Recounts and Green Party Spoilers

While I expect the Democrats to take the Senate, with a caucus of 51-49 (counting “Independents” Lieberman and Sanders), it may take a while. Our recent trend of tight, bitter elections made worse by dragged out recounts appears likely to continue. This time, the Republicans stand to benefit:

John O’Neil explains the ground rules:

Virginia’s election laws allow an apparent loser to request a recount if a contest’s margin is less than 1 percent — and the margin in the preliminary results of the state’s Senate election stood this morning at about one-third of 1 percent.

While a recount seems likely, though, if it comes it will not come quickly. According to a statement issued this month by the state’s Board of Elections, no request for a recount may be filed until the vote is certified, which is scheduled to happen this year on Nov. 27th. After certification, a losing candidate has 10 days to file a recount request in the state courts. The petition will be considered by a panel made up of the Chief Judge of the Circuit Court in Richmond and two judges appointed by the Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court. Those judges then set out guidelines for conducting the recount.

It may be that enough evidence exists to convince the Allen camp to do the honorable thing and waive the expensive, agonizing recount. Indeed, given that the balloting was mostly electronic, I’m not even sure how a recount will be accomplished. Still, it’ll likely be at least a few days before we know.

It gets worse. Rick Hasen lays out a plausible scenario where this could get really, really ugly.

According to the recount rules as I understand them, the recount process is very liimited, especially for recounting the results of electronic or optical scan results. There’s just not much discretion there for making those kind of “hanging chad” decisions we saw in Florida 2000. But if the recount doesn’t change much, it is not clear now that there is a contest procedure in Virginia courts for U.S. Senate races. That means that Allen could still potentially go to federal court if he has some constituional claims or, more likely, to the Senate itself for a contest of the result. That Senate decision could be quite chaotic and could lead to a possible new election. But politically that would be difficult if the margin were not very close or election problems particularly compelling.

Hasen hopes, as do I, that Allen will concede the election unless there is strong evidence that he has a legitimate chance of winning. [Update: Megan McArdle makes it three. Her readers mostly disagree.]

And then there’s Montana. O’Neil again:

In Montana, the Senate race between the Republican incumbent, Conrad Burns, and Jon Tester, a Democrat, also remained close this morning, with Mr. Tester leading by about 1,600 votes as late returns trickled in. But that margin amounted to a gap of about half a percent — not enough, if it holds up, to give Mr. Burns the legal right to request a recount. Montana law provides for recounts only in races with a margin of one-quarter of 1 percent or less.

That’s mighty tight in such a small state, though.

Again, I think Burns and Allen will ultimately lose. The irony, though, is that this might all have been avoided.

Both races were complicated by the presence of third-party candidates who drew more votes than the margin separating the two major-party candidates. In Virginia, Glenda Parker of the Independent Green Party had slightly more than 1 percent of the vote this morning. Ms. Parker, a former Pentagon budget analyst, had no affiliation with the national Green Party. She ran on two issues, calling for cuts in the federal deficit and the construction of a high-speed rail network to cut dependence on oil.

Given that everyone knew these races, along with Missouri, would be decisive and razor thin, it astounds me that people keep voting for candidates with no prayer of winning.

UPDATE: I should amend the last sentence to say “voting for candidates with no prayer of winning when there is a viable candidate for whom one has a preference.” That’s much more awkward than the original, though.

Obviously, in a two way race, one should vote for his favorite regardless of what the polls say. In a three way race, though, it’s simply silly to pick the candidate with no shot over one of the competitors. Were I a CT voter, for example, I’d have preferred the Republican to Lieberman (although mostly for reasons of the national caucus, not the candidates themselves) but would nonetheless have voted for Lieberman to defeat Lamont.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Tano says:

    Instant run-off voting. Lets do it.

  2. Triumph says:

    Given that everyone knew these races, along with Missouri, would be decisive and razor thin, it astounds me that people keep voting for candidates with no prayer of winning.

    Its interesting to look at the Illinois Governor’s race where you had an unpopular incumbent Democrat from Chicago battling an unpopular Republican.

    Normally the Democrat rakes in the Chicago votes and everywhere else in the state votes Republican.

    I don’t know if it would qualify as a spoiler, but you saw pretty strong Green party support in rural Illinois counties. In Boone county, the Green candidate received like 26%.

    I suspect that you had disaffected Republicans voting Green in many of these places. I don’t know if it would be enought to breech the gap, but it is important to note that Greens don’t necesarily take their votes from Dems. Many Greens are closer to traditional libertarians. This was certainly the case with the Green candidate in Illinois who was a big gun-rights supporter.

  3. Vulgorilla says:

    “it astounds me that people keep voting for candidates with no prayer of winning.”

    Really? Then why not have just one candidate … that would make it really simple, eh? You could justify that by saying “well, the 2nd candidate just didn’t have any chance of winning.” How stupid.

  4. David Pinto says:

    Again, I think Burns and Allen will ultimately lose.

    Say goodnight, Gracie.

