Has anyone been having deja vu lately?
I'm not just referring to the re-emergence of deadly hurricanes with eyes trained on the Gulf. And I don't just mean the recycling of the same old Republican playbook being dumped on Senator Obama this election season.
Instead, as yet another potentially razor-tight presidential race looms, I can't help but recall 2000. I admit it: the prospect of an electoral fiasco this time around has haunted my dreams.
The tantalizing scenarios, below the fold. (Disclaimer: I seek neither to depress you, nor to divert your attention from the hard work ahead. Just glimpsing the potential for a 2008 debacle, rather, should incentivize us to avoid one all the more.)
But first of all, let's get to the root of the problem: the Electoral College is already perfectly tailored to deliver us another fiasco. The utter failure of our antiquated system to count votes equally is the reason I can't help but cringe when subjected to MSNBC's new promo, narrated by Chuck Todd (from whom, frankly, I expected better):
The beauty of our democracy is that my vote is no less important than the vote of a retiree who never finished high school, or the first time voter who just got their citizenship, or the head of some big corporation. All of our votes are the same, and all of us have the same amount of influence on this election.
False. In this election, the 1.3 million residents of the tiny swing state of New Hampshire "matter" more to the candidates and the election outcome than the 81 million combined residents of California, Texas, and New York. If not for the symbolic call to civic duty, I--as a resident of New York State--would have surprisingly little incentive to vote. Okay: I would have none.
Thanks to the Electoral College, here are some glimpses of what a 2008 fiasco might look like--the first scenarios being ones we are all too familiar with:
Scenario #1 or #2: A literal replay of the 2000 nightmare
Suppose Barack Obama loses the popular vote to John McCain, but wins the electoral college count--or, worse, vice versa. We know which scenario we'd prefer, of course. Yet as far as I'm concerned, it's a nightmare either way, given how cynical some of us might feel being forced to rally around the Electoral College result and disavow the national political will, just as the Republicans did in 2000. Nonetheless, if either scenario occurs, I would expect the disenchantment (if not outright depression) to grow strong enough to truly affect a national, constitutional debate on the future of the Electoral College and, thereby, on the future of our democracy itself.
Scenarios #3, 4, or 5 (The Ultimate Scenarios): An Electoral Vote Tie
The scenario analyses of FiveThirtyEight.com put the odds of a 269-269 electoral split at 1.14%--odds which, notably, doubled from just one week ago. Below are the three distinct possibilities of this election season that would lead to an electoral vote tie (there are other possibilities, but if a tie did occur, it would most likely resemble one of these):
Note the similarities between these maps and the 2004 map. For there to be an electoral vote tie, McCain would have to keep all of the Bush states (minus Iowa, which is likely Obama) and the candidates would need to split the 4 battleground states of New Hampshire, Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada in any of the three above derivations. We will intensely contest the Bush states no matter what; yet the question remains: Is an electoral tie possible?
In this environment, you better believe it. But more importantly, what would a perceived electoral tie mean? A media circus, for one, not to mention a procession of lawyers flocking to any or all of the above-mentioned states to demand recounts. Once the tallies made one of the above derivations certain (and who knows how long it could take), the race would be sent to the House of Representatives.
And as kos noted last month, rather than one vote per representative, each incoming state delegation (following the election) would receive a vote. Given the current breakdowns, whereby Democrats control 28 delegations (including DC, which would count for these purposes), Republicans 21, and 2 are split, Obama would win; and we can safely assume that with the incoming members, Democrats would have added to their delegation totals.
Kos does point out a crucial caveat:
the representatives can vote for whoever they want. They're not bound to their party . . . Some of these reps will decide to "vote their district". Others will try and take cover and "vote their state". And I'd almost bet my firstborn that it would be Democrats wringing their hands while Republicans came together in partisan unity. It's the curse of being Democrats.
And I would respond that the House Democrats wouldn't dare turn one (fun) fiasco into a catastrophic one, and throw the election to John McCain.
Thus, Scenarios 3, 4, or 5 would ultimately bring good news. If we tie, we win.
But let's plan on winning--because if we win, we win--with a mandate.