What Unusual Things Could Happen On Election Day?

The Romney campaign is predicting it will win the presidential election; the Obama team, too, is predicting a victory. But what if both of them turn out to be wrong?

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And a week that features Halloween is a good time to take a look at all the scary things that could happen when Election Day finally rolls around next Tuesday. NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson has been asking what else we could witness in this unpredictable campaign.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: The Romney campaign is predicting it will win. So is the Obama team. But what it both of them turn out to be wrong?

ROSS BAKER: I think that any close election offers the possibility of any number of rather bizarre outcomes.

LIASSON: That's Ross Baker. He's a political scientist at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He didn't have any heat or power this week but he did have a little juice left on his phone. And he used it to run through all the things that could happen other than getting a clear winner next Tuesday. First weird outcome: Romney wins the popular vote but President Obama wins the Electoral College, just like George W. Bush did in 2000.

That's a heck of way to start a second term. Then there's the possibility of an electoral college tie: 269 to 269, which the newly elected House of Representatives would have to break.

BAKER: Each state has one vote, and the vote, of course, is determined by the composition of the state delegation. So let's say a state with a predominantly Republican state delegation, a state like Texas, for example, would certainly cast their vote for Governor Romney.

In states with split delegations, that's where things really get interesting, because then, of course, you know, you've got to have this debate within the delegation itself about where that state's electoral votes go.

LIASSON: An Electoral College tie would also mean the Senate would pick the vice president. So it is theoretically possible you could end up with President Romney and Vice President Biden. There's also a chance - a slim one, of course - that the Electoral College outcome could change, because of what's known as faithless electors.

BAKER: State laws may require the electors to deliver the electoral votes to the winner of the state's popular vote. But there are circumstances under which someone will say, well, you know, I just don't - I won't follow that. I'm going to use my independent judgment. And of course this is the so-called faithless elector who defies the verdict of the people and the popular vote.

LIASSON: Another possibility - the election results are simply delayed.

BAKER: And that would be, you know, provisional ballots need to be tallied and, you know, those things will take time, which could well delay the outcome. And especially if it's close, and it certainly gives every indication that it will be close. We could be waiting well into Wednesday morning.

LIASSON: Or beyond, particularly if this close election turns out anything like the one in 2000, which wasn't resolved until the Supreme Court ruled on December 12.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWSCASTS)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Florida goes for Al Gore.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: This no longer is a victory for Vice President Gore. We're moving it back. CNN declares that George Walker Bush has won Florida's 25 electoral votes.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: This race is simply too close to call.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: The circuit court shall order a manual recount.

LIASSON: Many people can imagine something similar happening in Ohio this year.

BAKER: There's the Florida precedent, and that is, of course, that there are irregularities in the voting, that there are challenges, that there are disputes over whether or not certain ballots are legitimate, mail-in ballots, invalid because certain lines on the ballot haven't been filled in. You know, all of those are possibilities. And of course if it gets really close, it will get down to that kind of atomic level sort of tactics.

LIASSON: Atomic level tactics - contested ballots, litigation, recounts, maybe the Supreme Court gets involved again. Voters might be more polarized than ever this year, but a big majority would agree that would be the very worst outcome of all. Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.

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