  5. Len says:

    it astounds me that people keep voting for candidates with no prayer of winning.

    Look at our governor race here in Texas. Only 39% of the electorate voted for Rick Perry, the winner. More Texans voted against him than for him.

    The problem was what I call the “ego candidates” – Strayhorn and Friedman. There are also going to be people who feel, for whatever reason, that they are entitled to the office. And there are always going to be voters who want to “screw the system” and will vote for those ego candidates.

    Had either Strayhorn or Friedman not been in the race, Texas would have a new, Democratic governor this morning.

  6. Anderson says:

    it astounds me that people keep voting for candidates with no prayer of winning.

    Some people congenitally enjoy messing things up for other people, without having any constructive purpose. It’s human nature. In ordinary social intercourse, we call those people “jerks” and shun them. (Ed.– I thought those were “Democrats.” A.– Shhhh!)

    On comment threads, however, they attempt to elevate jerkhood into a highminded principle.

  7. Sheila says:

    I voted for some of the Libertarians (who were, of course, not going to win) because they were the only ones running against some of the Republicans. I had a message to send and that was the only way to do it.

    In my state’s governor’s race, I had a “yellow dog” moment and voted for the one candidate who numerically had a chance to oust the Republican incumbent. Fortunately the guy who got my vote is a decent, competent person, but I figured he would lose, which he did. I’m OK with that; I did my bit.

    It would be great to vote for the “best candidate,” but when I look for moderates, it’s simply too hard to find them in the Republican party right now. I didn’t move to the left since I started voting at 18; the GOP went to the right and they can’t seem to field a fiscal conservative/social progressive anymore.

    And knock off the “values voter” finger-pointing (which I resent the hell out of; I have values, thank you) and stop telling me that Democrats dislike the military. Since I’m retired military, that doesn’t wash.

    I see nothing wrong with independent candidates; I like some variety, and I do not care to be told to not vote for a candidate “because they can’t win.” People are dying in Iraq right now so that folks can be free to vote for whichever wingnut they like.

    You vote for your wingnut, I’ll vote for mine, but we both live in the City on a Hill.

  8. Len,

    A bit of reality. The total for Perry and Strayhorn (who was last elected to statewide office as a republican) was 57% which was awful close to the LT governor election number of 58%. The republicans won every state wide race by double digit margins except one supreme court position that they won by about 5%. Saying that Kinky or Strayhorn is the reason Texas doesn’t have a democratic governor is not dealing with reality. Looking at what it is about the democratic party that is causing them to be consistently rejected in Texas for state wide office would be a much more productive avenue for exploration on how to win in the future.

  9. I think a lot of the third party votes are protest that they don’t like either party. Some who don’t like either party tend to vote for one or the other because they recognize the third party doesn’t have a chance. How you get to the third parties having a realistic chance is an interesting question, especially since it is in the interests of the republicans and democrats to keep the system gamed the way it is.

    As far as the races, sure it hurts to look at Missouri, Montana and Virginia seeing third party votes that could have switched the election. But hey, the candidates didn’t make the sale on those third party votes. Both the candidates who lose and the third party voters have to live with the results of the election being someone they didn’t want to see win.

    Virginia had another 550K GOP presidential supporters in 2004, Missouri another 400K and Montana another 70K that the party didn’t turn out. The dems left 300K in VA, 170K in MO and actually increased their vote in MT by 17K. The dems turned out their vote better than the GOP. That I think had a much larger impact on the election than third party candidates.

  10. Again, I think Burns and Allen will ultimately lose.

    Say goodnight, gracefully.

  11. Craig says:

    Indeed, given that the balloting was mostly electronic, I’m not even sure how a recount will be accomplished.

    If VA has paper trails, they really should be used for the recount / official count. Or at the very least heavily sampled.

  12. DC Loser says:

    VA’s electronic machines don’t have paper trails.

  13. Len says:

    Looking at what it is about the democratic party that is causing them to be consistently rejected in Texas for state wide office would be a much more productive avenue for exploration on how to win in the future.

    Not the way I look at it, Little John. I’d rather wonder what is wrong with Texas that is causing them consistently reject the Democrats. (Other than Tom DeLay’s gerrymandering, of course.) I know what it is, of course. It’s all those Ford F150s.

    Speaking of old Tommy… let us not forget to thank him for giving us another Democratic congressman. Thanks, Tommy!

  14. Len,

    Well I am certainly following my own advice in looking at 2008 and congress. You can continue to think it is just Texas voters who are stupid. Of course given that no republican has lost a statewide election in Texas since 1994 shouldn’t interfere with the reality as you see it that says the only thing between Bell and victory was either Strayhorn or Kinky dropping out. The fact that the re-districting came about because the democrats lost control of the Texas state house and senate obviously shouldn’t be given any weight either.

    Its nice to see people like you on the other side after last nights drubbing. It gives me hope for the future.

  15. Len says:

    You are most welcome, johnny. Always glad to lend a helping hand wherever I can.