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After getting all the Obama-Biden campaign e-mails clogging my inbox prodding me to go participate in "early voting", I figure I should write something. It is only fair that I should speak from news reporting experience. Some of my best memories as a print reporter were the camaraderie among reporters on election night regardless of who competed against who in what format.
Election night reporting is misleading. The results reported are merely unofficial. Election races are never decided on election night. In the wake of the Help America Vote Act, there is no way any election in the United States could be decided that way.
Absentee ballots are not counted on election night. "Provisional ballots" are not counted on election night. Ballots cast during early voting, such as in the period that kicked off today in Nevada, are not counted on election night. The totals we see on Election Night frankly aren't real as they reflect regular ballots cast only that day.
As someone with interest in politics, I do occasionally watch C-SPAN. A panel discussion was presented a couple nights ago in which there were guesses made. The guesses focused on the potential percentage of ballots in play that won't be reflected in Election Night totals. Ten years ago such votes would only make a difference in very close elections. Current guesses are that perhaps fifty percent of the nation's ballots are already cast.
What might this mean? If almost fifty percent of the ballots are not counted in the totals reported on Election Night, any frustration coming out of such is likely quite pointless. Depending upon the state, the count of absentee ballots as well as provisional ballots and early ballots could stretch onward to Thanksgiving.
Why bring this up on a library-related blog? One thing in the public library setting that it may be prudent to prepare for is questions about how we elect Presidents. US citizens do not vote directly for a President or Vice President. That is the job of the Electoral College on December 15th. While electors are normally pledged to their respective candidate there does exist the chance for them to make their own decisions. An example of this is the 2004 election when John Edwards, then only a candidate for Vice President, somehow got a single electoral vote for the office of President.
I remain skeptical that this will be conclusively wrapped up in two weeks. With as much as the Obama-Biden campaign has recently blanketed the airwaves of Las Vegas about early voting, I wouldn't be surprised if the country gets pretty close to that 50% mark of ballots not counted until after Election Night. Proceedings similar to the circus atmosphere of 2000 may well arise.
In a potential situation like this, there may well be a need to be nimble in creating displays and preparing for potential information needs of patrons.
A word of electoral caution by Stephen Michael Kellat is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.