, if Romney loses, do you suppose we'll be hearing "He didn't even carry his home state! Ha! Ha!" like we had to in 2000?

    Which of his several home states? He won't carry California or Massachusetts, probably not Michigan. He may pull it out in New Hampshire, and almost certainly will carry Utah. Am I missing any?

  45. Da Moose Says:

    Would a vote for Hello Kitty, a Japanese product, be considered traitorous?

  46. Bernard Says:

    after the grand bargain, we lose SS and Medicare. thanks to Obama and his Democrats cohorts who believe in the Republican orthodoxy, i'd vote for Rmoney just to keep Obama out/save SS and Medicare. i mean, the blatant thievery by SoS Husted/Ohio and others around the country, is so obvious, i find it laughable to even consider Rmoney winning, outside of a protracted media "war." are Americans going to just sit back and allow this thievery to go unchallenged, like they did in 2000.
    watching the Democrats give up the fight was an awesome "display" of testosterone. lol. Chilvary beyond belief.

    that so many have been so openly screwed over when it comes to voting, is so banana republican, i just wonder how long anyone can keep up the pretenses anymore. maybe idiot America works like that.

    I detest Republicans and Democrats for their subversion and looting. it just amazes me how such ignorant fascist behavior can be "accepted" by the commenting public, or it seems to be, or maybe the media gets off on refusing to allow such common sense reactions to the gross, blatant "games" i see "reported" going on. it is so laughable, and extremely sad to see such Third World Republican theatrics from one state to another.

    i suppose when Greed is Good St. Reaganomics pollutes the environment, accepting that the Get over it, you lost stupidity is the accepted "way".

    i still don't believe in Fascism, no matter what BB says or who does it. learning how to accept lying liars, and cheats and thieves and evil is something i never expected to be part of the "American" Way. my naivete is out there for all to see. being duped by Obama come Fiscal Cliff time is just as bad as voting Rmoney and his Citizens United Corporate Ownership BS. lube or no lube, right cund gulag!

    this is truly an interesting time. living in a Red State is a most fascinating experience in such Fascist times. to watch all these dumb white folks hate Obama just because he is black is such an awesome/frighteing education. Such "white" behavior is frightening and i am really really glad that i am a white male. geez, i can't imagine what being black would be like,nor would i. i am so thankful to be a white male, it is just beyond belief to hear and see what i am surrounded with.

    and i thought education would help, lol. silly me.

  47. bb in GA Says:

    I am so tired of the frickin' race card. I believe it was our dear President who observed that he was Black when he got elected in 2008. That was only possible because more than a few non-Black people voted for him.

    Bernard…I don't like Fascism either and don't think you are one.

    //bb

  48. Major Kong Says:

    If we're going to be Fascist now do I at least get the cool uniform and the armband?

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