Meanwhile, the forbidding walls of the Kremlin were topped with snow. Inside, the president met in secret session with his closest advisors to discuss the current deterioration of relations between Moscow and Beijing. Also on the agenda was the position of the American government. Nothing was decided. The conversation throughout centered on monumental “ifs.” It was determined that the group would meet again the next morning in secret session to discuss the outcome of the American election.
Back in his office, the president sent a top secret scrambled cable to the Russian ambassador to the United States, Fyodor Z. Kornilevski. It read in part, “You will notify us, as previously requested, of any and all significant developments tonight and tomorrow morning. Owing to the extreme delicacy of the international situation at the present time, we require that you do anything you are able to do – including extreme measures – to forward our position in this matter.” Then the president, after a brief meeting with his foreign minister, went home to bed.
The winter sun had set in Moscow.
In Cairo that afternoon an important CIA agent met one of his operatives in a little-known bar off Marigalzu Avenue. Information was received and orders given as the senior agent mopped the perspiration off his forehead with a white handkerchief. Then they talked just like two ordinary persons who might be interested in the latest political developments in Egypt.
In the Middle East at this moment there were some interesting political decisions being formulated. On this day there had been a summit meeting of most of the heads of state of Arab nations to discuss how they would react to events occurring in Russia, the United States and Communist China. What this meant to everyone in the world was the ultimate destination of the vast Middle Eastern oil reserves necessary to everyone in the world, and certainly vital to any nation that hoped to remain dominant.
In Paris, the president of France met briefly with his minister for foreign affairs in the Elysée Palace. Back in the ministry building, the minister dictated a dispatch to his ambassador in Washington. When he left his office it was night and he was already late for a reception at the Polish Embassy.
In London, the foreign minister had just concluded the dictation of a similar note to his government’s representative in Washington before heading out to meet his wife for a concert at Royal Albert Hall.
In all centers of political and military power, every practiced eye was directed to the United States on this night. These eyes always regarded the United States with close attention, but every fourth November that attention turned into zealous scrutiny. For all day long in the United States was General Election Day. No one at home or abroad had been able to make any decisions all day. Individuals waited, emperors, princes, kings and presidents and their ministers of state the world around watched silently, their policies in abeyance; armies stood quietly; governments paused to observe while America voted.
The excitement and tension in an American election came not during the polling, as it does in unstable countries, but in the tabulation of the votes. The artificial drama that came from merely counting votes seemed to grow more intense with each passing election.
By 2 A.M., there was no declared winner. Almost everyone in the United States not yet asleep was watching television. People who didn’t ordinarily watch TV had put down their books or esoteric magazines to sit goofy-eyed inches from their sets. Even honeymooning couples found something more important than themselves – on TV. No one in America had ever lived through what was happening.
The bleary-eyed anchor on CNN was speaking, listening into his earpiece.
“I’ve just been informed that our computer has predicted the outcome of the presidential race in Oklahoma, New Jersey and California, the last states to come in,” he said. The camera cut to each state’s figures on the tabulation board. Checkmarks appeared suddenly by a candidate’s name. The camera then cut to the master board that showed cumulative popular voting and Electoral College tallies. The anchor’s voice spoke over the picture before the camera cut back to him.
“According to our figures, and I don’t believe what I’m saying, there appears to be a tie for president!” As he said those words, he imagined a great breathless hush spreading across the land. “We are having all our computer predictions checked to be sure we haven’t made a mistake.” His voice was rushed and excited. “The Electoral College is deadlocked!” he said emotionally. “There is no winner!”
He called on two experts to help him explain to the American people the peculiar legal technicality that could produce such an unheralded, unexpected and exasperating deadlocked election.
The experts sat somber-faced before the cameras and explained that without a majority in the Electoral College, neither candidate could win the election. Of course, one candidate was ahead of the other in the popular vote, but that didn’t matter.
Most of their listeners had heard of the Electoral College at one time or another, but most didn’t know what role it played.
“According to the Constitution,” was a phrase Americans heard over and over all night. The experts explained that the Constitution directed the House of Representatives to vote to determine who would be president. Each state would have only one vote, so small states suddenly became very powerful. Excited reporters and commentators were discussing all the ramifications on television. Congress was not to meet until January. Who would be the president-elect? How would the quiet transfer of power that normally characterized an American election be carried out? No one knew.