On the most humdrum technology can an election turn

A what-if exercise that could make the crazy Iowa caucus results even crazier

fax

The political world is abuzz this morning with news that Iowa Republicans simply have no idea who won their Jan. 3 caucus, although the official and apparently final tally at the moment shows Rick Santorum ahead of Mitt Romney by 34 votes. (It's been my understanding since childhood that the person with the most votes wins an election - don't get me started on the Electoral College - but that's a digression.) From the Des Moines Register:

At 5 p.m. Wednesday - the deadline for volunteers to get their official "Form E" paperwork with caucus results to Republican Party of Iowa headquarters in Des Moines - the back-and-forth ended with 1,766 precincts certified out of 1,774. ...

All 99 counties turned in their documented results - Howard County was the last and arrived by fax Wednesday - but party officials had to hunt down dozens of missing precincts.

The story didn't report how Howard County voted, but just for fun let's say Republican caucus goers there prefer Santorum by a wide margin, wide enough to account for his current 34-vote lead/victory and then some. Then let's say Santorum rides the wave of "I really won Iowa" publicity he's enjoying today all the way to the Republican nomination and, gulp, the White House.

Scene 2: Now imagine that one of the fax machines - either the one in Howard County or the one in Des Moines - simply doesn't work on Wednesday, meaning Howard County misses the deadline, Romney's initial margin of "victory" holds up, Santorum gains no "I won" momentum, and President Obama trounces Romney in November.

Partisan politics aside, isn't it something that electing (or re-electing) the next leader of the free world could turn on the skills of a fax-machine maintenance guy in Iowa?

(Oh, and please don't take this bit of whimsy as an endorsement of electronic voting machines; I hate them.)

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