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ND awaits election as race comes down to the wire

Teresa Fralish | Monday, November 1, 2004

Four years after one of the most contested presidential elections in U.S. history, the 2004 race remains dead even – prompting Republicans and Democrats alike to prepare for the worst.

“I think the odds are pretty high that you will see legal challenges to all sort of things,” said political science professor David Campbell, who specializes in political participation.

Though Campbell believed Tuesday’s election would be run more carefully than the 2000 contest, he said the closeness of the race still makes it prone to legal disputes.

“Both the Democrats and the Republicans have established absolutely enormous legal teams,” he said.

However, political science professor Donald Kommers said it seemed unlikely that any legal challenge would reach the level of 2000, when the Supreme Court finally determined the victor.

“If there is such a dispute, those terms are usually resolved under state law,” said Kommers, who specializes in constitutional law. “I frankly do not think that there are going be similar type of disputes to 2000.”

Campbell said concerns about voter registration requirements, raised by both Democrats and Republicans, increased sharply in recent weeks, but on different topics.

“Generally what you find from the Democrats is a willingness to err on the side of inclusion. Democrats generally have less concern for fraud,” he said.

In contrast, the Republicans tend to care about opposite problems, according to Campbell.

“The Republicans generally take the other view – they’re a little more concerned about fraud,” Campbell said.

But ultimately, Campbell said increased scrutiny for fraud, registration and the election overall would help ensure the integrity of the process.

“I think it’s actually healthy for the system,” he said.

Kommers also identified registration as a key issue for both campaigns, and one that could spark post-election challenges.

“If some of the swing states are extremely close, recounts will probably be ordered,” he said.

In the campaigns closing days, both Bush and Kerry have campaigned heavily in a handful of swing states. But unlike most states who award all electoral college votes to a single candidate, closely contested Colorado has a measure on the ballot about whether to switch from the current winner-takes-all system to splitting its votes according to the popular vote. A majority in favor of the switch would affect the awarding of Colorado’s nine electoral votes immediately.

“A conflict is more likely to arise in the Colorado case than in Florida,” said Kommers.

If the Colorado vote is close, it could potentially create a tie in the national Electoral College vote, Kommers explained. In that event, the Constitution stipulates that the House of Representatives must vote for a winner.

Campbell also said the manner in which the 2000 race was decided – particularly the U.S. Supreme Court’s Bush v. Gore decision that ended the Florida recount – could impact events this year. Often, the Court’s decisions establish a legal precedent for lower courts, but the justices did not intend the Bush v. Gore opinion to be applied in future cases.

“In Bush v. Gore the Supreme Court bent over backwards to not set a precedent,” Campbell said. “[This year], I guess there have been 30 cases that are actually drawing on Bush v. Gore.”

But despite the debacle of 2000, Campbell said ultimately the losing candidate, Al Gore, admitted defeat when the time came – and the same would likely happen again should legal challenges arise after Tuesday.

“Gore had his eye on the integrity of the process,” Campbell said. “At some point, one side or the other will say it’s time to concede.”