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Election Day in US

Blockbuster ballot


Four-year-old Abigael Evans couldn't take it anymore. Unable to bear the constant barrage of election coverage, Abbie burst into tears after hearing yet another election story on the car radio her mother was listening to while driving to the grocery store on Tuesday. In a video clip that has gone viral and generated widespread empathy, her mother asks a tearful Abbie why she is crying. "Just because...I am tired of Bronco Bamma and Mitt Romney, " the little girl sobs. "It will be over soon, Abbie. The election will be over soon, " her mother consoles her. "Yay!" exclaims Abbie, still weeping but mildly comforted. Many Americans, and indeed much of the world, will feel Abbie's pain. This has been an interminable election. Like most American elections, you say? No, it's been longer than interminable, in AbbieSpeak. Add social media and new communication tools to the usual saturation coverage by print, radio, and television and you have a verbal, aural, visual excess that can drive even four-year olds to despair and tears. But as National Public Radio (NPR), the news outlet which tested Abbie's limits, said in its mea culpa to the little darling, "Let's just keep telling ourselves: 'Only a few more days, only a few more days, only a few more days. '" So the good news: Only 72 hours remain before Election Day dawns in the United States and Americans elect a new president and vice-president or reelect the incumbents for a second term. The bad news: positioning and campaigning for the 2016 presidential election will begin almost immediately after the 2012 results are declared. But here's the real scary news: Americans can end up voting in such a way there will total confusion as in 2000. Perhaps even a tie that can lead to a crazy situation like having a Republican President Mitt Romney and a Democratic Vice-President Joe Biden in the White House. More on that superover result, a little later. There have been many snarky comments about the United States, its politics, and its people over the country's 236 years not out, usually by America's own luminaries. "Half of the American people have never read a newspaper. Half never voted for President. One hopes it is the same half, " the late Gore Vidal, who died this past summer after two shots at office, sneered one time. Then there is the matchless repartee by Adlai Stevenson, who twice sought the Democratic nomination, to a woman supporter on the campaign trail who happily trilled, "Senator, you have the vote of every thinking person!" Stevenson's dry response, "That's not enough, madam, we need a majority !" The elected elicited as much contempt as the electorate. Mark Twain, had such disdain for America's noted and voted that he wrote, "there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress. " (Twain though thought the world of India which he saw before its politicians arrived on the scene).

But across the world, the United States is seen as the democratic ideal, a nation that holds free and fair elections with clockwork regularity and effects a peaceful transfer of power. There hasn't been one bloody coup in its history. The one time there was a iffy judicial call to regularise a dodgy verdict, some thundering editorials, a few expletives, and some rotten tomatoes and eggs were all that exploded in anger (even though that election in 2000 exposed the frailties of the system). When Americans vote, all eyes are on the country and the rest of the world holds its breath because the results of its elections have a bearing on people and events in far corners of the planet - from a young Indian scholar who wants to study astrophysics in Caltech to a fisherman in East Asia who sells shark fin to a refugee in deepest Africa fleeing genocide to a rancher in Argentina or Australia...well you get the point.

Even if people do not intend to migrate or travel to America, the lives of some 7 billion people in the world are touched in very basic ways by what happens in the USA and the political and economic directions it takes. You can argue about whether it is good or bad or its relative power and decline, but one incontestable fact about America - its salience to the world is unmatched. No wonder on their first Beatles tour of the US, when asked "How do you find America ?" Ringo Starr said: "Turn left at Greenland. " America makes the world go round and when its quadrennial political roundabout comes up to Election Day, the world stops and watches.

Consider this: In 2012 alone, more than 60 countries across the world, nearly a third of the global comity of nations, have gone or are going to the polls to elect or select a new leader or lawmakers or government. They include countries such as enfeebled US rival Russia, neighboring Mexico, surcharged Egypt, freshly-breathing Myanmar, and in-your-face Venezuela. Even communist-capitalist China is in the throes of a makeover. Elections in Greece, the mother of all democracies, and France, the fraternal offspring, barely attracted any worldwide coverage beyond the token recording of results and new leaders.

But Uncle Sam is different - and knows how to put on a show. At the Republican Party convention in Tampa earlier this year, the number of political delegates for the fiesta was 5, 000. The number of journalists from across the world: 15, 000. Coverage by the world media extends from such esoteric topics as the candidates' possible choice of a new Federal Reserve chairman to replace incumbent Ben Bernanke (since his moves affects the entire global financial system) to their views on outsourcing (particularly for India).

No wonder various agencies actually conduct polls to see which way the rest of the world would vote if they had a say in the US election (Democrats have noted with glee that almost every country polled has given a thumbs up to Obama). Which other country polls the rest of the world about its own election? Would you care who came to power in Germany - or Canada, two of the more powerful economies in the world?

Sometimes, it does seem that the rest of the world indeed votes in the US election, so colourful and complex its electoral spectrum. The White majority is gradually fading in parts of the country. In many states, minority votes, particularly the Latinos, call the shots. Many immigrants celebrate their introduction to US elections - even those who come from thriving democracies.

Vic Shahid, who migrated from India in 1990 at 22 and became a US citizen this year, headed out to cast an early vote on Thursday (election day is not a holiday in the US). "The experience of voting was a similar feeling of being empowered however little the impact be in reality. It's a rush hard to explain, " Shahid muses in an email. So how and what did he vote? "I researched all the down level ballot contestants and voted a reasonable mix of liberal at the top, and somewhat conservative at State level, ending with liberal judiciary. That is my way of customizing the government to my taste and needs. " Incidentally, the November 6 polls is not just a presidential election but also to the House of Representatives, a third of the Senate, several governorships, and various local bodies.

Yet, for all the seeming sophistication and freedom and choice, it is also a deeply flawed system - from the different election laws, rules, standards, and methods applied in different states to the continued survival of its quirky electoral college process to the little reported disenfranchisement of a large section of its Black population. On November 6, Americans will not directly vote for the President;they vote for electors who actually elect the President at a later date. In effect, it is entirely possible that a majority of voters nationwide favors one candidate but he cannot make it to the White House because he does not get the required number of electoral votes (majority of 538).
Many of these problems surfaced in the controversial 2000 elections (when Gore had popular support but Bush won 271 electoral votes), and they are yet to be fixed. In fact, there are fears that this election could be messier - considering how close it now is. Among the more intriguing possibilities - an unprecedented 269-269 electoral college tie. So what happens in the event of a tie? Under the 12th Amendment to the US Constitution, a tie in the Electoral College requires that the president be selected by the US House of Representatives. Unlike the Electoral College system, where a larger population means more votes, each state in the House gets exactly one vote when selecting the president. Republicans control more states legislatures (especially smaller states) and that is not about to change. So President Romney is a certainty in the event of a tie. But while the House elects the President, the vice-president is elected by the Senate. And Democrats are expected to retain control of the Senate, they will most certainly elect Biden to the post. Thus, a Romney-Biden administration.

Yes, it's loopy. So the next time when someone says the United States is the greatest democracy on earth, let them know it is also the most complicated. And we haven't even factored a poll-eve hurricane whose fallout is still being assessed.

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