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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 October, 2004, 20:50 GMT 21:50 UK
Blogging the US election - VIII
Kevin Anderson
BBC News Online's Kevin Anderson is keeping a weblog as the US prepares to go to the polls on 2 November.

He'll be recording his thoughts and observations - both serious and not so serious - as well as finding answers to your questions.

Why not bookmark this page and come back to it for the latest updates?

27 October

WASHINGTON, DC :: 2042 GMT

The legal wrangling has already begun and, at least in this, the Republicans have taken a strong early lead.

Most of these suits have to do with voting machines, provisional voting and registration.

I'm working on a story for the end of the week on the electronic voting machines.

Democrats and a fair number of computer security experts are really upset about the safety and verifiability of electronic voting.

A number of ways to hack the vote have been shown, and Democrats want some type of paper record so manual recounts are possible.

Electronic voting machines of some type will be used by about 30% of voters in the US.

In Florida, Democratic Representative Robert Wexler lost in his efforts to force the state to require a paper trail or, in lieu of that, switch to optically scanned paper ballots.

And Republicans scored another victory with respect to provisional voting.

Reforms passed in 2002 allow voters who believe they are registered but aren't on the electoral roll to cast a provisional ballot.

But last weekend, an appeals court ruled that in Michigan and Ohio, a key battleground state, voters casting provisional ballots must do so in the correct precinct not just the correct county.

Voter registration lawsuits are just ramping up, but the Republican Party is having a tougher time challenging registrations.

The parties had been working furiously to register voters.

New registrations usually favour the Democrats, and this year is no exception.

Some polls show John Kerry with an 11 point advantage over President Bush among new voters.

The Democrats' rallying cry has been voter protection. For Republicans, the charge is voter fraud.

The Republican Party is challenging thousands of registrations.

Some are clearly fraudulent with people calling themselves Mickey Mouse or Fred Flintstone.

But there are thousands of others, and it's difficult to get a handle on just how many of these new registrations will be allowed to stand.

In Ohio alone, the Republican Party is challenging some 28,000 registrations.

The party is challenging the registrations because they say the addresses appear invalid or because the voters did not respond to mail from election officials.

Many of these people could simply have moved, but the law states that they cannot be struck from the rolls until they fail to vote in two federal elections.

The charges and counter-charges are coming in fast, as are the lawsuits. If the race is close, this is just the beginning.

WASHINGTON, DC :: 1405 GMT

Quick morning post. It's always great to wake up to an inbox full of comments.

I hope to hear from more undecided voters like Kevin in Morganton who says that he doesn't want George Bush to be re-elected but also isn't enthused about John Kerry.

"[President Bush] believes that since he is a Christian (fundamentalist), he has the moral right to pursue any policy he sees fit," he says.

But on other hand, he adds: "There are some truths to Bush's claim that [John Kerry] vacillates on issues."

He wants a viable moderate third party. Check out his full post below.

I flag this up because we've heard this from a fair number of people we've interviewed.

We hear it from fiscally conservative Republicans who think the government has no business dictating morality as social conservatives see it.

And you hear it from moderate Democrats who are concerned about the social agenda of certain interest groups in their party.

There is a big chunk of fiscally conservative, socially open-minded or socially libertarian voters out there that feel left out.

Back in the Ross Perot days of the early 1990s (his first run, not his second), pundits said that he was speaking to the "Radical Middle".

Since then Perot's Reform Party has been adrift, throwing its support behind populist Pat Buchanan in 2000 and this year, in some states, it has nominated Ralph Nader, although that has been contested.

But back in 1992, the Reform Party was seen as the party of disaffected moderates.

Ross Perot made it cool again to be a deficit hawk. He supported strong education as both a way to address historic racial inequalities and to reduce crime.

Let's just roll through some greatest hits from the Ross Perot campaign.

  • End pork; end loopholes; end exit polling
  • The system is corrupt, not the people in it
  • Curb PACs (political action committees); ban soft money; ban the Electoral College
  • Great nations should commit more abroad

Moderates out there, is this music to your ears?

WASHINGTON, DC :: 0252 GMT

Just a quick note before I go catch some sleep.

I remember from our road trip that the few undecided voters that we ran into were sometimes torn between their own conflicting motivations or priorities.

For instance, Anna Vasquez in San Antonio liked John Kerry's social programmes, but she also liked that fact that President Bush was a Christian.

We heard recently that she's now going to vote for Mr Kerry.

Other undecided voters we spoke were of the "lesser of two evils" camp.

