Andrew T. Simkin

This election is about more than the next President and Vice-President.

Americans are getting ready to vote on November 4, and the excitement is unprecedented. Not only in the United States, but all over the world people are following the ups and downs of the candidates, their policy proposals, the speeches, the debates and the inevitable stumbles and gaffes. In an interconnected world, and especially at a time of war and a global financial crisis, this election matters.

Wherever I travel in south India, people ask me how the election will turn out, and how the outcome will affect India. As to the outcome of the election, we can make educated guesses, but my guess would be no better than anyone else’s. U.S. diplomats, like other Americans, each have our political preferences, but our duty is to uphold the Constitution of the United States, regardless of party. We will loyally serve whomever is elected President of the United States and whomever that person selects to be the Secretary of State.

This election is about more than the next President and Vice-President. On my mail-in absentee ballot from Tompkins County, New York, for example, I also voted for a representative in Congress, State legislators and on a State proposition concerning disabled war veterans. In other jurisdictions, Americans are voting for Senators, State Governors, judges, local officials and ballot initiatives.

Both to celebrate the U.S. election and to better understand the idiosyncrasies of the U.S. electoral system, I invite all Chennai residents and other Indians to join me and members of my staff at Hotel Taj Coromandel on November 5 from 7:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon as we watch election returns come in from the United States. People can drop by for 15 minutes or stay for five hours. Special guests will include John McCain and Barack Obama (to be precise, life-sized cardboard versions thereof), and they will be happy to pose for photos with our other guests – but they will not be taking any questions. All guests can cast a mock ballot, and the results will be announced (but not valid outside the hotel premises). Most important, we will have live television feeds on large screens, an electronic tally board, and periodic expert analysis of the voting by American Consulate officers.

Those unable to join us in person can call for specific information on the election results at any of the following dedicated telephone numbers: 91766-69112, 113, 114 or 115.

Presidential elections have taken place in the United States every four years since ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1788. Even during the American Civil War (1861-1865) and the Great Depression (the 1930s) elections were held on schedule. Americans are proud of that record of constancy. This Presidential election, however, will be historically different in an important respect: when it is over, Americans will have elected either our first African-American President or our first female Vice President. That much seems safe as a prediction.

I believe it is also safe to predict that, whomever is elected President of the United States, the governments and peoples of the United States and India will continue to strengthen our close ties of mutual respect and cooperation.