Another Contested Election?

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," Oct. 26, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: Rest assured that there has been a massive mobilization of resources and people to make certain that this time they are going to count every vote.


JOHN GIBSON, HOST: And maybe count twice. We know Election Day (search) is only a week away, but do we know when there will be a winner?

A lot of voters are afraid the results will be tied up in court again.  Heather Nauert is here with a look at what could go wrong.


Well, get these numbers: six out of 10 people think that there won't be a clear winner by the day after the election. Now that's according to a new Associated Press poll that was recently released. And half of the voters think that the results will end up in court, like in Florida four years ago.

Right now, I'm joined by Jennifer Donahue. She's senior adviser for Political Affairs at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire.

Jennifer, today's big question is: What are the chances of another contested election this year?

JENNIFER DONAHUE, SENIOR ADVISER FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS, SAINT ANSELM COLLEGE: I think the chances are a lot lower than four years ago for a couple of reasons. One: Ralph Nader is less of a presence in some of the battleground states than he was four years ago. I think that the polls are showing a tight dead heat race. But, I think at the end, it's going to split one way or the other.

Over the course of the next week, I think we're going to see a lot of the late deciders decide. I think even going into Election Day, the picture will be clearer than it is today.

NAUERT: So, are you saying that the pollsters are perhaps wrong, because lots of folks are feeling a little anxious about the notion that we're going to have this drawn out legal battle? Are the pollsters just wrong about how close the election is?

DONAHUE: Well, I think the pollsters are right -- right now. But seven days is a lifetime in politics and, as you know, Heather, things could change. Everyday we're waking up to new news that people are digesting and processing. Female voters tend to be later voters. The weather is a factor. There could be a snowstorm in Wisconsin or New Hampshire. That could change everything. We don't know which candidate it would help.

But I think the reason, perhaps, voters are concerned about it is that they've heard these reports of thousands of lawyers flocking to the battleground states, notably Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, in preparation for a contested election.

But I think just because the polls are this tight a week out doesn't mean they'll be this tight in six or seven days.

NAUERT: Well, that has to up the anxiety level for just about anyone, hearing that tens of thousands of lawyers are going down, having the Democrats, for example -- in Colorado is one example -- saying, "Well, if you don't see any signs of voter intimidation, create them." Republicans are doing some things on their side to up the anxiety level.

At what point do the candidates actually bear some responsibility for trying to calm down voters and say, "You know what, we live in a democracy here, everything is going to be OK."?

DONAHUE: Yes. I think we're at a very odd time because there's a lot of fear out there on a lot of levels. I've talked to voters who say I'm afraid of Kerry. I've talked to voters who say I'm afraid of Bush.

I think that Americans right now are uncertain and I think that's partly why this race is so uncertain, is there are a lot of important issues up for grabs, a lot of issues at play. I think that the campaigns have a role in reassuring voters and in making voting as easy as possible and that people working the polls have a responsibility to let people vote with no hassle.

I don't think the candidates themselves really can do much. I think it's a matter of if the system doesn't work and hasn't been improved in the past four years and we see gaping holes and problems on election night, that's something the country really needs to look at.

In a state like New Hampshire, there's day-of-registration, and I don't think there will be much of an issue at all with voting. I think the New Hampshire results will be in by 8:00.

NAUERT: Well, some of these things that were intended to fix the problems of 2000, such as the touch screen voting booths and the provisional balloting, seem as though they haven't really helped at all.

What's your take on that?

DONAHUE: I agree with you, it doesn't seem like it's really been addressed. And that's not the fault of the administration, it's not the fault of either party. It may be an indication of the complexity of the state party process and the fact that, on a state level, parties are very intricately involved with the voting and the turnout.

You know what Election Day is like, Heather. The Democrats and Republicans will have vans in neighborhoods trying to get people to go to the polls. If the weather's bad, they're facing an uphill battle; if the weather's good, it's a lot easier.

They're praying that people vote early in the day so that they know what happened. I don't think that the country has the appetite or desire for a close election. I think if either candidate wins the popular vote, but not the electoral vote, that's going to cause angst in the country. I think that a lot of litigation would be somewhat traumatic to this country after all it's been through in the past four years.


And just real quickly, if there's higher turnout, does that make the election results more obvious or less obvious?

DONAHUE: Wow, that's a good question. There are theories on both sides of that. A lot of people say that high turnouts usually favor the challenger. But, it's unclear. That's the thing about politics is no one's got a crystal ball and nobody knows exactly what's going to happen.

I would have to think that since the late deciders are tending to be Independent voters, more likely to be female, that high turnout may be a good sign for Kerry. But it's really, really hard to say. I think this whole race is a dead heat.

NAUERT: All right. Jennifer, thanks so much for joining us.  Jennifer Donahue from Saint Anselm College. Thanks a lot.

GIBSON: All right, Heather. Thank you.

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