'Handful' of voters will hold the key

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With the voters fast lining up behind one or other presidential candidate, American election pundits reckon that this year's result could depend on fewer than one million of the 148 million registered voters.

With the voters fast lining up behind one or other presidential candidate, American election pundits reckon that this year's result could depend on fewer than one million of the 148 million registered voters.

Common wisdom has it that by Labor Day - yesterday - nearly all voters have already made up their minds how they will vote. This year, the number of undecided voters is estimated at 5 million (out of 103 million who say they are likely to vote). A majority of "undecided" voters only made their decision after the two party conventions last month.

Not all of those 5 million votes are equal, however. With two months left before polling day, strategists for the two parties concur that the candidates are in effect courting just a million voters in a handful of "swing" states - even in a handful of "swing" counties. It is here, where just a few votes can determine which candidate wins that state's delegates to the electoral college, that the election will be won and lost.

The electoral college is the body that formally elects the President. And while the number of each state's delegates is in proportion to its population, the "winner" of each state takes all the electoral college votes. Thus a win in big states such as Ohio or Florida counts for far more in the college than a win in, for example, Montana.

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