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November 5, 2012

8 questions about the presidential election

(Continued)

Q: What if one candidate wins the popular vote and the other wins the electoral college, or if the electoral college is tied?

A: Four men have won the presidency after losing the popular vote, most recently George W. Bush, who lost to Al Gore by 500,000 votes in 2000. The others were John Quincy Adams (1824), Rutherford B. Hayes (1876) and Benjamin Harrison (1888). Such a split decision can cast a shadow on the legitimacy of a presidency and could make it difficult for Obama or Romney to claim any kind of mandate for the next four years. This year's tightly contested race also raises multiple possibilities for a 269 to 269 electoral college deadlock. In that case the newly elected House would choose the president, with each state delegation casting one vote. Barring an extraordinary series of upsets, the House is likely to remain in Republican hands, and Romney would easily gain the required simple majority of 26 delegations. The Senate, which picks the vice president, could be a more contentious matter if it stays Democratic as expected. Vice President Joe Biden would be the choice, but there would undoubtedly be pressure on him to step aside, in the interests of giving the new president the chance to have the No. 2 he had intended.

Q: Could the presence of poll watchers make polling places chaotic or intimidating?

A: The vast majority of the nation's more than 100,000 polling places are likely to run smoothly and uneventfully. But grassroots organizations such as True the Vote say they will be at the polls in large numbers to look for possible fraud, such as voters who don't display appropriate identification or attempt to vote more than once. Many states allow poll observers to challenge a voter's eligibility based on questions about home address, citizenship or other background details. If an election official concludes that there is sufficient doubt, a voter may be asked to cast a provisional ballot, which can be counted later if new information is provided. These situations are most likely in areas with high concentrations of minority voters. Katherine Culliton-Gonzalez, senior attorney for voter protection at the Advancement Project, urges voters to resist accepting a provisional ballot and seek assistance if they believe they've been unfairly challenged. Staff from Election Protection, a coalition of civil rights groups, will be available at many polling locations to provide help. They will be wearing black T-shirts with their phone number, 1-866-OUR-VOTE, in white lettering.

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