We vote on the first Tuesday in November in the United States for sensible but long-outdated reasons. A century and a half ago, we were overwhelmingly an agrarian nation. Early November is after the harvest but (generally) before the snows fly. And why Tuesday? Because America is a such a vast, far-flung land, and transportation methods were primitive before oil became king. Citizens would expect to go to church in their hometowns on Sunday. Many needed Monday to travel—by horse, or horse and buggy—to their polling places, usually the county seat. Then on Tuesday they'd vote and enjoy a day of electioneering, parades, songs, and patriotic frolic, and travel home again on Wednesday, for market day.
Made sense. In 1845, anyway.
A Brief Guide to Election-Watching for Interested Foreign Spectators (nobody in America needs election-watching tips from the likes o' me, and I realize that for those of you in Europe all the excitement happens literally in the middle of the night; but here goes): Turnout numbers (and breakdowns) will probably be interesting. The modern record is 64% in 1960 and the all-time record is 66% in 1908, when Republican William Howard Taft beat William Jennings Bryan, whom you might remember from the part he later played in the Scopes Monkey Trial, dramatized in the 1955 play and 1960 movie "Inherit the Wind." (That's Taft doffing his top hat in Denver in 1911, below right.)
Early voting has been heavy in the 30 or so States that have it. (I voted last Tuesday here in Wisconsin. Since then I've had a sign on my door that reads, "This household has ALREADY VOTED." It's kept the door-knockers at bay. There is unfortunately no similar way to discourage the robo-calls.) In Colorado, reportedly, a whopping 46% of the electorate have voted early! Heavy turnout might contribute to late counts and delayed "calls."
Polls close earliest in Indiana (leaning McCain), New Hampshire (leaning Obama), and Kentucky (solid for McCain), but generally, poll closings follow the setting sun from East to West, and the East Coast reports first. The bellwethers to watch are likely to be Virginia and North Carolina. Virginia (heartland of the old Confederacy) is formerly red (Republican) and trending blue in polls this time, but still essentially a toss-up. There are relatively few electoral-college pathways to victory for McCain, and most of them involve winning Virginia. So if Virginia is called for McCain, that could mean a tight race, a long evening, and a delayed result; but if Virginia goes to Obama fairly clearly early on, it probably signifies an Obama victory. North Carolina is a "next level" bellwether...it's a solidly red State that is polling anywhere from pale pink to a toss-up. If it goes for Obama early, it most probably signals a blowout nationwide in favor of the Democratic candidate.
Of the three big battleground States of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida, two, Ohio and Florida, are states that traditionally have lot of problems with voting and counting, and they're both tossups this time, so they could be late being called. To amuse yourself in the meantime, watch Indiana. Indiana is also historically Republican but has been polling too close to call. It's not an essential state for Obama, but if McCain loses it, it indicates weakness where he needs to be solid. Ergo, Indiana is a bellwether, but only if Obama wins it. As I say, the polls close early there, so it could be called early too.
If Pennsylvania goes red, then Obama could be in trouble. If Obama loses Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida, he could still win, but probably won't. If those three states plus Virginia all go red, it's probably Obama = footnote of history and "President McCain." So keep an eye on those four if you're a McCain supporter.
But at the outset, watch Virginia and North Carolina. If they're both red, it's a good sign for McCain, although no sure thing; it more clearly signals that the decision will take a while. If Virginia turns blue and North Carolina is red, it portends an Obama victory overall, albeit possibly a modest one; if both are blue, look for a possible Obama landslide.
But then again, that's all according to the polls. And you know what they say about election polls: the last one is the only one that counts.
Mike (Hat tip to Cenk Uygur and whytuesday.org)
Featured Comment by Dave Kee: "Forty-five years ago in August, two young white men and two young black men rode in an old Volkswagen from Chicago to Washington D.C. to listen to a man talk about his dream. Today, in perfect weather, two old white men and two old black men rode their bikes together on the Old Plank Road Trail. As I drink my celebatory champagne tonight I am so proud to have been a member of both groups."