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All of which suggests that if the election comes up a tie, the two campaigns will take no prisoners. The Democrats especially--convinced they were outmaneuvered, outlawyered and outhustled last time--say they are not going to let it happen again. There is a certain amount of pre-emptive psychological warfare going on. Large numbers of typically Democratic voters--as many as 63% of blacks, according to one poll--fear their vote won't be counted; the party is signaling that it will fight for their rights. An effort mounted by civil rights and civic organizations, Election Protection 2004, has put together a coalition of more than 100 groups, including People for the American Way, with 52 field offices and 38 legal-command centers ready to be up and running on Nov. 2. There will be 300 phone lines at its nerve center in Washington, given that the group plans to target 3,500 precincts (including more than 550 in Florida) with its 20,000 volunteers, including more than 5,000 lawyers.
The Republicans are more discreet about their plans, but they have $10 million in the bank for litigation and plenty of resources to bring to bear. "We're ready," says Bush campaign strategist Matthew Dowd. "But we're ready to have Election Day be over on Election Day." Adviser Karl Rove likes to describe the Democrats' preparations as "signs of defeatism." "They're looking for a legal coup d'état," he says.
If it looks as though the race is deadlocked going into Nov. 2, the Kerry camp has made it clear that it will not repeat what it considers Al Gore's mistakes in 2000. Following the networks' calling Florida for Bush, Gore made a call and was on his way to his concession speech when campaign operative Michael Whouley realized the flaws in the vote counting and frantically called every campaign cell phone he could to stop Gore's motorcade and prevent his delivering a concession speech that night.
This time Whouley will be in charge of a boiler room tracking the vote count, and no one will concede anything if there are irregularities to be resolved. Around 1 p.m. he will be closely watching turnout in certain key precincts. If it's roughly like last time, the results will be close, but if turnout is high, that would suggest that all those newly registered voters are actually voting. After polls on the East Coast close, if exit polls and the precinct counts show one candidate winning in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida by a significant margin, we will probably know the winner that night, since even contested races in smaller states would not ultimately turn the outcome.