As the longest presidential campaign in American history finally concludes, polls tell us that Americans are hugely invested in the election that will be decided — they hope — today. A new Gallup survey suggests that 92 percent of likely voters think this is the most important election in years.
That level of engagement means that, necessarily, we are all looking for indications of how the presidential race between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain will finish. Here’s one:
In the tiny New Hampshire town of Dixville Notch where voters traditionally cast their ballots at midnight, which has not supported a Democrat for president in forty years, and which favored George Bush by overwhelming margins in 2000 and 2004, Obama secured a landslide victory.
The Democrat won 15 of 21 Dixville Notch votes.
In another New Hampshire town that casts and counts all its votes before dawn, Obama had 17 votes to 10 for Mr McCain and 2 for renegade Republican Ron Paul.
If the margin holds as the next 100 million or so votes are cast, Obama’s victory will not merely be historic. It will be epic in scope.
But for those who may doubt the predictive powers of the Dixville Notchers, here are a dozen indicators to watch for today, tonight and, maybe, tomorrow morning:
1. Figure out where the lines are long. Tens of millions of Americans — perhaps 25 percent of the total turnout — have already cast “early” votes. But most ballots will be marked today. And where the largest crowds of voters are lining up to cast them matters. Watch the college towns in battleground states – such as the aptly-named State College, Pennsylvania. Young people did not cast early votes in the numbers that the Obama camp had hoped to see. Will they crowd the polls on election day? Watch traditionally Republican suburbs, especially those with mega-churches, as well. Are the lines as long in these locations as they are at urban polling places? If so, then the McCain camp may, itself, benefit from a universal boost in turnout.
2. Keep a watch for evidence of breakdowns in the process. If people are waiting more than an hour in line, that’s a problem, as it makes voting harder for working people – especially young parents. If machines are breaking down, if polling places are opening late, look to see if the courts move quickly to extend voting hours. Are there patterns of intimidation at the polls – aggressive challenging of registrations, questions about residence and citizenship status – and what is being done to address them? Follow reports at the No More Stolen Elections website. If there are going to be contested results, you’ll see the crisis developing.