x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Legal armies bracing for a close election result

The campaigns of Barack Obama, the US president, and Mitt Romney, his Republican challenger, have legions of lawyers ready to swamp polling stations tomorrow to make sure every vote counts for their respective candidate.

WASHINGTON //With the spectre of the 2000 presidential election as a backdrop, the campaigns of Barack Obama, the US president, and Mitt Romney, his Republican challenger, have legions of lawyers ready to swamp polling stations tomorrow 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 recount process 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 programme 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 law professor at the University of California, Irvine.

"Campaigns know that in close elections they may have to fight over recounts or go to court," said Mr Hasen.

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 last week slammed the north-east coast.

"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," Mr Hasen said.