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US polls: Why 'heavy voter turnouts' can be deceptive

By Bikash Mohapatra
November 07, 2012 05:53 IST
Get Rediff News in your Inbox:'s Bikash Mohapatra reports from Ohio, one of the foremost swing states in this year's presidential elections.

The election day in the United States witnessed a huge voter turnout.

A large number of people turned up early in the morning on Tuesday to cast their ballot and the trend continued across states during the course of the day.

However, if you believe a huge turnout means a large number of votes, it is not exactly true. For a large voter turnout doesn't necessarily translate into a large number of votes.

It might give the impression that brisk polling will ensure the numbers when the counting takes place, but that doesn't always happen.

To cite an example the 2008 presidential elections, which resulted in the election of Barack Obama, witnessed a huge turnout right through the day. However, in the final analysis there was only about 60 per cent voting. If some experts are to be believed, the numbers were less than those in 2004 or for that matter in 2000.

And that was surprising, as well as disappointing, considering a lot was expected.

"A large voter turnout doesn't necessarily translate into a huge number of votes," explains Dennis Anderson, manager (Community Outreach), Cuhayoga County Board of Elections.

He proceeds to elaborate on the reason.

"Sometimes voters turnout on election day simply because they are unsure if their vote has registered," he continues, adding, "In that case we check if the vote has registered and if it has, we do give him an alternate ballot to cast his vote but specify to him that this one won't register."  

Besides voting on the election day, the American voters can also cast their ballot by early voting or vote by mail (absentee voting). While early voting, aimed at relieving the congestion at polling stations on the final day, starts 15 days before the polls and is a popular method, it is the second mode which creates confusion more often than not.

"There are instances when people opt to 'vote by mail' and despite us mailing the ballot, they don't mail it back," explains Jane Platten, Director Board of Elections (Cuhayoga County).

"In that case if a voter asks for absentee ballot, then they aren't sent back," she continues, adding, "We enquire about their status and in case their vote hasn't registered, they get to vote through a provisional ballot."

"It is a very regular election day issue and we expect a lot of voters to cast their votes in that manner."

Coming back to the voter turnout on Tuesday, experts opine the voting percentage should be somewhere around 60 and thereabouts.

However, if history is anything to go by, it is better to wait for the numbers to come out than make presumptions.

Image: Voters stand in line to cast their ballots for the U.S. presidential elections at a polling place in the Richmond Public Library in Richmond, Virginia

Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

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