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. In 2004 Ohio became a focal point for concerns about voter irregularity. 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,
November 4, 2008, and in the days
up to it, partisan and independent observers, federal observers, and
observers of varying stripes mobilized to ensure that voters'
protected and their intentions heard (1,
The surge of
registrations heading into Election Day 2008 raised concerns that
some election officials may be overwhelmed. The League of Women
Voters, for example, highlighted the need for poll
workers (6). The
Advancement Project warned that "several
battleground states are not prepared to meet the challenge of
administering the general election." (7)
Democrats have focused on protecting the right to vote (8, 9
[PDF]) while Republicans have emphasized the need to
ACORN, which claimed to have
registered 1.3 million low-income, minority and young
voters in 21 states in 2007-08, was a particular target of
Republican concerns in the weeks leading up to Election Day (10, 11, 12). Despite the concerns Election Day
went off without any major glitches (13).
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
coverage is exit polls, which are based on surveys of voters in
randomly selected precincts as they leave polling places. Exit
provide a window on the concerns of voters and useful information on
in voting behavior by gender, race, age, education, income and other
From 1988 to 2002 exit polls were overseen by Voter News Service (initially
and Surveys), an entity formed by the networks and the Associated
Press. After poor performance in the 2000 and 2002 general
elections, the partners disbanded VNS, and a new cooperative, the National Election Pool,
comprised of ABC News, CBS News, CNN, FOX News, NBC News and the
Associated Press, formed. Edison Media Research and Mitofsky
conducted all exit
polling for the National Election Pool in the 2004 and 2008 general
elections. Edison reported:
A second important
of election night coverage is the collection, tabulation and
election night vote results for presidential, Senate, House and
races. The Associated Press fulfilled this role. As
described in a press
For news organizations,
everything works, election night is as good as it gets, a chance to
what they can do. Anchors man elaborate sets, correspondents
the country file reports, and, as the evening progresses, states are
one way or another and the map begins to fill in with red and blue.
Organizations Cover Election Day 2008]
On the evening of Nov. 4, 2008 things fell into place fairly quickly. The networks called the race after 8 p.m. West Coast poll closings (11 p.m. EST), Sen. McCain, in Phoenix, AZ, called Sen. Obama and then delivered his concession speech, and Obama delivered his victory speech within the hour. [DC photos 1, 2]
The Morning After...What Does It
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 and to stress their key issues. [Reactions 2008, 2004]
131.3 million votes were cast in the race for president. Obama garnered 69.5 million votes (52.9%) to 59.9 million (45.7%) for McCain and 1.9 million votes (1.4%) for other candidates. Obama carried 28 states, the 2nd CD in Nebraska, and the District of Columbia, winning 365 electoral votes to 173 for McCain. [Results in Detail]
|Year||Voting Eligible Population
|Total Ballots Counted
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. (Over the years there have been many efforts to abolish the Electoral College none of which has made much headway; in 2006 a group called National Popular Vote launched an effort to bring about change through the state legislatures).
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 2008 (Dec. 15, 2008). 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 certificates of vote--actually they signed several copies of the document so there were back-ups. There were separate votes for president and for vice president. Each state sends one copy of the certificate of vote to the Office of the President of the United States Senate. [Photos: Maryland electors meet in Annapolis]
On January 8, 2009 in a
joint session of Congress these envelopes were opened and
Normally this is a pro forma exercise, but the past two elections have
been a bit different. In 2001 members of the Congressional Black Caucus tried to
get Congress to reject Florida's electors, but they could not find a
to support their effort. In 2005 certification of the
state results proceeded
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
Vice President Cheney was finally and officially certified. The joint session of January 8
certified the election of Barack Obama and Joe Biden without
incident. [Photos: Joint
Resources and Useful Links
Federal Election Commission: Federal Elections 2008
Election Assistance Commission: 2008 Election Administration & Voting Survey
U.S. Election Assistance Commission
Seeks to move federal Election Day from the first Tuesday in November to the first Saturday and Sunday of the month.
Electoral College (National Archives site)
National Popular Vote
An innovative approach to address the shortcomings of the Electoral College system, National Popular Vote proposes "to introduce and pass bills in all 50 state legislatures that would award the states' electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote." The "Agreement Among the States to Elect the President by National Popular Vote" would take effect when enough states have passed it so that the popular vote winner would get sufficient electoral votes to win. (Example: SB2724 introduced in the Illinois General Assembly on Jan. 20, 2006). The state-by-state effort launched in early 2006. National Popular Vote president Barry Fadem states that the reform may not be implemented for the 2008 election but that he is "very confident that this will be in place by 2012."
Feinstein (D-CA) Proposes Abolishing the Electoral College (Dec. 22,
Sen. Feinstein introduced S.J.Res. 11 on March 16, 2005.
Citizens for True Democracy (seeks abolition of Electoral College)
Election Inequality: The Electoral College in the 21st Century." (Feb.
Presidential Elections Reform Program
National Election Studies
Previous editions of this page: 2000, 2004
1992 and 1996 Maps and Results
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