You think Nov. 4 is the end of the election season? That you can go to bed election night and wake up knowing who controls the Senate?
Think again. There’s virtually no chance that all the close Senate races will be settled on Election Day itself. From runoffs to recounts, wild-card independents to wild-salmon fishermen mailing ballots in Alaska, there are multiple scenarios that will leave us up all night -- and then some.
1. OVERTIMEIn two states with key Senate races, it’s not enough to beat the other candidates: You also have to crack 50 percent of the vote. In Louisiana, eight candidates are on the Senate ballot -- there are no primaries there -- and two Republicans are registering in the polls. That makes a Dec. 6 runoff featuring Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu and a GOP challenger a near-certainty. Meanwhile, things could go even longer in Georgia: Democrat Michelle Nunn and Republican David Perdue are in a toss-up race, with a Libertarian who’s keeping her day job as a paralegal threatening to keep both below 50 percent. That runoff would be Jan. 6 -- yes, after the next session of Congress begins.
2. TUNDRA TURNOUTPolls don’t close in Alaska until 1 a.m. Eastern Time. That’s when the fun begins. Rural communities are famous for reporting their results slowly. It’s not true that votes are delivered by dogsled, but it may as well be in some hard-to-access parts of the state. All votes must eventually get to Juneau, the remote state capital accessible only by plane. Plus, under state law, absentee ballots can be received as much as 10 days after the election and still be counted. That’s a significant chunk of voters in a state with loads of commercial fishermen and rig workers who aren't necessarily on land the first Tuesday in any given November.
3. INDEPENDENTS’ DAYNot everyone on the ballot is necessarily a Democrat or a Republican. In Kansas, the independent candidate, Greg Orman, was a member of both parties and now says he likes neither. He has a real shot of winning because the Democrat in the race dropped out. Orman has said only that he’d join up with whichever party holds a clear majority; he’s not commenting on what happens if he’s the deciding vote. Former Republican Sen. Larry Pressler is vying for his old job back, this time as an independent, in South Dakota. Meanwhile, Maine’s independent senator, Angus King, has suggested he might switch sides of the aisle from the Democrats to the Republicans if party control flips and he can help his state in the process.
4. RAUCOUS RECOUNTSThere’s no guessing where the lawyers will wind up descending. Considering how close the polls are in Arkansas, North Carolina, Iowa, Colorado and New Hampshire, just for starters, it’s possible we have one or more recounts to track. Each state has its own laws surrounding mandatory candidate-initiated new vote tallies. Remember that after the 2008 election, Sen. Al Franken didn't take office until July 2009 -- six months into the new six-year term -- after a legal battle that went all the way to the Minnesota Supreme Court. Franken won by 312 votes, out of some 3 million cast.
5. REGULAR JOEWhen everything else settles down, we could wind up with a 50-50 Senate. And Senate ties are broken by ... the vice president of the United States, who is also the president of the Senate. It wouldn't be a hard decision for Joe Biden, and it wouldn't be an unprecedented one for a vice president: Dick Cheney gave Republicans control of the Senate shortly after the 2000 election. At least Biden knows his way around the building: The vice president represented Delaware in the Senate for 36 years before winning his office in 2008.
Get real-time results pushed to your phone on Election Night. Click here to sign up for the races that matter most to you.