The Maine equation

Probably the most complicated election of any state on November 2nd will be one of the first to call a result (assuming no glitches or disruption). The State of Maine, along with Nebraska, does not have the "winner takes all" system used in the other states. Instead of this, Maine is divided into two electoral districts.

The fun part is interpreting the election law that is not entirely clear.

In 2000 it was easy enough: the Democrats won a majority of votes in each district so they won the 2 district electoral college votes and the 2 "at large" ones. But if each district is won by a different party, then the issue of the 2 "at large" electoral college members becomes less clear. Some commentators imply that the 2 at large electoral college seats are shared in the event that each party wins a district. Others claim that the aggregate winner of the two districts gets the two bonus seats. The latter would mean that the Republicans could win a seat, without winning in Maine overall.

This split between district and statewide electoral college seats explains the decision by the Republicans to campaign hard in Maine: although a four seat total may not seem like much in relation to Florida's 27, the district setup means that the Democrats have to defend in depth, across the whole state. As electoral guerilla tactics go, this one is a peach.

Personally, I doubt that the Republicans will actually make any gains in Maine. But they will tie down campaign efforts that could have been used in New Hampshire by their opponents. Worth a try.


Battleground states: the US State Department view

The U.S. State Department has a web page showing the battleground states. The information is almost identical to the BBC's own information pages.

In a very bi-partisan mood, ten states are listed, five that voted for each Party in 2000. As a simplified guide goes it is not useless: on election night, checking out those states could be enough to tell who's winning. Yet the parties themselves are spending considerable sums of money campaigning in states not listed on these sites.

If I had to produce a list of 10 ten states to watch I would not have picked the ones the State Department has done. For starters I do not see how Minnesota is less of a target for Republicans than Pennsylvania. As for the Democrats, I am puzzled if they do not make a fight of it in Nevada and Tennessee. History suggests that the Democrats should be able to challenge in Arizona, Arkansas, Kentucky and Louisiana.

Perhaps the most amusing omission is Maine. This Democrat state has been the target of Republican campaigning, but the electoral system in that state is so complicated, that I have sneaky feeling that neither the U.S. State Department, nor the BBC, cared to include Maine and have to fit the explanation in a small text box.

UPDATE: Someone must be reading this blog! The site now lists 17 battleground states, including Minnesota and Nevada. Tennessee, along with Arkansas and Louisiana have been abandoned by the Democrats for presidential election purposes, which speaks volumes for their election prospects.


The "Doomsday Scenario"

This is not exactly, as one might imagine, a situation where we have Florida2000-style recounts in a dozen states, some favouring one candidate, some favouring the other. Instead, in the light of the March 11 2004 bombings in Madrid, the spectre of terrorist attacks on the Republican Party convention or disrupting the November 2 election is giving headaches to election officials and security teams alike.

To give an idea just how extensive preparations are for the Party Conventions, see this article concerning the disruption to railway services in Boston and New York.

There is as yet no clear indication as to how each state will react if there is a major terrorist disruption to the election day or the counting of ballots. To a certain extent, discussing the issue in public is seen as giving terrorists more power. Intriguingly, there is the prospect that some State Governors could appoint the Electoral College representation for respective states. With Republican Governors in the four biggest states (California, Florida, New York and Texas), we can expect lawsuits to fly.


Can Bush Mk.II suffer a "Perot effect" (2)

Last Thursday, I wrote about the reasons why Democrats could choose to highlight the disagreements that exist between many conservative and libertarian voters with the record of George Bush Mk.II. There is an important point to consider as to why the fringe parties may not actually affect the result.

"In November 2000, the Green Party - represented by Ralph Nader - took sufficient votes in Florida to ensure that the Democrat Al Gore would lose." This view is held almost universally among the Democrat campaigners and is the reason why they have made every possible attempt to stop Nader from standing in 2004. To the extent that many libertarians feel more at home with fiscally-responsible Republicans, one could imagine a similar problem for George Bush Mk.II this year. After all, that is exactly what Ross Perot is credited with: punishing Bush Mk.I and letting Bill Clinton in with a spectacularly low share of the vote.

However, there are two reasons why such an extrapolation may be unfounded. In the first place, the Libertarian Party has contested every presidential election since 1972. During this time it has never polled much more than one percent in a presidential campaign, although much higher scores have been achieved in statewide contests. It is probably fair to say that the vast majority of Libertarian Party voters in 2000 also voted that way in 1996, and that those that were eligible to vote also did so in 1988 and 1992. If they did not vote for Reagan in 1988, they would not vote for Bush Mk.II in 2000 or 2004.

As for switching voters there is a calculation to be made. In an online questionnaire I was asked thirty questions and the "ideal candidate" for me was calculated. No one achieved 100%. One of the fringe candidates scored 67% for me, one of the two major party candidates scored 65%, the other major candidate scored 30% and most of the other fringe parties scored less. If the choice to right or left wing voters were between two major party candidates scoring let us say 40% of their approval and a fringe candidate scoring 80%, then I believe that we could expect people to vote for their principles ahead of voting tactically.

In a wide-open contest the temptation to vote for one's beliefs ahead of tactical concerns is also strong. But one thing most people agree on is that the 2004 election will be tight. Therefore the cost of voting for 'purity' is very high. Vote against Bush's public spending increases and you could get Kerry who spends more. Vote against Kerry's watered down liberalism and you could get Bush revoking abortion rights, outlawing gay marriage and continuing an aggressive militaristic policy.

Of course if large numbers of people act on the notion that the election could be tight, I would not be at all surprised to see a landslide.