Tuesday, November 4, 2008

An historic day?

It’s here at last! After twenty months, countless speeches, goodness knows how many hours of TV coverage and advertising, Election Day has finally arrived. Americans are up for this one. Of that there is no doubt. Millions have voted early and long lines [queues] are expected at polling stations around the nation today.

To continue my theme of differences between here and England the US Presidential Election is a prime example. Obviously there is no such thing in England, but I suppose the equivalent is a General Election. A similar term of office is served both by the American President and the British Prime Minister (although the former is four years while the latter, normally about the same time, can call an election at almost any time before five years). I was going to say that the English, together with their Scottish, Welsh and (Northern) Irish neighbors don’t actually vote for a Prime Minister directly - the only voters who have anything like a chance of that are those living in the prospective PM’s constituency. Although at first glance it looks as if here voters do, that’s not exactly the case; the complicated (to me) business of the Electoral College does that, so to a certain extent it’s an indirect vote here. However, all voters have the chance to vote for one of the Presidential Candidates.

Although we are, as yet, unable to vote here, I do realize things are very different. The last time we voted in person in England was in 2001 in local elections. The small village hall was the venue (open, as all polling stations, from I believe 7am until 9pm) and manned by two officials plus the statutory police officer. The voting paper had at most six names, if that and an officially provided soft pencil (attached by a piece of string to the polling booth) was all that was allowed to mark your voting slip.

Here the number of polling station officials is enormous; I’m not sure about the police officer though. The voting paper is Letter size (8.5”x11”) and contains not only the presidential candidates but those for State and more local offices as well as some local issues. For example, our local County voting papers will have also the candidates for State Governor, Lieutenant Governor (a sort of Vice Governor), candidates for the US Senate, the US House of Representatives, State Treasurer, etc. A highly charged local issue is for voters to decide whether they accept the proposal by our City Council to apply a 1% “Prepared Food Tax”. This would apply to restaurants, fast food outlets, delis, etc. (Not popular in this household)! Some States are also including much more important issues than a 1% Food Tax on their ballot papers - same sex marriage, abortion, etc.

Another difference here is the very size of the country. The polls close here in NC (Eastern Time) three hours before those in California (Pacific Time).

I, like millions of others, will be sitting in front of the TV this evening watching the drama unfold. The long campaign has certainly been tiring but at times entertaining and often frustrating. Today’s result will no doubt have an effect on us all – let’s hope America has chosen wisely.

God Bless America!

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