Well, four in the afternoon here and the strange vacuum that obtains on polling day is sucking everyone in. Though both Obama and McCain have foregone the traditional practice of not campaigning on polling day — always an odd one I’ve thought in a place of voluntary voting — and are holding rallies and doing phone bank appearances etc, there ain’t that much for the poor sods on the networks to talk about. There’s no exit polls until late in the day and they’re hopelessly sloppy in any case.

So we have endless photos of the long polling queues and stories about voting irregularities, all designed to scare people into a lather. Two jokers dressed in the uniform of the New Black Panther party hung around outside a Philly polling station, and since it was more interesting than anything else on tape, it’s been playing across the networks all day.

There’s all sorts of minor stories about ballots getting wet in Virginia, misdelivered voter registration rolls in Missouri, etc etc etc. No reports so far of voting machines jumping votes from one column to another, but plenty of other stuff. Pre-emptive lawsuits have already begun, the GOP suing against restrictions on their polling place staff in New Hampshire, the NAACP in Virginia suing against the lack of polling places in minority areas. Get your bids in early.

You can’t, as you watch queues half a mile long snaking out of places where machines were designed by slot machine manufacturers, do anything but recall that moment in Life of Brian when the Roman soldiers watch the Judean People’s Front trying to get their crap together, and slowly shake their heads … really can’t these guys even vote right…?

With around 30-40% of votes already cast in some states — in places like Colorado it appears to be as high as 60-70% — the election seems to be on the way to a century high turnout, beating, I think, 1936, when FDR took 46 of 48 states, with around 63%.

If it is heading towards those levels, you would have to conclude that McCain is toast. The states to watch will be Florida and Virginia, which close first (Indiana closes earlier but it has weird systems of counting and staggered closing times, and it must be said, some very dodgy practices in Gary, one of the bigger, and heavy Dem cities), and if both of those go to Obama, it’s good night Vienna.

If Obama somehow loses both, and also Pennsylvania, then it will be a long and arduous night, hanging on promised high margins in the “new west”, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada. I don’t think it will be a long night, but we’ll see.

In the Senate, the races to watch are North Carolina, Alaska, Minnesota, Oregon and Mississippi — all of which were reasonably safe Republican ones until about ten weeks ago. But in Carolina, incumbent Elizabeth Dole, with the Democrats breathing down her neck, released an ad accusing her opponent (a church warden) of being godless — and saw her own numbers plummet.

In Minnesota, ex SNL comedian Al Franken has fought incumbent Norm Coleman inch by inch for six months, and slowly got within striking distance — even with an independent splitting the Democratic vote. Alaska would in all other situations seem a shoo-in since Ted Stevens, incumbent, will soon be going to jail, but hey mac it’s Alaska. In Oregon, the republican incumbent has been running on a campaign of how well he works with Obama, but has lost 18% of his lead to the Dems — and in Mississippi, Republican senate leader Mitch McConnell, may lose his seat to really complete the rout.

If those five go, or even four of them, plus another three or four near certain losses (New Hampshire etc), then the magic 60 supermajority will be very close. Even if they don’t get that, there’ll be three or four Republicans — one or two of whom may simply change their party allegiance — who’ll help them over the filibuster-proof line, in return for some nice fat pork.

One of the many congressional races to watch is in Connecticut, where Chris Shays is the last Republican in the whole of New England — effectively marking the disappearance of the party in that region, a measure of the deep political-cultural crisis the GOP is in.

Of the manifold not always nutty propositions on the ballot, the two key ones are Proposition eight in California an attempt to put a gay marriage ban in the state constitution. If that loses, then gay marriage is effectively legal in the US, since anyone can come to California and get their marriage legally recognised. There will then be a decade of lawsuits to force other states to honour California’s statutes.

In Colorado, prop 48 is trying to define personhood beginning at conception, a new strategy to get an abortion ban in through the backdoor. This would criminalise standard IVF procedures, and make any woman who miscarried without even knowing she was pregnant potentially guilty of criminally negligent homicide if she had been to the gym or somesuch after conceiving.

The thing is deeply unconstitutional, but its success would mean the enshrinement of a new strategy for the anti-choice crowd. Its defeat would be a further blow to them in a period in which they are meeting increasing resistance.

So eyes down for a full house. If you’re looking for a good election party in Oz, I’m sure the CIA social club — sorry, the Australian-American friendship association — will be holding one somewhere. Let’s hope it’s better organised than the vote itself.

Erewegoerewegoerewego…

Peter Fray

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