A Voter's Guide to Cliffhanging

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Oh, the possibilities.

With Florida dragging us down into electoral purgatory, the country doesn't seem to know what to do with itself. Pundits have run out of adjectives and family-friendly exclamations. Newspapers have gone to press declaring Bush the winner. (Doesn't anyone teach the lessons of "Dewey Defeats Truman" in journalism school anymore?)

We've hit something of a brick wall here, and the sun threatens to rise in the east before many of us have gone to bed. As much as we'd like to get this thing wrapped up in a nice, neat compartment, until Florida's board of elections has sorted things out to everyone's satisfaction, we'll be playing a guessing game: Is it Bush or is it Gore?

Here, a few outcomes to mull over while we wait...

1. The recount reveals that Bush has, in fact, taken Florida's electoral votes by a margin greater than the requisite .5 percent. Gore concedes, and we all go back to our lives.

2. Gore takes Florida's electoral votes and also picks up Wisconsin or Oregon, which pushes him over the 270-vote threshold. Bush concedes, and we all go back to our lives.

3. Florida's final tally comes down to 2,000 absentee ballots cast overseas. In the 10 days we spend waiting for the ballots to arrive and be counted, Bush and Gore decide to forgo this silly election and join together in a coalition called "The Demopublicans." Their first act as president is to deport Ralph Nader to Greenland. Hey, he asked for it.

4. And then there's the pundits' latest pet possibility: Before this endless election night began, plenty of folks, particularly in the Republican camp, speculated that Bush could take the popular vote even if Gore won the electoral vote. Understandably, this possibility horrified Bush supporters, some of whom insisted that such an outcome would necessitate a complete overhaul of the system. Now, Gore staffers believe California's strong Democratic showing could mean a popular-vote win for the vice president even if Bush takes the electoral college. Wonder what the Republicans would have to say about that one.