Democratic Supermajority No Guarantee for Gay Progress

The 2008 election may already be one for the record books, but triumphant Democrats are still vying for an elusive political prize -- the 60-seat supermajority required to overcome Republican filibuster attempts and advance their legislative agenda swiftly beginning in January. But what are the odds of actually getting 60 seats -- and will it really push gay rights to the front of the line? 

BY Julie Bolcer

November 21 2008 12:00 AM ET

One thing that is
certain, says Abramowitz, is that only half of the 3.9
million voters who participated in the presidential election
are expected to turn out in December. Particularly
important for Democrats is sustaining enthusiasm among
the more than 240,000 new African-American voters who
were energized by the historic Obama candidacy.

“They’re going to try to get as many of those
new Democratic voters out there as possible,”
says Abramowitz, “but they are not going to be able
to get them all out.”

When a similar
Senate runoff was held in Georgia in 1992, Republican
challenger Paul Coverdell defeated incumbent Democrat Wyche
Fowler, who led but did not obtain a majority in the
first round. Turnout fell by 50% in the runoff.

Another factor
favoring Republicans is Libertarian voter behavior.
Overall, Libertarians gravitate toward Republicans,
suggesting their votes for Buckley could go to
Chambliss. A recent Rasmussen Reports poll showed
Chambliss in the lead with 50%, compared to 46% for Martin.

Above all,
despite changing demographics, Georgia remains reliably red;
Republican presidential candidate John McCain carried the
state. High-profile visits completed and in the works
from former President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al
Gore, and potentially even Obama himself may not be
sufficient to produce a Democratic victory.

Minnesota

If parties are
working feverishly to tip the results in Georgia, in
Minnesota the task largely involves waiting for results to
reveal themselves in the tight contest between
first-term Republican incumbent Norm Coleman and
Democratic challenger Al Franken. Right now the state is
undertaking a painstaking hand recount of 2.9 million paper
ballots. The effort was prompted by Coleman’s
razor-thin lead -- 215 votes, well within the one half
of 1% that triggers a recount under state law.

“When you
have 215 votes separating the candidates, errors can make
all the difference in having the incorrect candidate
called the winner,” says Mary Currin-Percival,
assistant professor of political science at the
University of Minnesota, Duluth.

During the
recount, which is expected to last until December 5,
representatives for both campaigns will observe and
challenge ballots, which the secretary of state will
then forward to the State Canvassing Board for a
December 19 ruling. Meanwhile, in a separate matter, the
Franken campaign is pressing for a number of rejected
absentee ballots to be considered. If court
proceedings and delays ensue, by law the U.S. Senate
would decide the winner.

Despite the high
stakes, the recount thus far is generally organized and
calm.

“In
Minnesota it’s a pretty open process,” says
Currin-Percival. “In all elections, there are
mistakes, but in the hand recount, you find the true
winner.”

Among the
potential mistakes in question are about 34,000 residual
votes, or ballots that lack a recorded Senate vote,
either because the voter intentionally skipped the
contest or a machine could not read the oval marked on
a hand ballot. A new study by Dartmouth College professors
Michael Herron, Jonathan Chipman, and Jeffrey Lewis uses
data from the 2006 and 2008 general elections to show
that more of those latter, unintentional residual
ballots tend to be cast by Democrats, suggesting that
Franken could trump the slim Coleman margin.

No matter what
happens in Minnesota, the state’s characteristic
order and clarity are expected to prevail.

“Essentially, there’s not going to be the
situation with hanging chads,” said Kevin
Parsneau, assistant professor of political science at
Minnesota State University, Mankato, referring to the
chaotic scenes that plagued the Florida recount of
2000.

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