Next Tuesday, Americans will go to the polls - not, in theory, to elect
a president, but to elect members of the electoral college, who in turn
will select the president. This archaic system, some of whose foibles
were revealed in the 2000 election, makes prediction a tricky business.
Each state gets a certain number of votes in the electoral college,
varying according to population but weighted in favor of the smaller
states. Whichever presidential candidate wins that state gets all of
those votes (with the exception of two small states, Maine and
Nebraska, which vote by congressional district as well as statewide).
Whoever puts together a majority (270 votes) in the electoral college,
Australians are familiar with the idea that the party winning a
majority of the vote might not win the election (it happened here as
recently as 1998). And we complain that those who happen to live in
marginal seats get more than their fair share of attention from
governments. But in America things are worse: to get noticed, you have
to live not just in a marginal state, but in one that's big enough to
have a worthwhile number of electoral college votes.