American officials say preparations for a runoff are underway, despite challenges that could make it difficult to hold a second nationwide vote.
Impending winter weather could make travel to polling stations difficult for Afghans in some parts of the country.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul has been poring over weather maps for months and is convinced that only small parts of the north will be too snowy for people to vote in the first week of November -- the target date for a runoff. But that could be wishful thinking.
Afghan election officials could also drag their heels on organizing a second ballot, since Afghan election law does not require the IEC to act within a certain number of days once it accepts the ECC results. If the commission delays enough -- or if Karzai tells them to delay -- it may be impossible to hold a runoff before the winter.
Officials say it's also imperative that the root causes of voter fraud and abuse that plagued the first vote be resolved before a runoff. Peter Galbraith, the former U.S. deputy to the U.N. senior representative in Afghanistan, told ABC News that unless officials make drastic changes to the election process, a runoff election between Karzai and Abdullah would be a "complete disaster."
Galbraith has been critical of the United Nations for its handling of last summer's election and was recently fired from his post after feuding with U.N. officials whom he alleges were complicit in the fraud.
He says many of the factors that caused problems on Aug. 20 -- ghost polling stations, corrupt election staff and a partisan commission -- are still present.
Still, delaying a vote on account of fraud allegations or the weather could further complicate Afghanistan's fragile political framework.
At an event in Washington on Oct. 15, Afghan ambassador to the U.S. Said Tayeb Javad said "to delay until spring is a recipe for disaster... We will have a government under pressure to deliver results" but with its top leadership in limbo, he said.
One idea being floated is a unity government with Karzai and allies of Abdullah. A senior State Department official told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos that Abdullah may agree not to press for a runoff if several of his associates get key positions in such a government. This official believes that Abdullah does not want to join the government himself. Karzai, however, has not indicated a position on a compromise government.
The commission's findings have enormous implications for the Obama administration's ongoing Afghanistan strategy review, which officials have said hinges on having an effective and credible Afghan partner.
"What's most important is that there is a sense of legitimacy in Afghanistan among the Afghan people for their government," President Obama said at the G-20 summit Sept. 25. "If there is not, that makes our task much more difficult."
An Afghan government seen as illegitimate complicates the recommendation by Gen. Stanley McChrystal to send tens of thousands of more troops into the country to more closely partner in a counter-insurgency and nation-building strategy.