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Election Doomsday Scenarios? Don't Panic.

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[Image courtesy of Universal Pictures via CNBC]

Late last night my friend and colleague Rick Hasen posted the following at his Election Law Blog:

I Know It's Close to the Election...

when reporters stop calling about "armies of lawyers" stories and start calling about "post-election doomsday" scenarios.

What Rick's reacting to - and as usual, has nailed perfectly - is the rapidly accelerating drumbeat of stories in the media about the potential for chaos on and after Election Day, whether it's stories about an Electoral College tie, large numbers of provisional ballots delaying the final count, or a somewhat tongue-in-cheek recitation of the conspiracy theories currently multiplying on the Internet about the chaos that will ensue if the "wrong" candidate wins the White House. It's gotten so bad that one airline is looking capitalize (if only via publicity) on the phenomenon:

[D]oomsday soothsayers have become so bad, airline Jet Blue started running a promotion [jetblueelectionprotection] mocking the need to flee the country. Those expecting the worst can register before Election Day, note their favored candidate and, if they lose, win a ticket to another country.

Sigh.

As I said yesterday on Twitter, when I read stories like this all I want to say is "chill the HECK out."

At the risk of looking and sounding like that guy up there (a young Kevin Bacon in Animal House), I think all of this panic is overblown - and worse, counterproductive.

First of all, while election problems do occur - if they didn't, this blog would be thin gruel - not every problem results in the kind of uncertainty and sense of crisis that made the United States (and the world) hold its breath in 2000.

Second, the incidence of such problems is rarely anywhere near as great as people expect. In over ten years as an observer of Election Day, I have spent far more time discussing the things that didn't happen and didn't go wrong.

And third, even if problems do occur, leading to uncertainty about the outcome, panicking about it in advance is the last thing anyone should do. For all of our attempts as a nation to make politics a blend of sports and entertainment, the truth is that election administration is a serious business filled with serious people. [That's why we call ourselves geeks instead of rockstars.] They know that the best way through any crisis, if and when it does occur, is to remain calm and stick to the plan (and if something completely unexpected comes up, improvise adapt and overcome).

So please: whether or not you're directly involved in elections - or stand to attract an audience (or donations) from the prospect of chaos - do not panic about Election Day. It may be fun to hyperventilate about the prospect of problems, but if they actually do occur you're not going to want to be dizzy and out of breath before the work even begins.

1 Comment


  • Thank you, Doug, for some common sense.

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