NEW YORK — Elections in Montana and Virginia that will determine which party controls the Senate are likely to go to recounts.
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So here’s a scenario to ponder: What if these disputed elections, and perhaps close ones in the House, lead to battles in the new Congress over the seating of certain newly elected members?
In Montana Democratic challenger Jon Tester led three-term incumbent Republican Conrad Burns by 1,735 votes, or four-tenths of one percent, with nearly all precincts reporting.
In Virginia, with nearly all precincts reporting, Democratic challenger Jim Webb had a margin of 7,847 votes — which amounted to three-tenths of one percent of the vote.
Will Congress grind to a halt for days, or even weeks, as the two parties slug it out over who should be seated? It has happened before and, given the high stakes in the Senate especially, it's hardly unthinkable now.
The Constitution states that “Each house shall be the judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own members,” so in the end the decision will be up to the Senate and the newly-sworn in House in January whether to seat a would-be member who shows up with the certificate of election from his state’s governor.
In 1975 the Senate fought a prolonged battle over the election of the senator from New Hampshire.
Tallies and recounts go back and forth
The tally in the 1974 election revealed that Republican Louis Wyman won the first count by 355 votes out of more than 220,000 votes cast, defeating Democrat John Durkin.
A recount showed Durkin edging Wyman by ten votes. Wyman demanded another recount, whereupon the state ballot commission found that Wyman had won by two votes.
Eventually, at Durkin’s request, the Senate — with a big Democratic majority — took up the matter and spent six weeks debating the election.
Wyman proposed a new election, Durkin agreed, and the Senate voted to declare the seat vacant.
Durkin won the new election with 53 percent of the vote.
The House went through its own four-month siege over the disputed 1984 election of Rep. Frank McCloskey, D-Ind., who won re-election by a mere four votes over Republican Rick McIntyre.
Revenge in 1994
The Republicans got their revenge, after a ten-year wait: in the GOP “wave” year of 1994, Republican John Hostettler defeated McCloskey.
Hostettler, who favored abolishing the minimum wage and assailed McCloskey for voting to allow gays in the military, won despite the-Vice President Al Gore's last minute campaign visit to Indiana to boost McCloskey.
During the Gore visit, the Associated Press reported that McCloskey joked about not wanting another ballot recount. "I'm with you, Frank," Gore said. “I don't want any more recounts.”
If only Gore had known what the 2000 election had in store for him.
The wheel turned again on Tuesday night: Hostettler went down to defeat to Democratic challenger Brad Ellsworth.
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