Two weeks ago, Barack Obama was triumphantly re-elected as US president. The strange thing is that the votes are still being counted 14 days later.
We know Obama won. We just don’t know by how much – thanks to the glacial vote counting.
If you haven’t been paying attention – and why should you? – what appeared to be a razor-thin victory for Obama on the night of 6 November has slowly stretched into a clear margin of more than four million votes and a three percentage-point lead over Mitt Romney. And talk of turnout being way down was also off the mark: with some results still being tallied, it appears 2012 was just a few points below that of 2008. About a third of states recorded more votes this year than in 2008.
As several slow-counting big states and cities – most notably in New York and California – continue to report new vote totals, it’s increasingly clear that the 2012 election wasn’t that close after all.
As those Democratic-leaning states come in, Obama’s share of the vote has inexorably climbed to 50.75%, while Romney’s share continues to slowly deflate, and is now down to 47.56% by one credible estimate complied by the excellent Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report.
Just 0.06 of a percentage point stands between Romney and the humiliation of being rounded down for ever to 47% – meaning the Republican candidate’s election gaffe may be turned on its head to hilarious effect since it will be Romney, and not Obama, who was the candidate of the 47%.
That also means Obama’s 2012 victory was by a wider margin than George Bush’s re-election in 2004, and thus better than any other presidential candidate since 1988, other than himself, of course.
Thank goodness, from a non-partisan point of view, for Obama’s comfortable victory in the electoral college, since the alternative is the nightmare that is being played out still in a single House district in Utah, where the result hasn’t been finalised even two weeks on.
Utah’s fourth congressional district was notable before the election for the Republican nominee, Mia Love, an African American woman who gave a well-received keynote address in Tampa at the Republican national convention. But the curse of Tampa appeared to strike her as it did Romney and Clint Eastwood and, on election day, Love lost to Democratic rival Jim Matheson. Or did she?
Number-crunching by the Salt Lake Tribune suggested there may be 30,000 or so provisional and absentee ballots uncounted in the district, far in excess of Matheson’s reported 2,646 vote lead. Analysis suggests that those will probably not change the outcome, although with so many still outstanding, who can say with certainty? Love has nudged Matheson’s margin down to 1,453.
It also took nearly two weeks for Republican firebrand Allan West to throw in the towel in Florida’s 22nd congressional district. West conceded the Palm Beach seat on Tuesday to Democratic candidate Patrick Murphy by little more than 2,000 votes, despite what the Associated Press described as “court appearances, two partial recounts and unending accusations by his camp that the vote count wasn’t fair”.
Despite celebrating its status as a cradle of modern democracy, the US has an unhappy relationship with the nuts and bolts of elections, whether it’s the long, long queues that appear without fail during every presidential election, the infamous hanging chads of Florida or the notorious inability of particular jurisdictions – Cuyahoga County in Ohio springs to mind – to do the math in a timely fashion.
And that’s not to mention the “innovations” such as electronic voting machines that seem to be based on Stanley Kubrik’s HAL 9000.
States such as California might have some excuse because of sheer size, although its population of 30m California makes it only half the size of the UK, which seems to manage to elect an entire House of Commons in one late-night session and a few cups of tea. (And that’s not forgetting that British parliamentary seats usually announce the outcomes on the night, rather than having the result “called” by Fox News and then badgered by Karl Rove.)
Britain has had its share of election malfunctions but nothing on the scale of the US where, for two weeks in January, Romney was hailed as the winner of the Iowa caucus.
Why? Well US states each have their own systems and procedures: many states might do a great job, but the election result is only as good as its weakest battleground state link: hello, Cuyahoga, Broward and other arithmetically-challenged counties. In truth, the list is a very long one, although it may boil down to the surfeit of democracy that US voters endure. British general elections can, believe it or not, still be as simple as walking into a voting booth, marking X on a piece of paper and putting it in the ballot box.
But voters entering a US polling station can be handed a telephone directory of candidates for president, Senate, House, governor, state senate and legislature, mayor and some combination of parish, county, ward, municipality, comptroller, supervisor, commissioner, judge and board of education, even if not the dog catcher of urban myth.
On top of the voting for people, there’s the voting for things, the propositions and state constitutional amendments to deal with – and it’s not all fun and gay marriage. There’s the municipal bond proposals, the sports stadium sales tax, and many more. California’s voters had to mull over 11 propositions on election day, ranging from the death penalty and genetically modified food labelling all the way to state senate redistricting. It takes time to complete – hence the long queues outside – and even longer to count after the event.
Again, none of this matters much, thanks to Obama’s robust electoral college victory. But with talk of mandates in the air as Republicans and the White House confront each other over the tax and budget battle, the scale of Obama’s victory is an important element.
It’s useful to know, too, that Democratic candidates in the House won 500,000 votes more than their Republican opponents combined – and yet jerrymandering and partisan redistricting kept the Democrats to just 201 seats out of 435.
There is one tiny bit of good news for Romney: he has finally crept above John McCain’s 2008 vote total. On the other hand, he did worse than John Kerry in share of the popular vote.
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