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Tuesday October 19, 2004 - 00:29:00 GMT
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Forex: US Election Results Headed Again To Courts?

US Election Results Headed Again To Courts?

With the US election quickly approaching, and polls showing a virtual dead heat, the odds of the 2004 presidential election ending closely are considered high by most political pundits. For the sake of argument say whoever wins Ohio and Florida wins the election, or more appropriately the electoral college vote. What does the loser do, if the statewide defeats in Ohio and Florida are just a few thousand, or in the case of Florida in 2000, just 537? He sues of course. It is litigious America after all. Well not quite sue as in a civil case. But with teams of lawyers already in place to challenge state vote counts and or voter registration in a number of key swing states, expect court filings on November 03 on any close result. It will take a large margin of victory to keep this election from the US court system for sure. No one is predicting a large margin of victory. Admittedly an event could happen between now and November 03 that creates a wide margin of victory, but simply this is not now in the cards.

How can I be so sure of a court challenge? As the NY Times noted today (Broder), conditions are in place to turn this election into a legal slugfest. Apart from close race, there are new voting technologies in many states like Florida (trial runs of electronic voting have been anything but seamless), absentee and mail-in ballots, redrawn districts, many first-time voters, early voting and human error among poll-workers could collide to yield a legal challenge to the election November 03 that makes the 2000 challenge look like high school mock court. Look at what is already happening in Pennsylvania, Florida and Ohio.

In Pennsylvania, the state legislature has already passed a law mandating an automatic recount the election outcome shows a margin of less than 1%. Volunteers from both parties are mobilizing as poll-watchers, aiming to have observers at every polling station in the state. Both parties' state chairmen have more or less promised to file complaints if the election outcome is decided upon a small margin (obviously against their respective candidate), and according to political analysts in Pennsylvania, any challenge could take weeks before a winner is declared (AP). Pennsylvania uses the punch card ballots as well as other methods. Recall the punch card ballots in Florida was in large part what caused large numbers of voters ballots to be excluded from the final count (hanging chads, pregnant chads and 36 days before the Supremes ruled = Bush had won in a partisan 5-4 vote). It is also worth noting that Green Party candidate Ralph Nader is already challenging the state to have his name put on the ballot. Surely votes for Nader will be fewer votes for Kerry and so surely it is in the interest of the Republican Party election team to have Nader on as many state ballots as possible...especially in swing states.

In Florida, former President Jimmy Carter who is a leading election observer in nations with new democracies has already alleged that voters are being disenfranchised again. He claimed that the state of Florida had not implemented the recommendations he and former President Gerald Ford made in the period that followed the 2000 election. Admittedly a volatile charge and one that many in Florida have found unconscionable, though this like most things in US politics these days is largely partisan. Florida's state supreme court ruled in September that Nader must be on the ballot (he won over 30,000 votes in 2000, most of which Gore would have taken had he not been on the ballot). Also voter registration drives have had ballots returned that are incomplete, such as missing a check-box-if-a-US-citizen, and ballots may be disqualified as a result and there is not enough time to return them for proper completion.

In Ohio the many voter registration cards were received on regular paper, printed off the internet or simply found at a voter registration table. The state has a rule, albeit not always followed, that requires the registration card be of a certain thickness (100 weight) for preservation. If this rule is upheld as the state Governor has mandated, thousands of voters may not be able to register. All of these anomalies pose potential grounds for a challenge from either side.

What can we expect from markets? Uncertainty often breads shifts in asset prices and the dollar. But a look back at November 2000, the evidence is less than compelling. Stocks were basically sideways in the 36 days until the election was decided. Bonds rallied through January (evidence of the recession was building in the wake of the stock market crash of 2000). And the dollar was weak through January after topping out in Oct.

I think it is safe to conclude in the current environment, that a serious legal challenge to this year's election would undermine confidence in the economy and policy making resulting in weaker stocks, higher bonds (flight to quality) and lower dollar. Sadly the markets and financial press seemed to be focused entirely on what a Kerry or Bush victory will do to asset prices and the currency.

David Gilmore


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