Here we go again. Americans who went to sleep thinking George W. Bush was likely to be re-elected president woke up to find the race a dead heat.
A day after near-record numbers turned out to vote, the outcome of the most expensive presidential race in the country's history is still unclear. As of 7 a.m. ET, President Bush was ahead on electoral votes 254 to Senator John
Kerry's 252, with 270 needed to win. Still not fully counted were votes from Ohio, Iowa and New Mexico.
Ironically, what's holding up the final count are provisional ballots, which were instituted as an attempt to fix some of the problems that occurred in Florida during the fiercely contested election between President Bush and former Vice President Al Gore in 2000. Provisional ballots are cast when there is a question about the eligibility of the voter, leaving it up to the state to sort out any issues after the election.
While the president's supporters are claiming victory in the pivotal swing state of Ohio — which the candidates visited more than 80 times during the campaign — the state's law mandates that its provisional ballots must be counted, within the next 11 days, before a victor can be named. "Whether it takes two hours, two days or two weeks," all the votes will be counted, said Ohio's Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell.
Overall, Bush holds a slim lead in the popular vote over Kerry,
51 to 48 percent, taking more popular votes than any president in history. The margin between the men that really matters, however, are the 134,000 votes in Ohio, with Bush in the lead there currently. For that reason, the provisional ballots in Ohio, which has 20 electoral votes, are
expected to decide the election.
For those voters who stood in long lines on Tuesday to cast their ballot, that means yet another long wait. Provisional votes in Ohio, which are reported to be reaching as high as 250,000, will be counted beginning Thursday. Then Ohio officials wait until November 13 to gather all absentee ballots from overseas. Once those are in, officials will begin counting them. All the votes will then be audited, and if the difference between the candidates is a quarter of a percentage point or less, an automatic recount will occur.
CNN election analyst Ken Gross predicted that if the Democrats were to file a lawsuit over the election results, it would likely be in Ohio as a challenge on the counting of the provisional votes.
Due to some broken voting machines, it's also unclear who has won Iowa's seven electoral votes, though state officials expected to have a final tally by mid-morning.
Adding to the confusion, the president's chief of staff, Andrew Card, announced early Wednesday morning that the president had 286 electoral votes and that his lead of 140,000 votes in Ohio was statistically insurmountable, even with the provisional ballots — an assertion first made by Ohio's secretary of state.
Though the president was up all night watching results, he did not speak to reporters, but is expected to make a statement this afternoon. Democratic vice presidential candidate Senator John Edwards declared early Wednesday
morning, "We've waited four years for this victory. We can wait one more night."
Kerry is not expected to make a statement until 10 a.m. ET, but an unnamed campaign spokesperson quoted by CNN said, "We have to look at the numbers and see if there is a realistic possibility [in Ohio]."