Many Americans' strongest hope for Tuesday's presidential election is that it will produce a clear winner. Given the nation's deep pre-election divisions, the possibility of a prolonged legal battle over voting discrepancies or contested results is not a pleasant prospect.
It's clear the election of 2004 has struck a nerve with American voters. In many ways, that is good news. All across the nation, people are talking about this election, the issues and the candidates. People are paying attention. Voter registration is up dramatically, and a record voter turnout is being predicted. Although many observers were fearing that young people were giving up on the political process, young voters seem engaged in this election in a way that is reminiscent of the 1960s.
To say that this presidential election has spurred lively debate is a serious understatement. This is a year in which politics looks like a blood sport. Historians have been digging up various examples of campaign unpleasantness of the past to try to put the 2004 campaign in perspective. It's true this isn't the first time politics has gotten dirty, but the current presidential race is as hot a contest as many observers can remember.
That apparently will motivate voters to get to the polls, but it may present some challenges after the election. Both the Bush and Kerry campaigns reportedly already have attorneys and plans waiting in the wings to deal with the aftermath of a close vote. Concerns about contested voter registrations and questionable voting equipment are sure to turn into heated battles if the election results are close enough that either side thinks those issues will tip the balance.
The nation proved in 2000 that it is stable and resilient enough to survive considerable political upheaval. It was weeks after the election before a winner finally was declared, and the fallout included much bitterness, even hatred. The country survived, but hopefully, the election of 2000 won't be the new model for the American election process.
Challenges certainly will continue. There seems to be a growing disenchantment with the Electoral College system, and there are many concerns about the security and reliability of touch-screen voting machines that have been mandated nationwide for future elections. Whatever method is prescribed for future voting, maintaining the integrity and honesty of the system is essential to preserving Americans' confidence in their government.
Voting is one of our most precious rights. Be part of the process on Tuesday and remember on Wednesday, regardless of the election results, what a great privilege it is to live in America.