Monday, November 22, 2004

Legally, There's Still Time to Overturn This Election

Two pieces today on the legality of the election as it stands now, emphasizing that a concession speech is not legally binding and that this election has time to be overturned by January 6, 2005, when Congress handles the electoral votes, not December 13, when the electors vote.

Cohn provides details on litigation issues, and Keith Olbermann discusses this topic as well on his blog today, posted below.

Marjorie Cohn
from Litigating the Election, Monday, November 22, 2004

 Results Not Final Until January

    Although John Kerry conceded that George W. Bush won the election, a candidate's concession is not legally binding. Electors will be certified on December 7, which gives a presumption of legitimacy to the vote; but electors actually vote on December 13. These votes are not opened by Congress until January 6, so there is still time to challenge the results in key states such as Ohio and Florida. A challenge requires a written objection from one House member and one senator. If that objection is recorded, both Houses separate again and they vote by majority vote as to whether to accept the slate of electoral votes from that state.

    Bush is claiming he has a mandate, planning to spend his "political capital." Curiously, virtually all of the so-called "anomalies" in the voting results favor Bush. The electors have not yet voted; the election results are not yet final. In the words of Yogi Berra, "It's not over until it's over."


Keith Olberman's blog, saying "Relax about Ohio":


I addressed this topic with the wonderfully knowledgeable George Washington University Constitutional Law professor, Jonathan Turley, back on Countdown on November 9th. He noted the election process is a little slower— and has one more major loophole— than is generally known. It begins on December 7th, the date “when you essentially certify your electors… it gives a presumption to the legitimacy to your votes. And then, on the 13th, the electors actually vote.”

But, Turley noted, “those votes are not opened by Congress until January 6. Now, if there are controversies, such as some disclosure that a state actually went for Kerry (instead of Bush), there is the ability of members of Congress to challenge.” In other words, even after the December 13th Electoral College Vote, in the extremely unlikely scenario that a court overturns the Ohio count, or that the recount discovers 4,000 Gahanna-style machines that each recorded 4,000 votes too many for one candidate, there is still a mechanism to correct the error, honest or otherwise.

“It requires a written objection from one House member and one senator,” Turley continues. Once that objection is raised, the joint meeting of the two houses is discontinued. “Then both Houses separate again and they vote by majority vote as to whether to accept the slate of electoral votes from that state.”

In these super-heated partisan times, it may seem like just another prospective process decided by majority rule instead of fact. But envision the far-fetched scenario of some dramatic, conclusive new result from Ohio turning up around, say, January 4th. What congressman or senator in his right mind would vote to seat the candidate who lost the popular vote in Ohio? We wouldn’t be talking about party loyalty any more - we’d be talking about pure political self-interest here, and whenever in our history that critical mass has been achieved, it’s been every politician for himself (ask Barry Goldwater when Richard Nixon trolled for his support in July and August, 1974, or Republican Senator Edmund Ross of Kansas when his was to be the decisive vote that would have impeached President Andrew Johnson in 1868).

The point of this dip into the world of political science fiction is that the Ohio timeframe is a little less condensed than it seems. The drop-dead date is not December 13, but January 6.

It is noteworthy that the announcement of a legal challenge made it into weekend editions of The Cleveland Plain Dealer, The Columbus Dispatch, the Associated Press wires, and other publications.



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