A typical undecided voter in this camp might be upset with George Bush over the war in Iraq or runaway government spending but unsure about John Kerry's steadiness and leadership, buying into the flip-flop argument.

OK, for you undecided voters out there. What is keeping you on the fence with only six days left before the election?

WASHINGTON, DC :: 0149 GMT

For all of you who think the polls are just made up numbers, I decided to highlight a poll where we won't get bogged down in the methodology.

Getting ready for the Halloween holiday here, and President Bush masks are outselling John Kerry's by 54% to 46%, according to BuyCostumes.com.

George W Bush and John Kerry masks
John Kerry is losing in the battle of Halloween mask sales
The president's supporters point to it as a sign that he will win the election, and I have a few Democratic friends who say it's just because President Bush is scarier.

BuyCostumes.com polled 12 national costume chains and found that Halloween mask sales of the candidates have accurately predicted the outcome of the election in every race since 1980.

Keeping on the Halloween theme, Bobby "Boris" Pickett whose spooky tune Monster Mash was number on the charts in 1962 has remixed his hit to send a political message this year.

The Monster Slash criticises President Bush for his environmental record.

The chorus goes a little like this. "He did the slash. They did the forest slash. It was brutally brash. They did it all for the cash."

Check out when the president and assorted corporate barons dance to Michael Jackson's Thriller.

Mr Picket's motivation? "Like millions of people, I think the president has the worst environmental record in the history of our great nation," he said.

MonsterSlash.org is sponsored y the Campaign to Protect America's Lands and Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund.

Keep sending those web links. It will help keep me in good humour in the last week before the election.

Read more: [External websites]

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

26 October

WASHINGTON, DC :: 2048 GMT

Mark in Paignton in the UK has a question prompted by Tom Carver's weekly campaign column which said that Electoral College delegates, known as electors, do not have to vote according to the will of the voters.

Democratic presidential candidate Horace Greeley
Electors refused to vote for Horace Greeley after he died
Tom met a Republican elector in West Virginia, Ritchie Robb, who will not cast his vote for George Bush. He is upset by the president's tax policies and by the war in Iraq.

Instead, Mr Robb will be casting his electoral vote for Dick Cheney.

"Please explain how this is democratic. It seems like the worst medieval patronage to me," Mark asks.

Some history and background. Electors who don't cast their ballot in accordance to the vote in their state are known as "faithless electors".

In the more than 200 year history of the United States, 156 electors have either cast no vote or cast their vote for a candidate other than that chosen by their states' voters.

And of those 156, 71 changed their vote because the original candidate died before the Electoral College met to cast their votes, a month after the election takes place.

And although it usually happens that it is a lone vote of protest, on very rare occasions there is a group of electors that defects en masse.

That happened in 1836 when 23 Democratic electors in Virginia refused to cast their vote for the party's vice presidential choice, Richard M. Johnson.

They were upset by allegations that Mr Johnson, a white man, had lived with an African-American woman.

In this day and age, it happens very infrequently. Since 1980, there have been only two "faithless electors". I guess this is why people aren't all that upset by the practice.

The Supreme Court has ruled that states can allow political parties to require formal pledges from their electors.

But at least 21 states have no requirements for electors. And of the 24 that do penalise faithless electors, most do so in a very slap-on-the-wrist kind of way.

Now, I'm not going to go into the bizarre scenarios where this faithless elector could potentially cost George W Bush the election. It could happen, but I doubt it.

The vote of a faithless elector has never changed the outcome of an election.

But I can tell you, if this does happen this year, I can't see it standing without a legal challenge.

Read more: [External websites]

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

WASHINGTON, DC :: 1924 GMT

Amanda in Lawrence, Kansas, writes: "Something that becomes apparent to me as I read through the comments... is that so many of us still cling to simplistic versions of the two major American parties: Democrats as liberal, big-government proponents and Republicans as conservative, small-government proponents."

And she asks: "Is it your sense that voters still use these simplistic, antiquated descriptions to help make their voting decisions?"

First off Amanda, after you read this, beat a quick path to the Free State Brewing Co there in Lawrence and raise a pint of Ad Astra Ale for me, if you are so inclined.

Before I get to your most excellent question, indulge me as I go into a little Kansas history.

The term "Free State" goes back all the way to the days before the US Civil War when states entered the Union as either free or slave states.

The conflict between pro-slavery forces and Free Staters led to violence and the period of history known as "Bleeding Kansas".

