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The razor-thin election of 2000 resulted in a cliffhanger recount in Florida. Could we be headed for another nightmare scenario in 2012?

South Dakota scrappers

Two of South Dakota’s most famous sons reached their pinnacle of fame just a year apart in the 1970s, and in some ways it seems fitting they died a day apart this week.

George McGovern, a senator from the Mount Rushmore state, was the Democratic candidate for president in 1972. He may be best known for suffering the worst presidential election defeat ever, but he was a World War II bomber pilot who exhibited political bravery when he began speaking out against the Vietnam War. Ironically, despite President Richard Nixon’s overwhelming victory, the Nixon camp was worried enough about its Democratic opposition that it sent some of its agents to break into Democratic National Committee headquarters at Washington’s Watergate hotel, setting the stage for a series of cover-ups and revelations that forced Nixon to become the only president in history to resign. McGovern died in Sioux Falls on Sunday at age 90.

Russell Means led the American Indian Movement during a 1973 uprising at Wounded Knee, becoming the most prominent national advocate for American Indians in decades. In addition to raising awareness, Means helped restore pride among Native Americans and also led the fight to drop stereotyped Indian names and mascots from sports teams, specifically targeting the University of North Dakota’s Fighting Sioux. Just four months ago, the state board of higher education voted to drop the name and mascot, and on Monday – the day Means, 72, died at his ranch in Porcupine, N.D. – workers removed the words “Home of the Fighting Sioux” from the outside walls of the university’s arena.

When every vote counts …

While Ohio and Florida are still the subject of much attention as the key swing states in this year’s presidential election, analysis of different Electoral College scenarios has said relatively little about two states that could make the difference in a tight electoral contest between the presidential candidates: Maine and Nebraska.

Maine has only four Electoral College votes, and Nebraska has just five – both far fewer than Ohio’s 18 or Florida’s 29.

But as some political analysts contemplate the possibility of a 269-269 electoral tie, something unique about these states could make a huge difference on Nov. 6.

Maine and Nebraska are the only two states that don’t have a winner-take-all approach to electoral votes. Instead, whichever presidential candidate gets the most votes in a congressional district gains an electoral vote. Nebraska has three district votes, plus two go to the winner statewide; the split in Maine is two and two.

So if just one or two electoral votes makes the difference, the election could be won not in Tampa or Cleveland but in Omaha, Neb., or Lewiston, Maine – cities we will hear a whole lot about if the electoral vote comes down to the wire.

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