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George Dubya will lose if he wins

Buchanan spoiling things now....

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Updated Democratic Party candidate Al Gore could very well make history with a rare aberration, winning the popular vote but losing the electoral vote, an absurdity which has occurred only three times in US history.

If that should happen, Bush's win by the Electoral College, marginally against the will of the people, will hobble him and his administration permanently in Washington. Though the Republicans have retained control of the Senate and the House, they did so by extremely slim margins -- noticeably slimmer than those of the 106th Congress, and this means that the proudly Republican Dubya is going to have to kowtow to Democrats on Capitol Hill every step of the way throughout his tenure, and defend his legitimacy at every turn.

He talks bravely about building bridges and "earning the trust" of all Americans; but what he really means is that he's ready to crawl in front of Congress in order to get anything accomplished.

Gore, it turns out, is slightly ahead in the popular vote nationwide, with 48,709,915 to Bush's 48,581,010 for a margin of 128,905, even though Green Party crusader Nader is crucifying Gore with his 2,655,233 popular votes, a potentially comfortable margin being denied the Veep.

Nader has won no electoral votes; but nevertheless, had Gore won a significant number of Nader's popular votes, he would have been awarded the electoral votes of several other very tight-run states, possibly enough to win the presidency without the (now) all-important state of Florida.

The popular/electoral discrepancy arises because US electoral voting is based on the popular-vote returns from each Congressional district in each state. Generally, whoever gets the majority of Congressional districts in a given state gets all of that state's electoral votes. Thus in the US, the popular vote maintains a closer relationship to the electoral vote than it would in, say, a Parliamentary system, though the ratio is never identical, due to the inevitable bits of gerrymandering going on universally.

Clearly, Nader is in line for a cosmic cold shoulder from all Democrats regardless of who wins the White House, but he might just have earned himself a Cabinet post if the country should end up with a Bush Administration.

Florida rules by a hair

Because of the impossibly slim margin separating Gore and Bush, final results of the national election will not be in until late Thursday at the earliest, and might possibly be more than a week away, as Florida painstakingly re-counts its ballots.

The problem is that Florida's electoral votes can't be called for either candidate until the popular vote is re-counted, as required by state law whenever the margin between any two candidates is less than one half of one per cent. A long delay could arise as absentee ballots postmarked on election day, which the state may not receive for up to ten days, are valid and may have to be counted.

If the Florida re-count favours Gore, the Bush people will almost certainly demand that all the absentee ballots be counted before conceding. This is because a large portion of them come from US military personnel overseas, who generally tend to vote Republican. If, on the other hand, the re-count favours Bush, it's unlikely that Gore will care to wait for a full accounting of the absentee ballots before conceding, since there's little chance that they would rescue him.

According to the first tally, in a state with over six million registered voters, Bush had 2,909,135 to Gore's 2,907,351, for a difference of only 1784 votes. This difference appears to be shrinking as the re-count progresses; thus the state of Florida, hence the national race, will be won and lost by a whisker.

Florida is crucial because it carries a whopping 25 electoral votes which are distributed on a winner-take-all basis, as they are in most states. This becomes intense as Gore now has 260 electoral votes to Bush's 246 (excluding Florida).

If either candidate receives 270 electoral votes, he will win. Florida, obviously, is in the position of deciding who will go to the White House in January.

As things stand, if Florida goes with Bush, he gets 271 electoral votes to Gore's 260; if it goes with Gore, he gets 285 to Bush's 246; though Oregon with seven -- if it were to go to Gore in a Bush win -- could leave this the closest electoral race since 1876, when Rutherford B. Hayes defeated Samuel Tilden by one measly electoral vote. Assuming Gore gets Oregon and Bush Florida, Gore would make history with 267 to Bush's 271, for a loss by only four electoral votes, while simultaneously winning the popular vote.

Even more maddening for Gore, in Florida's Palm Beach County the ballot layout caused well over a thousand rejects, and an impossibly strong showing for Reform Party candidate Patrick Buchanan. The ballot had been set up in two columns, with Bush directly above Gore in the left-hand column, Buchanan between them on the right, and the scoring ovals lined up vertically in the centre.

The ballots (pictured here) are scored with a punch, and Buchanan's corresponding oval was positioned directly below Bush's. Those meaning to vote for Gore might not have noticed Buchanan in the right hand field, and instinctively punched the oval directly beneath Bush's, assuming it was Gore's.

Palm Beach County is, to say the least, demographically unlikely to go for Buchanan except by mistake. "These are old, Jewish ladies to whom voting for Buchanan would be like voting for Hitler," Newsweek's Jonathan Alter quipped on Don Imus' radio programme early Thursday morning.

This bizarre little anomaly could result in a lengthy court challenge of the Florida results even after the re-count is finished. Gore would of course appear to be a sore loser and lose stature if he should initiate one, but any ranking member of the DNC in Florida could do so on his behalf and leave the Veep with at least a tattered cloak of deniability.

For all these twists and kinks, Gore has got to be hating Ralph Nader right about now, as the Green crusader walked off with 96,843 of Florida's votes -- more than enough to send the state's crucial 25 electoral votes to Gore and decide the election in his favour, even if we subtract the inevitable number of people who wouldn't have bothered to vote at all if Nader hadn't run.

Dubya remains confident in the Florida outcome, and has cautiously claimed victory. "This morning brings news from Florida that the final vote count shows that Secretary Cheney and I have carried the state of Florida," he said gingerly during a press conference Wednesday. "If that result is confirmed in an automatic recount, as we expect it to be, then we have won the election."

And won a place in the Pantheon of lame duck presidents, we have to add. ®

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