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Election may not end on Tuesday

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    CNN Explains: Electoral College

CNN Explains: Electoral College 02:57

Story highlights

  • Steve Krakauer: I hope the 2012 presidential election doesn't end Tuesday
  • Krakauer: The election has an element of reality show, filled with memorable moments
  • He says it's possible there might be an Electoral College tie or disputes over outcome
  • Krakauer: With race so close, be prepared for surprises on election night

I have a confession to make: I hope the election doesn't end Tuesday.

Sure, there's an excellent chance that either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney will be declared the winner Tuesday night. One of them will deliver a sweeping victory address, while the other will give a gracious concession speech. But it doesn't have to be that way.

This election has an element of reality show about it -- full of memorable moments such as Big Bird or "you didn't build that." And according to the latest polls, we know it is really close. Here are some not-so-far-fetched ways this election won't end so fast.

The tie scenario

One option is a 269-269 electoral split. (It takes 270 to win the presidency). If Obama maintains most of the states he won in 2008, and just a few switch over to Romney, 269-269 is possible.

The two swing states with the most electoral impact are Ohio and Florida, where the race is really close. So let's give one to each candidate.

    Here's a way we could get a tie: Obama gets Ohio, Wisconsin and New Hampshire. Romney gets Florida, North Carolina, Iowa, Nevada and Colorado. Or Obama wins Florida, and New Hampshire, while Romney wins Ohio and the other swing states. If Obama picks up a Maine split of one of four of its electoral votes, we're back to a tie (yes, to make things more complicated, Maine allows electoral vote splits).

    There are other possibilities -- you can figure out your own scenario for a 269-269 tie using the interactive CNN Electoral Map.

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    Of course, none of this takes into account if a major upset occurs, such as if Romney wins Pennsylvania. If he gets Pennsylvania and loses both Florida and Ohio, he can still win, or tie with Obama.

    OK, take a deep breath. Now, if the election ends up as a tie, the decision to select a president is left in the hands of the incoming House of Representatives. In January, lawmakers would group by state and pick a winner (probably Romney). Then the incoming Senate picks the vice president (probably Joe Biden). A Romney-Biden administration is theoretically possible. See, democracy is fun!

    For what it's worth, numbers guy Nate Silver puts the 269-269 scenario at 0.2% chance of happening, or one in 500.

    The recount/disputed scenario

    Another way that the election could stretch on is if there are disputed results or a recount. Remember all that excitement from 12 years ago when George W. Bush and Al Gore fought over a few hundred votes in Florida? Something like that can certainly happen again -- and both campaigns are preparing the lawyers just in case.

    Granted, if we don't have a clear winner Tuesday night, we might on Wednesday. But it could go longer. Some states have mandatory recounts if the margin of victory is less than half a percentage point. Polls recently have indicated that it could potentially happen.

    It's not just recounts though. There could be issues of voting fraud, electronic voting malfunctions and disputed results.

    Or it could just be very close, in which case literally each vote will need to be recounted. In Ohio, all votes aren't officially counted until November 16 (after the absentee ballots and disputes over provisional ballots are settled). Which means a recount couldn't even begin until after then.

    If we see an extremely tight race in a key state or two -- settle in for the long, "hanging chad"-like haul.

    I'm sure some of you are becoming queasy at the thought of more 2012 election, maybe even sympathizing with 4-year-old Abby Evans.

    But doesn't this feel like where we're headed? We kicked off election season with Edith Pfeffer and Carolyn Tallent, and Romney winning Iowa by eight votes, only to lose to Rick Santorum weeks later.

    Look back on all the twists and turns, the characters who have emerged, the provocative storylines we've seen. This is an election that saw Donald Trump leading the GOP field just 19 months ago -- the guy who has strong feelings about RPattz and KStew. I don't want "Don't Stop Believin' " to come on and smash cut to black.

    On Tuesday, let's bring on a 2012 election encore. It's been nearly two years -- what's another couple months?

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