With the specter of the 2000 presidential election as a backdrop, the campaigns of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have legions of lawyers ready to swamp polling stations Tuesday to make sure every vote counts for their respective candidate.
The main fear is a repeat of the election 12 years ago, when Republican George W. Bush lost the popular vote but won more electoral college votes than Democrat Al Gore after an acrimonious vote recount in Florida. The matter was resolved more than a month after the election by the US Supreme Court.
“My impression is that nationwide, both camps put together armies of thousands of attorneys across the country,” said Edward Foley, director of the election law program at Ohio State University. “It’s been an increasing trend since 2000.”
Most of the lawyers have been dispatched to the so-called battleground states which historically have switched allegiance between the two political parties.
The practice of sending legions of litigators to closely contested states “has become a quadrennial practice since the 2000 Florida debacle,” said Richard Hasen, a professor at University of California, Irvine School of Law.
“Campaigns know that in close elections they may have to fight over recounts or go to court,” said Hasen, author of “The Voting Wars: From Florida 2000 to the Next Election Meltdown.”
The increase in lawsuits and legal measures, which have doubled over the past 12 years, is “also about gaining advantage on the margin of a very close election.”
With help from battalions of volunteers, on the Democratic side the attorneys will use a computer system especially developed to track polling station incidents in real time.
Republicans in turn will rely on a network of supporters wielding smart phones to quickly report irregularities to headquarters.
This year, a last-minute surprise blew both campaigns off course when superstorm Sandy in late October slammed the northeastern US coast with hurricane force winds, killing more than 100 in the United States and causing widespread destruction.
“The hurricane is having the parties and campaigns scramble to make sure their candidates will be able to get their supporters to polling places which will be open and functioning in the affected areas,” Hansen said.
Bob Bauer, a former White House counsel under Obama and now the general counsel for the re-election effort, said in a statement said that campaign attorneys are prepared to “take action as necessary.”
But the attorneys will also be “focused on making sure that every American has the information she needs to make her voice heard and is empowered to exercise her right to vote.”
David Norcross, chair of the Republican National Lawyer’s Association, warned that snags could arise at every stage of the election, from early voting to problems with voting machines.
“All of those things are possible,” Norcross said.
“Everybody is more than prepared. We have prepared people to go where they have to go, obviously when there’s a close race,” said Norcross.
There will be up to 7,000 observers as well as the 4,000 election workers at polling station in Cuyahoga county, the most populous county in the key state of Ohio, said Jeffrey Hastings, chairman of the Cuyahoga Board of Elections.
If the vote margin is extremely close between Obama and Romney “it’s not unrealistic that provisional ballots will make the difference,” said Foley.
He said that between 150,000 and 200,000 votes could be subject to a recount in a tight race.
In this scenario, Americans may not know the name of their next president for weeks.