November 2, 2004.  The close result in 2000, unprecedented efforts to register and engage new voters, clear distinctions between the two major party candidates, and high viewership of the presidential debates all pointed to a record turnout.  By November 2 perhaps 20 percent of the electorate had already voted during early voting periods or by absentee ballot.  On Election Day itself there were long lines as Americans across the country went to the polls before heading off to work, during lunch break, or after another day at the office. 

November, 2, 2004--A long line of people waited to vote Tuesday morning at Ward 1, Precinct 25 in Washington, DC.

Avoiding Another Florida
Despite passage of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) and significant investments in upgrading voting equipment around the country, concerns about the integrity of the electoral process remained when Election Day, November 2, 2004 dawned.  Potential trouble spots included electronic voting systems that lacked a paper trail, provisional voting ambiguity, and a possible shortage of poll workers.  Additionally in the last month of the campaign, both major parties made numerous allegations of fraud and intimidation.  President Bush's plurality was large enough that the "margin of litigation" was not crossed, but had the election been closer there could have easily been another post-election fiasco.

On Election Day and in the days leading up to it, partisan and independent observers, federal observers, and international observers of varying stripes mobilized to ensured that voters' rights were protected and their intentions heard: 

Democrats announced a 2004 Voter Protection Program to "deploy an army of lawyers, organizers, and advocates across the country to protect the right of every citizen to vote and have their vote counted."  The prospect of thousands of lawyers on the ground created the possibility of mischief; indeed Republicans described this as "the Democrats' Election Day litigation strategy," designed, they say, to "create a sense of chaos." 

Republicans likewise plan to station poll monitors "in precincts across the nation to ensure that all eligible voters can participate without harassment or intimidation."  According to an RNC statement, "These volunteers will help to accomplish our goals of preventing eligible voters from being disenfranchised, making sure the law is followed and ensuring a transparent process with an accurate vote tabulation."  Democrats and their allies have pointed out that Republican monitors often seem disproportionately concentrated in African American precincts.

The liberal group People for the American Way spearheaded an Election Protection program which included "on-site poll monitoring and same-day legal assistance." 

As it has since passage of the Voting Rights Act, the U.S. Department of Justice had observers and monitors around the country.  Over 1,000 people were to be deployed to 25 states.

In at least one state, state employees facilitated the voting process; Pennsylvania Secretary of the Commonwealth Pedro A. Cortés announced an Election Day Task Force wherein, "The Department will deploy at least one Commonwealth employee to every county election office on Election Day to serve as a liaison between the county boards of elections and the Department of State."

International observers included an election observation mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's  (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (here at the invitation of the U.S. Department of State) and a group organized by San Francisco-based Global Exchange.

Election Night: Unofficial Results, Exit Polls...Showtime 
Election night coverage and the multi-page spreads in the newspaper the next morning are the culmination of months of preparation and planning. 

One key component of election coverage is exit polls, which are based on surveys of voters in randomly selected precincts as they leave polling places.  Exit polls provide a window on the concerns of voters and useful information on variations in voting behavior by gender, race, age, education, income and other factors. 
In 2000 exit polling had been done by entity called Voter News Service (VNS).  AP and the networks and formed VNS, then known as Voter Research and Surveys (VRS), following the 1988 campaign.  VNS and the networks came under considerable criticism2 for their performance on Election Night 2000 as they first called the election for George W. Bush and then retracted the call.  Then in November 2002 VNS's new and updated system failed to produce usable results.  In January 2003 the partners disbanded VNS.

The successor to VNS was the National Election Pool, a cooperative formed by ABC News, Associated Press, CBS News, Cable News Network, Fox News and NBC News.  In 2004, a partnership of Mitofsky International and Edison Media Research [Mitofsky International-Warren Mitofsky; Edison Media Research-Joe Lenski] did exit polling for the National Election Pool.  There were 1,480 exit poll locations and results were obtained from 1,469 of them.  The 2004 exit polls were not without fault, however.  Results of early exit polls, although not formally reported, became known and appeared favorable to the Kerry campaign, raising false hopes among Democrats and unnecessary worries among Republicans.  Some analyses sought to tie the discrepancy to use of particular types of voting machines.  In a 77-page evaluation released in January 2005, the exit poll team attributed the "sizeable overstatement of the estimated percentage of the vote for John Kerry" in significant measure to "differential non-responses by Republican vs. Democrat voters."  However, a number of statisticians challenged the Edison/Mitofsky report. 

A second important element of election night coverage is the collection, tabulation and distribution unofficial election night vote results for presidential, Senate, House and gubernatorial races.  In 2000 this function was also fulfilled by VNS (in the past a separate entity called News Election Service did this work).  VNS worked with election officials in every county in the country to gather these results.  On election night, stringers and reporters in tens of thousands of precincts around the country called in reports to VNS, which then processed and transmitted the information. 

For news organizations, when everything works election night is as good as it gets, a chance to show what they can do.  Anchors man elaborate sets, correspondents around the country file reports, and, as the evening progresses, states are called one way or another and the map begins to fill in with red and blue. 

Associated Press     ABC News     CBS News     NBC News     CNN    FOX News   Comedy Central

Defeat...And Victory 
The Kerry campaign delayed conceding the race on Tuesday night, placing faint hopes on provisional ballots in Ohio.   By Wednesday the outcome could no longer be denied; Senator Kerry called President Bush to concede and then delivered his concession speech.  Bush, re-elected with a record number of votes, delivered his victory speech to jubilant supporters.

