Memories of Florida's contested 2000 presidential election and a growing number of pre-election lawsuits are making Americans skeptical about a voting process they once took for granted.
Six in 10 of those surveyed in an Associated Press poll say it's likely there will not be a clear winner in the presidential race by Nov. 3 — the day after the election. About half say they fear the results will be challenged in court, according to the poll conducted for the AP by Ipsos Public Affairs.
Both Democrats and Republicans worry about the possibility of an unresolved election — though Democrats express more worries. About seven in 10 Democratic voters, 69 percent, say they think it's likely there won't be a clear winner by Election Day, while almost six in 10 Republican voters, 56 percent, say they feel that way.
With both political parties putting thousands of lawyers on call for Election Day, a majority of both Democrats and Republicans — just over half of each — expect the election results will be challenged in court.
Joe Lockhart, a Kerry spokesman, said Tuesday during a conference call: "Our operating assumption is that there will be a clear winner. The six-in-10 number is a reaction to coverage to some of the shenanigans that are going on. I expect the six-in-10 number to go down and not go up before Election Day."
Tom Josefiak, the Bush campaign's top lawyer, said recently that "it may takes days or weeks" after Nov. 2 to determine the winner because of absentee ballots and other questions.
"I read the other day that there's going to be a perfect storm," Jack Martin, a businessman who lives near Salt Lake City, said of the growing number of lawsuits. "I think it's coming down to the courts. It worries me about our election system. I used to think every vote counts."
Both parties already have filed lawsuits over a variety of complaints — from how provisional ballots are counted to alleged fraud in voter registration. Judges in several states have issued disparate rulings on provisional ballots, which are required under law for voters who show up at the polls only to find their names are not on the voter rolls.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati is expected to hear arguments this week on the use of provisional ballots in Michigan. It is unclear whether the court will rule before the election.
Most are confident
A majority say they are confident the vote count in their own state will be accurate. Fewer than half of Democrats say they are "very confident" their state's vote count will be accurate, while three-fourths of Republicans feel that way.
In the closing days of the campaign, the national parties are keeping especially close tabs on Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Iowa and New Mexico, all presidential battleground states where a challenge to a close race might be lodged Nov. 3.
Florida in 2000 turned into a political and legal ground zero over a Bush-Gore recount. After 36 days, the U.S. Supreme Court handed Bush a 537-vote victory in Florida and, thus, the presidency.
More than half in the poll, 54 percent, say they think the vote count in Florida was not fair and accurate, with Republicans overwhelmingly saying it was and Democrats overwhelmingly saying it was not. Independents say by a 2-to-1 margin that it was not fair.
Pamela Martin, a 52-year-old Democrat from Miami, says she was "not too confident" that 2004 will be any better in Florida than the last time around.
Worries about politics and legal challenges far outweigh worries about terrorist attacks intended to disrupt the elections, the poll found.
Just under one-third of those polled say they expect terrorists will attempt to disrupt elections.
Elections officials in many states are taking steps to improve security at polling places but are looking for ways to heighten readiness without posting armed police.
Almost half in the poll say having armed police at the polls would make them more inclined to vote, while about one in six say it would make them less inclined. Minority voters were more likely than whites to say armed police would make them less inclined to vote.