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Wading Into Sea of Questions

November 17, 2000

Some questions and answers about the election and the vote recount in Florida that could decide whether Vice President Al Gore or Texas Gov. George W. Bush will be the next president:

When will it all end?

That's hard to say. Some observers predict the election will wrap up Saturday, when Florida is scheduled to complete tabulating absentee ballots sent from overseas. Various legal battles, however, could continue.

Is it true that whoever wins Florida wins the election?

Yes--barring some surprise in this year of surprises. Bush has 246 electoral votes, Gore 262. Although the fate of New Mexico's five electoral votes remains uncertain, Florida's 25 electoral votes would give Gore or Bush the 270 needed to win the White House.

What is the status of hand recounts in Florida?

The Florida Supreme Court ruled Thursday that manual ballot recounts can continue. Democrats had sought the recounts and Republicans had opposed them. Still unresolved is whether those tallies will mean anything, because Secretary of State Katherine Harris has said she will not accept any ballots counted since Tuesday.

How many absentee ballots from overseas are uncounted?

About 2,700 such ballots remain to be counted, although that number could rise. The deadline to receive such ballots, which had to be postmarked Nov. 7, is midnight tonight.

When will the overseas absentee ballots be counted?

Election officials will count all overseas ballots that arrive by midnight today and have 12 hours to send results to the state. Harris can then certify them any time after noon Saturday (9 a.m. PST).

Who uses absentee overseas ballots?

The ballots are typically used by military personnel, as well as some U.S. citizens living outside the country. In the past, such ballots have tended to favor Republican candidates. Democrats hope that their efforts to woo Jewish voters living in Israel can counter the usual Republican advantage abroad.

Could the overseas absentee ballots affect the Florida election?

Yes. Official counts show Bush leading Gore by just 300 votes statewide, so any extra votes could make a difference.

Aside from Florida, are there unresolved presidential elections in other states?

Although Bush once led New Mexico by only four votes, Gore was ahead Thursday by 380 ballots, according to unofficial results. Counties have until today to submit totals.

Who won the popular vote?

Gore leads Bush by about 200,000 votes nationwide, out of more than 100 million cast, according to unofficial returns.

What is the role of the electoral college?

A candidate need not win a majority of popular votes to become president, just a majority in the electoral college. In a presidential election, voters cast ballots for 538 electors, not directly for president and vice president.

What's the deadline for picking a new president?

Bill Clinton is president until Jan. 20, when the new president is sworn in. The presidential electors meet Dec. 18, usually in their state capitals, to cast their ballots. On Jan. 6, the president of the Senate, Vice President Gore, announces the winner to a joint session of Congress.

What if the situation isn't settled by Dec. 18? Could the electoral college vote without Florida?

Scholarly opinion is divided on this question. Some argue the president can be chosen without every state's electoral votes being counted because the Constitution only requires a majority of electors. By this reasoning, if Florida's votes are left in limbo or removed for some legal reason, the remaining electors would pick the president. Such a scenario probably would give Gore the presidency. Other scholars argue, however, that if neither candidate can obtain at least 270 votes, the issue would go to the House of Representatives. There, each state delegation would have one vote, and a majority of delegations are dominated by Republicans.

Why was the electoral college created?

The electoral college was created as a compromise between direct election of the president and election by Congress. Proponents claimed the system would protect minority interests and require distributed popular support. Modern-day supporters of the electoral college say the system gives small states a say in presidential elections because it discourages candidates from spending all their time campaigning in big urban areas.

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