The Never-Ending Election: A Worst-Case Scenario

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Oliver Stone having been suspiciously silent, we'll have to say it ourselves: We're through the looking glass here, people. And, as Alice learned in Wonderland, when you're through the looking glass you might as well go all the way to the end. Herewith, some possibilities:

Faithless Electors Even if Bush wins Florida, Gore could still win the election. The scenario here: Gore's campaign lobbies electors pledged to Bush, making the case that, contrary to what Al has been saying, the presidency in fact is a popularity contest, and don't they want to change their vote to reflect the will of the American people? The electors meet to vote December 18, and some of them could become very popular before then.

Why it will happen: While electors are in some states legally bound to vote who ever won their state, the penalty for not doing so is straight out of Hawthorne: The deserters are branded "Faithless Electors" and, presumably, shunned by their party. Hard time in Leavenworth this ain't. Meanwhile, think of the nice incentives the Gore (or Bush, if it swings that way) people could offer to switch.

Why it won't: These electors are, by definition, party men, and while a few have changed their votes over the years, it's never been a decisive vote — more like the odd elector casting a symbolic vote for a personal preference.

Dueling Electors Say a recount shows that Gore won Florida. Or that Bush takes Iowa or Wisconsin, two close states that could be heading for a re-reckoning. In that case, each party could send their electors to Washington, each claiming to be the true slate. Far-fetched? It happened before, in 1960, when Hawaii at first went for Nixon, then after a recount came in for Kennedy. Two slates went to Washington to vote, and it was up to then vice president Nixon, in his role as president of the Senate, to pick which one got to vote (having already lost anyway, he let the Kennedy slate vote). This is advantage Gore. Since Congress meets two weeks before the President is inaugurated, Gore will still be vice president

An Electoral College Tie There's a further possibility if only enough electors switch to produce a tie. In this case the House votes for the winner under a "one state, one vote" formula. In this scenario, Bush probably wins; Republicans control the delegations from 28 states.

Mutually Assured Destruction Or we could head straight into nuclear winter: Both sides dispute results in a number of states, and send challenges into the courts. We get revotes, recounts, and endless grist for talk radio. This could take months to sort out; in the meantime, President Clinton will have headed off to a Hollywood career. In this case, with no clear president named by January 20, the Republicans win again, at least in the short term; the acting president in case there is no president or vice president to fulfill the duties is (remember your civics classes) the Speaker of the House.

Which means that the Republicans' ultimate ace in the hole is a man who owes his job to the fall of Newt and Bob Livingston. Meet the 43rd president of the United States — Denny Hastert.