Voter turnout key to US election as race tightens

A polarized nation heads to the polls; Obama, Romney working frantically in swing states; both sides on lookout for electoral fraud.

Bill Partlow carries voting supplies in Pineville 370 (photo credit: Reuters)
Bill Partlow carries voting supplies in Pineville 370
(photo credit: Reuters)
NASHUA, New Hampshire – Four years ago, Lisa Gianelly and Ellen Sheehy had taken their kids and traveled an hour from their homes in Newton, Massachusetts, to this neighboring swing state to convince voters here to back Barack Obama.
“It was very exciting: Obama, change – there was hope,” Sheehy recalled.
Now, she noted as she and her friend knocked on doors Monday, the last day before voters head to the polls in the 2012 presidential election, that excitement had vanished.
Instead, Gianelly explained, she was motivated by concern that Republican candidate Mitt Romney – the former governor of her home state – might claim the White House.
“This time I’m just frustrated,” she said.
A sobered and deeply divided America is preparing to vote Tuesday, and the campaigns have shifted into a full court press to turn out voters, which will likely be the key factor in determining who wins. Democrats in particular face a challenge in reviving the spirit that moved so many to come out for Obama in 2008. Though polls show him with a slight edge nationally as well as in the swing states that will decide the election, that could shift if enough of his former supporters stay home.
Click here for special JPost coverage
Click here for special JPost coverage
The canvassing efforts of Gianelly and Sheehy on Monday weren’t exactly encouraging. They spent the better part of an hour knocking on closed storefronts and empty houses, trying to find voters they could motivate to cast their ballots on Tuesday, before they found their first voter included on the campaign’s list of potential supporters. But he told them he wasn’t going to vote this time.
“There’s no one worth voting for,” he explained.
Though Romney is expected to lose his home state of Massachusetts, where he lives and has his headquarters but where the population is overwhelmingly Democrat, Republicans like their chances better next door in New Hampshire, particularly because Romney is a more familiar figure after his years of governing a neighboring state.
“We do have some bated breath, but we’re confident that Romney will win” in the Granite State, Steven Howitt, the only Jewish Republican in the Massachusetts legislature, told The Jerusalem Post.
But Romney too has failed to excite voters enough to reach the numbers that would put a victory more easily within his reach, as polls in New Hampshire – and in other swing states such as Ohio, Iowa and Colorado – show him trailing Obama (albeit by margins that are usually within the polls’ margins of error).
One place that Romney has done better in recent polls is Florida, a major swing state prize heavily contested by both sides.
Susan MacManus, a government professor at the University of South Florida, estimated that only two to four percent of Floridians were undecided, but that had not stopped either campaign from flooding the state.
She also described the effort to reach Jewish voters – one of the most sizable Jewish populations in the country that she calculated were 3-5% of the state’s electorate – as “a massive micro-targeting [that’s] more than we’ve seen any time prior to this election.”
She pointed to the number of appearances by candidates and their surrogates and advertising directed toward the constituency.
MacManus noted that while some polls have shown a slight drop in Jewish backing for Obama from 2008, when he garnered about 75% of the Jewish vote, he should still win majority support of the community.
“The question is how much erosion” there is, she stressed. “Even if it’s 1% erosion, currently in a state that’s tied, it could affect the outcome.”
Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, one large contributor to Republican Jewish efforts in Florida and other swing states, took to the opinion pages of The Wall Street Journal on Sunday to explain why he had become a Republican after growing up in a Jewish immigrant family long devoted to the Democratic Party.
He attacked Obama’s fiscal policies and also what he described as a shift in the party toward a view more hostile to Israel, citing a Gallup poll showing Republicans with stronger support for Israel over the Palestinians than Democrats.
“Like most Jews around the country, being Democrat was part of our identity, as much a feature of our collective personality as our religion,” he wrote, arguing that the community in which he grew up would have agreed with his change of allegiances.
“They would not have let a few disagreements with Republicans void the importance of siding with the political party that better supports liberal democracies like Israel.”
Jewish Democrats, however, are continuing efforts to counter Adelson’s critique, with former New Hampshire congressman Paul Hodes defending Obama’s support for Israel in a conversation with the Post Monday. He added that New Hampshire Democrats are better organized than ever before because their field operation has roots back to 2008, which he predicted would put the president over the top.
With the anticipated close finishes in swing states such as New Hampshire and Florida, both campaigns have legions of lawyers at the ready to notify officials of claims of vote tampering and other types of electoral fraud.
Already both parties have lodged complaints about tactics they say have tried to misinform and keep those voting for their opponents from heading to the polls.
Some observers are concerned that Tuesday’s vote will be so close and the legal challenges so numerous that the race will be impossible to call that evening, and are warning of a vote count that could drag out over days or even weeks like in 2000.
Whoever wins, Gianelly expressed concern that the process and climate in the country would leave scars that would be hard to heal.
“Whoever is president is going to be left governing a deeply divided country,” she said.