American’s will be out fulfilling their civic duty Tuesday in the finale of democracy’s quadrennial event — electing a president. This particular election, with the future of a war at stake, among other issues, has been called the most important of a generation.
“That’s a pretty hard statement to make, but without a doubt it is a very important election,” said USF political science professor Steven Tauber. The war in Iraq makes this election important, he said. “Since Vietnam, a war hasn’t dominated an election to the extent that Iraq has.”
The result will send a message to the world, Tauber said. If Sen. John Kerry wins, “many countries will interpret that as a rejection of the Bush administration. This election may give us a chance to gain back our world standing.”
Also at stake are four or five Supreme Court appointments that will affect the next 25 to 30 years, Tauber said. Chief Justice William Rehnquist recently underwent surgery after being diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and, like some his fellow justices on the Supreme Court, is in his 80s. Major changes might occur after their eventual retirement because different presidents appoint different justices, each with their own interpretation of the Constitution.
“It is very likely Bush is looking for justices that will overturn Roe vs. Wade,” the 1973 case that established the constitutional right to have an abortion, Tauber said. The next generation of justices will also decide the outcome of issues such as abortion, gay marriage and privacy laws.
Another difference this election has is a reversal of situations between Republicans and Democrats, political science professor J. Edwin Benton said. “Republicans have run the biggest deficit ever, that is something Democrats usually do,” he said.
Benton doesn’t rank this election as what he calls a “critically realigning election,” one that results in major shifts in policy. “I wouldn’t even put it close to that category. I don’t foresee whether there will be any substantial changes. Rather than change I see four more years of a stalemate because of the divided congress.”
Simply because a president is elected does not guarantee new legislation will be passed unless the majority becomes the minority, a sign of a critically realigning election, he said. Right now, Republicans and Democrats are in “a tug of war that neither is winning,” Benton said.
The war in Iraq may not see any change either, he said.
“If Kerry is elected, he may try to hasten our exit,” Benton said. He may also try to rally global support, but “I don’t think he will be anymore successful than the president has been.”
With opinions polarized on an array of issues, interest in politics seems to be at an all-time high. Voter registration is up and the winner may be decided by whoever wants it the most.
“The real test is to see who gets out to vote. A lot of people are interested in these issues, but we’ll have to see if it really brought people to the polls,” Benton said.
Besides “most important election”, another phrase in heavy rotation is “repeat of Florida,” referring to the notorious recount of 2000.
In Hillsborough County, electronic touch screen voting booths have replaced the punch card ballots. Dan Nolan, chief of staff at the supervisor of elections office said the “complexity was on the voter” with punch cards because it was up to the individual to line the ballot up, punch the card with a metal pin, and clear away chads. “Now the complexity has been taken off the voter and put on the election official.”
The office has been “a hive of activity,” Nolan said, receiving about 36,000 voters through Thursday since early voting began. The new touch screen voting booths are safe and secure, and he hasn’t had any trouble with them so far.
There are several safety features every booth is equipped with that may soothe worries about possible hacking and vote tampering. “You would literally need a hacksaw to hack in to one of these,” because the back, where memory is stored, is completely sealed, Nolan said.
“Here is your paper trail,” he said, dropping a roll of receipts on his desk when asked about whether or not the machines will have a hardcopy of voting records. “At the end of the day we have an official report.”
Nolan, who was in the military for 26 years, said that anyone leaving their polling place with an I VOTED sticker can be assured their vote counted. “These machines are safe. I’ve worked with nuclear weapons. Those machines used two keys. These use three.”
The 110,000 votes recounted in 2000 were ballots that were thought to be “overvotes” or “undervotes”, he said, instances where the voter punched two many or two little number of chads.
“In order to undervote, you have to go through two warnings,” Nolan said. Overvoting is impossible, he said, since the machines will not proceed with the rest of the ballot when too many choices are highlighted by the voter. “It makes voter intention clear.”