* Ultra-close polls raise fears of bitter post-election
* Campaigns assembling legal teams
* History may repeat itself - two centuries later
By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON, Oct 19 As polls point to a close
U.S. presidential election, the country faces the possibility of
political chaos - from a repeat of the disputed 2000 election to
the remote possibility of a new administration with a president
from one party and a vice president from the other.
The most likely result on Nov. 6 will be a clear, if close,
victory for President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden
or Republican Mitt Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan.
But with surveys showing the presidential candidates running
neck-and-neck just 2-1/2 weeks before Election Day and a number
of battleground states still in play, a less straightforward
outcome seems more possible.
One candidate could win more of the popular vote, but lose
in the Electoral College, as when Republican George W. Bush
defeated Democrat Al Gore 12 years ago after a bitter legal
fight that went to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Or Obama and Romney could each win 269 of the 538 electoral
votes divided between the states.
That would throw the outcome of the presidential race into
the House of Representatives, which must name the president in
the case of a tie. Republicans are expected to keep control of
the House in the election, which would almost certainly mean a
But the vice presidency would be decided in the U.S. Senate,
where Democrats currently have a majority. If they retained
control, Biden would likely be selected. Republicans likely
would have to win control of the Senate for Ryan to become vice
president in a deadlocked election.
A further wrinkle is that the sitting vice president breaks
tie votes in the Senate, meaning Biden could be in a position to
cast the deciding vote for vice president in such a scenario.
"In the end, the odds still favor the popular and electoral
vote heading in the same direction, but the chances of a split
like the one in 2000 are very real, along with the distinct
possibility of ambiguity and vote-counting issues once again
putting the outcome in question," Charlie Cook, editor of the
Cook Political Report, wrote in a column in the National
"Ugh," Cook added.
A prolonged legal fight, or a split administration could
worry investors and worsen the political gridlock in Washington.
Both would be huge obstacles to dealing with the "fiscal
cliff," the $600 billion in spending cuts and tax increases that
could occur at the end of the year if lawmakers fail to reach an
accord on shrinking the federal budget deficit.
DREADING A BUSH-GORE REPEAT
The bitter legal battle over the 2000 election lasted to
mid-December, when the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that
gave Bush the White House. The divisions contributed to the
partisanship that remains in Washington and state governments.
The Obama and Romney campaigns have been lining up legal
teams in preparation for possible litigation after a close race,
especially in light of new election laws approved by
Republican-led legislatures in over a dozen states since 2010.
U.S. presidential elections are decided not by a
winner-take-all national popular vote as in many countries.
Instead, candidates compete in a system of state-by-state
contests to win the 538 "electoral votes" assigned to the 50
states and Washington, D.C.
The votes are assigned roughly according to population. But
since there is a minimum of three per state, they are assigned
disproportionately, increasing the likelihood of a difference
between how the electoral and popular votes come out.
For example, winning California, with 38 million people,
garners 55 electoral votes - a ratio of one electoral vote to
685,000 people. Triumphing in Wyoming, with 568,000, adds three
to a candidate's total, for a ratio of one electoral vote to
A candidate has won the popular vote but lost in the
Electoral College in three of the 56 U.S. presidential
There is also a historical precedent for a divided
administration, albeit in the rather remote past.
"It would be kind of similar to what happened to (John)
Adams and (Thomas) Jefferson," Villanova University political
scientist Lara Brown said, referring to the second and third
presidents of the United States, more than two centuries ago.
In 1796, Adams ran for the presidency as a Federalist.
Jefferson, a Democratic-Republican, was one of his opponents.
There was not yet any such thing as a "running mate."
When the votes were counted, Adams was first and became
president. Jefferson, second, became vice president and spent
his terms attacking Adams' policies.
The discord helped pave the way for the 12th Amendment to
the U.S. Constitution, which established the procedure for
electing the top two government officials, starting in 1804.
It prevented another divided administration for 207 years.
It will be clear in a few weeks whether that run of success