The "Ad Astra" Ale refers to the state motto: Ad Astra per Aspera, to the stars through difficulty or adversity.

OK, sorry for that diversion. My first reporting job was in Kansas, and yours is an underappreciated state.

Two parties, many views

Now, to your question, whether voters cling to overly simple notions of the two parties.

I remember that most of the people I interviewed when I was a reporter in Kansas were a lot more complex and didn't fit really simple labels of liberal or conservative.

You had liberals who were also avid hunters and believed strongly in the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

Howard Dean addresses a rally in Boston
Howard Dean: Socially progressive deficit hawk
Some of my friends there, who could hardly be described as liberal, still e-mail me with barely contained outrage over Attorney General John Ashcroft and how he "uses the Constitution as toilet paper".

And not surprisingly, if you go to Democratic rallies, scorn for John Ashcroft is a predictable applause line.

President Bush accuses John Kerry of being a tax-and-spend liberal, but I was just having a chat with a Republican friend of mine who called President Bush a borrow-and-spend conservative.

Arguably, the most fiscally conservative candidate to run this year was Howard Dean.

He got pasted as a left-wing whack job by some conservatives for his outspoken opposition to the war in Iraq.

But if you listened to his speeches, he was the most conservative, most passionate defender of fiscal responsibility.

He knew that the government couldn't afford to do everything, and he was careful not to promise that which he knew the government couldn't afford.

Yes, he advocated rolling back all of President Bush's tax cuts to pay for his programmes.

That's an anathema for some conservatives. But Mr Dean was a rare politician who told voters that you can't have your tax cut and your schools, roads and military, too.

And Democracy for America, which grew out of the ashes of Dean for America, works to support "fiscally responsible, socially progressive candidates".

Now, for a lot of people socially progressive is a code word for an advocate of "big government".

But that's not necessarily so.

There are deficit hawks in both parties, and they probably disagree over how to use the government's scarce resources. But that is another debate.

Now, in speaking with voters, do I think they are stuck in an overly simplistic two-party mindset?

No. Listen to the undecided voters, independent voters, moderate voters or conflicted voters in both parties, they hold complicated, some would say contradictory views.

Do the media, the political parties and their operatives bleed the complexity from the arguments? I probably see more evidence of that.

Great question, Amanda. There lots more I could say on the subject. But what does everyone else think?

Read more: [External websites]

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.


What has kept me on the fence as an 'undecided' so far? The lack of real options. I know I don't want Bush to be re-elected. He believes that since he is a Christian (fundamentalist), he has the moral right to pursue any policy he sees fit. At the same time, Kerry does nothing for me. He does not inspire confidence nor does he strike me as a strong leader. There are some truths to Bush's claim that he vacillates on issues. I desperately want a viable third party, one that represents the true views of moderate Americans. I am sick of the extremists of both parties.
Kevin McCloy, Morganton, USA

Great blog - first stop every morning at work with my cup of coffee. We were discussing the US election at work, and an interesting idea came up. Should the rest of the world have a say in the presidential race? Before you drop your laptop in amazement, surely the US president not only has an impact on the US but also the rest of the world. During these scary times, what the president decides impacts all of us worldwide. I implore the people of America to not only think domestic, but internationally when they vote. I wish I could vote in this election.
Kieron Redmond, Hampshire, UK

I find that your column is both revealing and very scary. You should highlight the differences in the candidates' views on the environment. Hopefully it will still be there when the next president has left office. Really like Defender Bear, on the MonsterSlash site that you highlighted. Keep up the good work.
Duncan, Glasgow, Scotland

If I had a chance to intervene in the US elections, I would request everybody to vote for John Kerry for the interest of the whole world and to bring respect back to Americans everywhere.
Bipa Ateenyi, Kampala, Uganda

Kevin, your blog is interesting. Something that becomes apparent to me as I read through the comments of your interviewees is that so many of us still cling to simplistic versions of the two major Americans parties--Democrats as liberal, big-government proponents and Republicans as conservative, small-government proponent--long after it is has become increasingly clear that these lines are far too broad and meaningless to describe the members of the respective parties. Is it your sense that voters still use these simplistic, antiquated descriptions to help make their voting decisions?
Amanda, Lawrence, Kansas, USA

Both candidates seem to agree on the importance of 'the war on terror'. Do you think that this 'war' is winnable, or wouldn't it rather escalate the current terrible conflicts? The military situations in Afghanistan and Iraq are getting worse.
Otto Pal, Toronto, Canada




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