Electoral legal minefields, baseball contracts, and airline woes

October 16, 2012

1. The Election Day legal battlefield:

We need all kinds of coverage of the legal Armageddon that we may face on Election Day and the morning after.

Assuming the election stays close, there could be multiple swing states in play, with voter identification and provisional balloting rules so much in flux that the multi-court, multi-issue legal war we suffered through in Florida in 2000 will look simple by comparison.

For example, voting in Ohio in 2008 was marred by all kinds of confusion and fights over thousands of ballots, but the battle ended on election night because President Obama pulled ahead of Senator McCain in the state by such a wide margin that the contested ballots would not have been decisive. This time, Ohio is likely to be much closer, and even with a federal judge having thus far enjoined implementation of new, Republican-sponsored early voting restrictions, confusion persists and the state’s election machinery seems no less subject to breakdowns and disputes than it was in 2008.

Similarly, we know that new voting restrictions in Florida, which were only partially set aside by the courts, are likely to add to the confusion and disputed ballots there.

Other swing states could also cause lots of trouble, leaving us to wonder who won. For example, according to this  excellent Associated Press report, in Wisconsin and Virginia, voters who don’t present proper identification at the polls can vote provisionally and still have their ballots counted if they show up by the following Friday with their ID’s. Imagine if we had to wait for that process to play out.

Put simply, any serious news organization in any swing state ought get to work on a full report on what the rules are (for example, do polls stay open if there are waiting lines at closing time?), what the likely snafus will be in the event of a close vote and what the legal process is supposed to be for resolving them.

Beyond these local stories, I’m hoping that by Election Day, Politico, Pro Publica, The New York Times, The Washington Post or one of the cable news organizations will have a comprehensive website posting of all the potential disputes in all of the swing states, what the law and the rules (including court filing deadlines and other timetables) seem to be that would govern their resolution, and maybe even a link to brief bios of the judges who might be asked to resolve them.

The other angle has to do with what the two sides are doing to prepare for all of these battles.  What are the legal issues they’re most geared up to deal with? And which states do the respective sides think are most likely to be the scene of a Bush v. Gore-like fiasco?

2. Shedding A-Rod’s contract:

Alex Rodriguez’s fall from $22 million-a-year Yankee superstar to $22 million-a-year benchwarmer, as told here  by the incomparable Tyler Kepner of The New York Times, is — depending on your view of A-Rod — sad, as inevitable as the aging process itself, or maybe even fun to watch. But I wish Kepner or another sports reporter could find out if the Yankees have an insurance policy on Rodriguez that might somehow allow them to claim that an injury, such as the broken hand he suffered in August, has caused him to deteriorate far beyond the simple effects of aging.

Similarly, I’m wondering whether there’s a big tax bonus in the offing if the Yankees decide to release Rodriguez sometime before the end of the five years left on his contract. Sure, they’d have to pay him what Kepner reports is the remaining $114 million due on the contract, but wouldn’t they benefit from being able to write off his value in one tax year? Imagine if the star who became emblematic of baseball’s crazed big-money contracts became a tax write-off legend.

Speaking of the Yankees and money, I saw a whole bunch of empty seats in the premium section at Yankee Stadium behind home plate during Friday evening’s fifth and deciding division play-off game. Sunday’s American League championship game also had lots of empty seats. How come?

Last point about baseball: What does Rodriguez’s apparent fall with so much left to be paid out on his bonanza deal mean for other superstars who are coming on the free-agent market this year or next and are looking to lock in long-term contracts?

3. United Airlines and Delta:

Last February,  I praised Bloomberg Businessweek’s insider story of how United Airlines and Continental Airlines were tackling the nuts and bolts of their merger. Well, it’s now clear that however carefully they may have planned everything down to the last detail (or however carefully they told Bloomberg Businessweek they were planning it all), the logistics associated with the marriage have been a huge flop. As has been widely reported, the merged reservation and gate allocation systems have repeatedly failed, causing all kinds of customer grief. Bloomberg Businessweek needs to go back and tell us how these best-laid plans failed so miserably.

Meantime, as United suffers from these merger travails and American Airlines is in a tailspin mostly related to labor troubles while it sits in bankruptcy, Delta Airlines may be going in the opposite direction. From my own experience on some recent flights, as well as what I’ve heard from a few friends, Delta seems to be on the upsurge in terms of customer service and on time performance. Is that true? If so, why?

PHOTO: An elections official demonstrates a touch-screen voting machine at the Fairfax County Governmental Center in Fairfax, Virginia, October 3, 2012.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 

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