Apathy is the loser in race to woo electorate

The Vote
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The Independent US

With everything seemingly up for grabs in this year's US elections, voters flocked to the polls in unusually thick clusters in the early part of the day yesterday, particularly in the most closely contested states where the battle between Al Gore and George W Bush has been made more intense by the broader struggle for control of the Senate and House of Representatives.

With everything seemingly up for grabs in this year's US elections, voters flocked to the polls in unusually thick clusters in the early part of the day yesterday, particularly in the most closely contested states where the battle between Al Gore and George W Bush has been made more intense by the broader struggle for control of the Senate and House of Representatives.

From New York to California, from Illinois to Texas, long queues formed outside polling stations - raising hopes that America might at last buck its long-term trend towards ever deteriorating turn-out figures. Turn-out looked certain to supersede 1996's record low of 48.9 per cent nationwide and was on track to overtake the spike seen in 1992, the year of Bill Clinton's first victory.

At Lake Forest, Illinois, where state and congressional races as well as the presidency were up in the air, returning officers reported the best turn-out in memory, as well as record demand for absentee ballots.

While the presidential campaign itself has often lacked passion and a sense of high-stakes choices, efforts to get out the vote have been an entirely different story. Tens of thousands of volunteers, organised by groups from the Christian Coalition to the steelworkers' union, knocked on doors, manned phone banks and arranged minibuses to bring the electorate to the ballot box in the culmination of several days of intense effort.

Soap opera stars and movie actors willingly lent their voices to recorded messages, as did political and civic leaders. "Remember, in 1960 John F Kennedy beat Richard Nixon by just one vote per precinct. Every vote counts!" read the flyer from the anti-abortion, pro-family values Christian Coalition. And for once, the unions and the progressives were inclined to agree.

Conventional wisdom says that a high turn-out favours Democrats, but this year it might rather betoken a furious battle of the grass roots, with no certain winner. In swing states such as Missouri, last-minute imprecations on behalf ofsingle-issue groups - unions, gun lobbyists, abortion rights advocates - might actually split undecided voters even further.

"You see a guy driving a pickup with a 'Proud to be a sheet metal worker union member' sticker, and an NRA [gun lobby] sticker, and you know they are torn," Bob Kelley, a Missouri union leader stumping for Mr Gore, told The Washington Post.

The voting day began with the traditional count, at one minute past midnight, in the conservative New Hampshire hamlet of Dixville Notch. An admirable 100 per cent turn-out revealed an easy victory for Mr Bush who won 21 out of 26 votes. Mr Gore polled four, Ralph Nader one and Pat Buchanan, the near-invisible Reform Party candidate, none at all.

Voters in many states were confronted with a bewildering array of issues beyond the high-profile presidential and congressional races. Alongside local races for judges, county commissioners, city councils and district attorneys was a flurry of single-issue ballot initiatives - particularly in western states where such measures first became popular.

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