With less than 72 hours to go before the U.S. presidential elections, and the race for the White House narrowing to a photo finish between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, the key to victory increasingly looked likely to hinge upon a few swing states, the turnout in those states and the efficacy of voting machines used there.
Both men targeted a handful of swing states, principally Ohio, but also Iowa, Colorado and New Hampshire, in the final run-up to Election Day, even as observers called for close scrutiny of voting machines used in some of these states, so that the debacle of the 2000 election was not repeated.
In that year the prospects of former President George W. Bush securing a win against Democratic nominee Al Gore ultimately came down to a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court after “dimpled chads”, or ballot papers without a clear indication of choice in Florida, led to thousands of uncountable votes. Mr. Bush’s victory finally came down to a mere 537 votes, in the face of a national outcry over flaws in the vote-counting process.
While electronic voting machines appeared in numerous locations across the nation since that incident, some still question their efficacy in certain areas. Speaking to AFP, Douglas Jones, a University of Iowa voting expert, said, “I’m not sure we’ve made forward progress since 2000.”
“We’ve put a tremendous effort into changing the voting systems, but in many cases we’ve discarded systems too quickly and replaced them with systems that we haven’t examined enough”, he added.
Especially with polls on average suggesting a dead heat between Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney, winning the key swing states such as Ohio and Florida will be strongly influenced by which voters turn up at voting booths on polling day, and whether they are all given the right to vote.
Earlier, during the campaign season this year, the “voter suppression” controversy came to the fore after several states, including Pennsylvania and Florida, enacted laws that placed photo identity requirements for voting, a restriction that would disproportionately affect African-American and Hispanic voters, Democrats argued.
Subsequently, courts knocked down these restrictions in Pennsylvania and other states; however, Florida managed to purge numerous voters from the list citing concerns over voter fraud.