Edison Nightmare Scenarios for 2004, Part Two

by Joe Lenski, Edison Executive VP

Last week in part one of my series of articles on potential Election Nightmare Scenarios, I discussed two ways in which the outcome of the Presidential election may not be known until weeks after Election Day – an Electoral Vote tie, and a challenge or a re-count in the Colorado Referendum to allocate electoral votes proportionally.

This week in part two I will look at ways in which we may not know which party will control the next Congress until weeks after the election.

First, a postscript to last week’s article:

In last week’s article, I wrote that in the case of an Electoral Vote tie a single elector could determine the outcome by switching sides. News reports this week indicate that we may already have an elector who is considering doing just that. The Charleston Daily Mail reported on September 8th that one of the Republican electors in West Virginia – South Charleston Mayor Richie Robb – has announced that he may vote against George W. Bush even if the president carries West Virginia’s popular vote.

“It’s not likely that I would vote for Kerry,” Robb said. “But I’m looking at what my options are when it comes time to cast my vote.”

In the case of an Electoral Vote tie – or a 270-268 margin for Bush in the Electoral College – Richie Robb will have the most important single vote in the country.

Scenario #3 – Louisiana Senate run-off Election determines control of the Senate

Situation: Louisiana has a non-partisan primary for Senate scheduled for November 2nd. If no candidate receives a majority of the vote the top two finishers will face-off on Saturday, December 4th.

Likelihood: The Louisiana Senate is almost definitely going to go to a run-off. There are seven candidates on the ballot – one Republican, four Democrats and two Independents – so it will be almost impossible for one candidate to receive over 50% of the vote. The odds that control of the Senate is dependent upon this race are small but real. Currently the Senate composition is 51 Republicans, 48 Democrats and 1 Independent who votes with the Democrats (Jim Jeffords of Vermont). A net swing of one or two seats to the Democrats nationally will mean that Louisiana’s seat could be the one determining party control of the Senate.

Outcome: A Louisiana Senate run-off would see a lot of attention if it would determine control of the Senate. It would get monumental attention if there were an electoral vote tie (see Scenario #1) and control of the Senate would mean the selection of the next Vice President. One can only imagine the amount of money that will be spent in Louisiana during the four weeks between November 2nd and December 4th if the outcome of this single race would determine both control of the U.S. Senate and who becomes Vice President.

Regardless of the outcome of the Louisiana Senate run-off, determining control of the Senate could be a tricky proposition. If Kerry wins the Presidency he will have to resign his Senate seat upon his inauguration on January 20th, 2005. In that case if there were 49 Democratic Senators before Kerry’s resignation plus Vermont Independent James Jeffords, the Democrats will not be able to control the Senate until Kerry is replaced in a special Senate election in Massachusetts. Under the likely case that a Democrat is elected to replace Kerry the Democrats would then have 50 votes plus Vice President Edwards’ tie-breaking vote for control. Thus, we could see Kerry’s resignation from the Senate to become President give the Republicans temporary control of the Senate during Kerry’s first 100 days in office. Depending upon how contentious the results of the Presidential election, this is a recipe for even more gridlock in Washington, DC.

Scenario #4 – Louisiana House run-offs determine control of the House of Representatives

Situation: As with the Senate race, Congressional elections in Louisiana require that a winning candidate receive 50% of the vote in order to avoid a December 4th run-off election. At least two Congressional Districts – and as many as four – in Louisiana are likely to have run-off elections on December 4th. If both parties are short of the 218 house seats needed for control, the outcomes of these run-offs would determine control of the House.

Likelihood: The Republicans currently have a 229-205 (with one Democratic-leaning Independent) edge in the House. If the Democrats have a net gain of 8-11 seats in the other 49 states, the Louisiana U.S. House races could determine control of the House. As of now the Democrats are unlikely to gain that many seats but it is still a possibility.

Outcome: A lot of money will be spent advertising to the voters in these Louisiana Congressional Districts if control of the U.S. House is dependent upon the outcomes of these run-off elections. Also if the Electoral Vote for President is a tie and the Louisiana House run-offs will determine which party controls the Louisiana House delegation (and thus its vote for President in the House), you will see a monumental effort from both parties to win these House elections. Again the implications of an Electoral Vote tie could reverberate through the entire electoral process. The winner of the Presidential election could be determined by the outcome of a single House race down by the bayou.

If the race for House control is so close that a handful of seats will determine control of the House we are also likely to see a lot of effort spent lobbying potential party-switchers in the House. Louisiana Congressman Rodney Alexander just switched parties from Democratic to Republican in August. Conservative Democrats like Gene Taylor of Mississippi would come under a lot of pressure to switch to the Republicans, and Moderate Republicans like Chris Shays of Connecticut would receive similar attention (and offers) from the Democrats if by switching allegiances they could tip control of the House.

Scenario #5 – Recounts in Senate or House elections in order to determine party control

Situation: Close races in the Senate and/or the House go to recounts with the outcomes determining control of the Senate or House.

Likelihood: With the Senate currently 51-49 it is very possible that a single Senate seat could determine control. There is always a Senate race or two each cycle that ends up very close. In 2002 Tim Johnson of South Dakota won re-election by the grand total of 524 votes. In 1974 the vote count for New Hampshire Senate was so close (a difference of only two votes statewide) that no winner could be determined and the election was re-run several months later. A repeat of such a scenario would complicate a lot of things this year to say the least and potentially keep control of the Senate undetermined.

Similarly there are always a handful of close House races each election year. In 2002 The 7th CD in Colorado was determined by a scant 121 votes and the Louisiana 5th CD was determined by 976 votes in a December run-off. (Yes, it is possible that we could have a re-count in a run-off election.) In 2000 the Michigan 8th CD was determined by a margin of 111 votes. And there may be something in the water this year – there have already been three House primaries this year – one each in New Jersey, North Carolina and Colorado – that have been close enough for the consideration of a re-count.

The most famous recount in the recent history of the House is the re-election of Democrat Frank McCloskey in Indiana’s 8th CD in 1984. Indiana election officials conducted two vote counts; the first showed the Democrat McCloskey ahead by 72 votes; the second showed his Republican challenger Richard McIntyre ahead by 34 votes. The U.S. House appointed a task force which concluded that McCloskey had won by 4 votes. After much rancor the Democratic-controlled House voted on May 1st, 1985 (six months after the election) that the Democrat McCloskey was the winner. The Republican elephants in the House have long memories and you can be sure that they would enjoy payback if a similar situation arose twenty years later.