Tuesday, 6 November 2012

A short history of elections

Today sees the end of months worth of debates, tours, TV appearances,  rallys and campaigning by Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, who are both battling it out to be President of the United States. 

Have you ever wondered why election day is always a Tuesday? 
Even though America's voter turnout is among the lowest in developed democracies and more than a quarter of people who do not vote claim they are too busy, efforts to move elections to weekends have failed. The Tuesday after the first Monday in November was set as presidential election day in 1845. In the mid-19th Century, the US was an agrarian nation and it took a lot of time for farmers travel to the nearest polling station on horse back or in a horse-driven cart. Saturday was a workday on the farm, travel on Sunday was out, and Wednesday was a market day. That left Tuesday.

Another interesting fact I recently came across is that the US state of Nevada allows voters to mark "None of these candidates" on the ballot. The option has been on the ballot since 1976 and plenty of voters have used it. In 2010 after a particularly tight campaign for a US Senate seat, 2.25% of voters chose "None" rather than pick Democrat Harry Reid or Republican challenger Sharron Angle. Reid won.
Did you know that the candidate who loses the election can still win the White House? Four times in American history, the candidate with fewer votes has wound up with the presidency. This is because the winner of the presidential election needs to capture a majority of electoral votes, which are apportioned to the states by population and for the most part awarded in winner-take-all state contests. Most recently, in 2000 George Bush won half a million votes fewer than Al Gore but took 271 electoral votes for the victory.
And one final funny fact which you probably didn't know before is that in North Dakota, you can vote without registering to vote. Although it was of the first states to adopt voter registration in the 19th Century, North Dakota abolished it in 1951. Voters must be US citizens over the age of 18 who have lived in the state for at least 30 days, and must provide identification, but they do not need to register. Who knew?
Here is an excellent web page on the history of close elections that is worth taking a look at; http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-20205649
I hope tonight many of you will be staying up to watch the election tonight along with me, and good luck to both Obama and Romney!