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.