what will happen
- First, the recount will be completed. It is likely to have George W. Bush winning by a margin of a few hundred votes.
- Then, several thousand absentee ballots from overseas will have to be counted. Historically, these votes are very Republican, but I wouldn't assume anything with this election.
- Finally, the Gore campaign is likely to pursue some kind of legal avenue to attain victory. I don't think the Palm Beach County ballot issue will get anywhere, though. Massive voter fraud would have to be discovered. There were unsubstantiated reports of voter fraud favoring both Republicans and Democrats in Florida on Tuesday. I suspect most, if not all, of these will be shown to be false or minor.
But that's not all. There will be numerous appeals, and if Gore's case continues to fail in the courts, the media will start making unfavorable comparisons of Mr. Gore to Richard Nixon in 1960. Nixon lost by a slim margin, and most likely would have been able to find enough evidence of fraud to at least challenge the election's results. Instead, Nixon conceded defeat to JFK, more or less saying that it was important that the country had a president beyond the shadow of a doubt. (History books say Nixon should have shaved before the televised debate, but I think that's an oversimplification.)
Another possiblity is that Gore will win in the courts, and Bush will appeal. This particular case would cause a huge constitutional crisis, as Bush would contend that the media's projection of Gore's win in Florida suppressed Republican turnout in the Florida panhandle, where polls were still open. Also, Bush is likely to contend the results of other states, such as Wisconsin, Oregon, and New Mexico. Bush might even blame low Republican turnout in California on the media's projections. In some respects, Bush's panhandle dispute is more significant than Gore's ballot dispute, and the election results would be totally thrown into doubt by those on both sides. It would be Hell.
Also of note is that a new election in a county, several counties, statewide, or nationwide would most likely be illegal at this point. Don't expect electors to turn on their states' popular winner either; such a move could lead to the destruction of America's entire democratic-republic system. Whatever the results, this would be the most dangerous thing that could possibly occur, as it could literally tear down our form of government (I realize it's happened before, but it never mattered before).
If Florida is somehow thrown out (highly unlikely), hodgepodge is correct in saying that Bush would probably win the presidency in the newly elected House. However, the new Senate then votes for Vice President. To be eligible, I believe Joe Lieberman would have to give up his Senate seat. If it is somehow still 50-50, I have no idea what would happen. I think Lieberman would keep his Senate seat, and the Democrats in the Senate would attempt to elect Gore as Vice President. They might have to get a Republican vote however, in order to do it.
If we have no President on January 20, 2001, Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert will become our temporary president.
The winner will not be able to claim a "mandate to govern"; that's a loaded phrase that basically means nothing anyway. However, it should be pointed out that both candidates received a much higher percentage of the vote than Bill Clinton did in either of his two presidential elections.
Another note on those 19,000 tossed-out votes. It's not an oddity. More than 14,000 votes were thrown out in Palm Beach County in 1996 for the same reasons. These were not contested.
In the end, we just have to wait, and hope no one does anything really stupid to put our way of governing in danger. If we have a president on January 20, and tempers have settled, we'll be just fine, no matter who it is.