Some citizens, however, thought Kerry acted too quickly in conceding the race.  Discussion of anomalies and irregularities permeated the blogosphere in the days following the election.  Although Bush's victory was not challenged, a number of investigations were begun. 
Michael Gastner, Cosma Shalizi, Mark Newman at the University of Michigan
Professor Robert Vanderbei - "Purple America"
By State
By Margin in Percent
Total Votes

The Morning After...What Does It Mean?
The days after the election are peak season for pundits as they assess, analyze, discuss and debate the meaning of the results.  Various interest groups offer their own post-election assessments, often using the opportunity to point to the impact their constituency had on the outcome or to launch some barbs at their opponents.  [The Morning After Page]

Election Day: Take 2...The Electoral College 
As you will recall from high school, the president is not selected by direct popular vote, but by intermediaries known as electors. The electoral system is outlined in the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution, adopted in 1804 (this significantly modified the original provisions contained in Article II). Each state has a number of electors equal to its number of congressmen and Senators. The District of Columbia has three electors, bringing the total to 538. Most states use a winner-take-all rule; all the state's electors go to the winner of the popular vote in the state.

Electors are generally party activists. Some months before the election each party puts together a slate of electors, chosen by congressional district with the exception of the two at-large Senate slots. If the party's presidential candidate wins the popular vote in the state on Election Day, its electors meet in the state capitol on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December 2004. If not they stay home.
Accordingly in mid-December ceremonies at the state capitols and in the District of Columbia, electors met and signed the certificate of vote--actually they signed several copies of the document so there were back-ups.  There are separate votes for president and for vice president.  In Minnesota one elector managed to vote for John Edwards for president, apparently by error, and in New York the certificates read John L. Kerry and had to be later corrected, but otherwise all went as planned.  Each state sent one copy of the certificate of vote to the Office of the President of the United States Senate. 

On January 6th, 2005 in a special joint session of Congress these envelopes wre opened and tallied.  Normally this would be a pro forma exercise.  Certification of the state results proceeded alphabetically until the Ohio votes were announced.  At that point Rep. Stephanie Tubbs-Jones (D-OH), supported by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), announced a challenge.  Debate followed, but the election of President Bush and Vice President Cheney was finally and officially certified. 

Jan. 6, 2005--Rep. Stephanie Tubbs-Jones (D-OH) raises a challenge.
[Electoral College, Annapolis, MD (Dec. 13, 2004)]
[Certification of the Results in Joint Session of Congress (Jan. 6, 2005)]

Voter Turnout in Recent Years
In 1996 voter turnout reached its nadir.  The election of 2000 showed, that each and every vote is critical.  2004 saw the highest turnout since 1968.
Voter Turnout in Recent Presidential Elections
Year Eligible to Vote Total Vote % Eligible Voted
2004 201,541,000 122,265,430 60.7
2000 194,285,000 105,399,313 54.3
1996 187,033,000 96,277,634 51.5
1992 179,775,000 104,428,377 58.1
1988 172,540,000 91,594,805 53.1
1984 165,341,000 92,653,000 56.0
1980 158,143,000 86,497,000 54.7
1976 147,980,000 81,603,000 55.1
1972 137,318,000 77,625,000 56.6
Source: Committee for the Study of the American Electorate. 
Note that prior to the 2004 election CSAE had used Voting Age Population rather than 
Eligible Citizens so that in 2000 for example it had reported turnout as 51.2% of VAP.

Resources and Useful Links
Election Integrity
-Ohio State University Moritz College of Law's Election Law@Moritz.

-Spencer Overton, "Second Class Votes: Why a Voter Should Cast a Provisional Ballot Only as a Last Resort."  NAACP National Voter Fund (Oct. 28, 2004).

-U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report: "Department of Justice's Activities to Address Past Election-Related Voting Irregularities" [GAO-04-1041R], September 14, 2004 (released October 15, 2004). released a report "Election Preview 2004: What's Changed, What Hasn't and Why?" (Oct. 2004)

-The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights held several "Is America Ready to Vote?" briefings on election reform and voting integrity (briefing paper; April 9, July 15, Sept. 17).

-U.S. Election Assistance Commission Chairman DeForest B. Soaries Jr.'s July 13, 2004 statement concerning the status of the November presidential election.

Exit Polls
CalTech/MIT Voting Technology Project.  "Voting Machines and the Underestimate of the Bush Vote." (Nov. 11, 2004).

"Evaluation of Edison/Mitofsky Election System 2004" prepared by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International for the National Election Pool (NEP) (released January 19, 2005).

US Count Votes.  "Response to Edison/Mitofsky Election System 2004 Report."  (Jan. 31, 2005)

Electoral College
Electoral College (National Archives site)
Resolution Proposing That the Electoral College Be Abolished
Citizens for True Democracy (seeks abolition of Electoral College)

-In  Colorado voters rejected Amendment 36, the Electoral Reform Initiative, which appeared on the November 2 ballot.  If approved by voters it would have, effective this election, changed the way Colorado allocated its electoral votes so they were divided based on the popular vote rather than winner-take-all.

FairVote.  "Presidential Election Inequality: The Electoral College in the 21st Century." (Feb. 2006)

National Election Studies  NES "Guide to Public Opinion and Electoral Behavior"
2000 edition of this page
1992 and 1996 Maps and Results

2000 Election Night Coverage: What Went Wrong
-The House Subcommittee on Telecommunications, Trade & Consumer Protection (Commerce), chaired by Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-LA), held hearings on the effects of the networks' election night projections on Feb. 14, 2001.

-CNN commissioned an independent review panel which produced a report [Joan Konner, James Risser, and Ben Wattenberg.  "Television's Performance on Election Night 2000: A Report for CNN," Jan. 29, 2001] (PDF format), and it is instituting new policies for election night coverage. 

-American Antitrust Institute Calls for Break Up of VNS (11/27/00)

Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005  Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action.