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06 November, 2012

And now for the verdict

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The costliest, dirtiest and most suspenseful presidential election in America’s history enters the final phase today with voters going to booths to record their preference between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, who are virtually tied in last-minute opinion surveys.

As votes are cast they will be tabulated electronically and, relying upon voting figures and exit poll reports, the media will announce the verdict of each state as it becomes available and proclaim the winner as soon as one of the two candidates bags enough electoral votes to clinch the issue.

The channels and the news agencies have agreed not to project the winner until poll closing time but who occupies the White House for the next four years will be known late tonight — early tomorrow in this part of the world — unless electoral glitches hold up the process, as happened in 2000 when the outcome remained a matter of speculation for weeks as first a Florida court and then the Supreme Court considered a demand for recount of doubtful votes cast in that state. Law permits citizens to vote by e-mail or fax before the polling day. Both Democrats and Republicans had urged supporters to vote early but superstorm Sandy dashed hopes of a 40 per cent early vote target. Sandy probably did Obama a good turn by providing an opportunity to demonstrate his leadership qualities.

Americans do not elect the President directly. Formal choice of the President is the prerogative of an electoral college. Its 538 members will assemble in their respective states on Dec. 17 to vote. The seats in the college are distributed among the states in proportion to their population. The quotas fixed on the basis of the 2010 census give California the largest number of 55 seats, followed by Texas with 38 and New York and Florida with 29 each. At the bottom are the District of Columbia, where the national capital is situated, and seven small states, each of which has three seats.

Custom or rules require the electors of a state to cast their vote for the candidate who secures a majority of the popular votes in that state. In 2008, breaking tradition, one of Nebraska’s five electors voted for Obama, although his Republican rival had secured more popular votes there. The system, designed to leverage the small states, leaves room for divergence between the popular vote and the electoral college verdict. In 2000, Democratic candidate Al Gore won a majority of the popular votes but lost to Republican George W Bush who got more electoral votes than him. Some analysts say there may be an inverse repetition of it this time with Romney getting more popular votes but losing to Obama who manages an electoral majority.

A candidate needs 270 electoral votes to win the presidency. With 237 votes believed to be already in Obama’s kitty and 206 in Romney’s, the two men spent the last days of the campaign, which Sandy had interrupted, flitting in and out of the swing states which hold the remaining 95. Obama ignored the incorrigibly Republican state of Utah and Romney avoided the obstinately Democratic Rhode Island.

Visions of repetition of 2000 have prompted the parties to assemble teams of lawyers to take the battle to court if the voting figures are too close. Benjamin Ginsberg, who fought the Republican Party’s successful 2008 battle, and Robert Bauer, who led the Democratic Party’s fight against some poll-eve rule changes disadvantageous to it, head the teams.

Although the world’s attention is focused on the presidential race, the current exercise also involves the election of a large number of others, including Senators, Congressmen, Governors and local officials.

A Washington-based group tracking poll spending has said this year’s total expenses exceed $6 billion, a new record. Nearly half of it were expenses connected with the presidential contest.

Both the parties resorted to negative advertising. The Republicans were said to have spread false reports to deflect possible Democratic votes of minority groups.

In 2008 Americans had risen above ingrained racial prejudices and elected Obama, son of a black African Muslim father and a white American mother, to the highest office. This time Republican campaigners used video recording of a speech he had delivered at a black college in 2007 to paint him as an anti-white racist. In the speech he had said the white majority was profiting by exploiting black Americans.-- Gulf Today, Sharjah, November 6, 2012.

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