Republican politicians in the U. S. Congress and Florida's state legislature are rattling their sabers, threatening to take constitutionally sanctioned but politically extraordinary steps to deliver the election for George W. Bush, come what may in the hand counts and court houses.
Scenarios where the Florida legislature - rather than a majority of the state's voters - chooses the state's 25 electors and the U.S. Congress decides the election's ultimate outcome were once thought of as remote, "Doomsday" possibilities.
Now, the highly implausible seems possible.
On Sunday, the Republican majority leader of the Florida House told NBC's Meet the Press that the state legislature is "getting closer and closer" to getting involved in the process of selecting the electors, whose votes will be decisive in the presidential election.
And on Capitol Hill, House leaders Dick Armey and Tom Delay are reportedly considering a plan to throw out Florida electors if they are awarded to Al Gore, in which case Florida would have no say in the election at all.
On CBS's Face the Nation, Democrat Dick Gephardt, the House Minority Leader, said throwing out a state's electors is unprecedented, "something we have never done and shouldn't do."
Democrats have said that the Republican electoral manuevering has solidified support within the party for Al Gore.
Fast-approaching deadlines imposed by the electoral calendar have prompted Republicans to plan for the worst.
The electors must be chosen by the state legislatures by Dec. 12. Ordinarily, the state house designates electors pledged to the winner of the state's popular vote. The electors must meet December 18 to cast their votes. Then Congress meets Jan. 5 to ratify the electors' votes.
But litigation brinksmanship by both sides has pushed the envelope so far that the outcome of the election might be determined by legislative machinations. That scenario could well be very confusing to a public accustomed to the one-person, one-vote standard.
In Florida, the Republican-controlled Legislature has created a special committee that meets Tuesday to discuss voting irregularities and how to proceed in an environment where the state's certified vote will be contested by Democrats in state courts and the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments in a suit brought by Republicans.
Democrats were concerned the state legislature might move to appoint Bush electors, in keeping with the outcome of the mechancal recount of the statewide vote, even if hand recounts suggested Gore had won the popular vote in Florida.
For the legislature to act on the electors issue, a special legislative session would have to be convened either by agreement of the House speaker and Senate president, or by a proclamation of the governor.
Republicans have comfortable majoritis in both chambers of the legislature, where special legislation can be passed by a simple majority.
In Washington, it might be tougher for Messrs. Delay and Armey to get their hands on the election since challenges to electoral votes need a majority of each chamber to be referred to the whole House. With the apparent victory by Democrat Maria Cantwell in the Washington state Senate race, the U.S. Senate is split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans.
If however, Florida's electoral votes were disallowed, neither Gore nor Bush would have the 270-vote majority needed to win the Electoral College and thus the election.
If neither candidate wins a majority of the electoral votes, the Constitution calls for the presidential election to be taken up by the House, where members choose the president by majority vote, with each state delegation having one vote. Twenty-eight delegations are controlled by Republicans.