Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Expat Election Junkie

Resident Aliens do not get a vote (I believe it is called "taxation without representation") but that does not mean that they are uninterested in this election. I am something of an election junkie. I have put in all-nighters for British General Elections since 1987, and in 2000 I decided that the American Presidential election was interesting enough that it needed the all-nighter treatment too. Likewise 2004. In the UK, where we are five hours behind Eastern Time in the US, the serious coverage begins at about 11pm, so following the American Presidential election live is for hardened election junkies only. It's pretty exciting for me, then, to be able to follow this one, for the first time, as it happens. In fact, I'll still be out swimming as the coverage proper starts.

This is serious stuff; I'll have the beers in the fridge, the toasted sandwich maker out, and I will be ready to be up as late as necessary. As for coverage, I am delighted to see that BBC America are carrying the full BBC News coverage, with David Dimbleby, from 6pm. So we will naturally have the BBC coverage on much of the time. I'll probably channel hop a bit, though, from time to time. I watch a lot of CNN and some MSNBC and I'll take both of those in on the night, and will have the laptop handy to check out the websites regularly, I hope too to IM a few friends who are in the know about these things.

This election does feel, of course, like it has gone on for ever. One notices the length of the campaign far more being present here in the USA without the distractions of the all important British stories like the Daily Mail orchestrated baying for BBC blood last week. The election is simply not off the news at any point. Every time I go to the local bank, the TV is on broadcasting one of the candidates compaigning. There are things to admire here, not least the fact of live TV debates, which we still do not have in England, even if it is somewhat infuriating to see the lack of debate in those debates. I still think that the sometimes bland campaign would become much more spicey with the injection of some serious grilling of the candidates from the likes of a Paxman or Humphrys (The American Presidential Debates: Time to Let the British in).

The election is all the more interesting for us here locally because North Carolina is one of the battleground states. Down our way, McCain / Palin are winning that battle. The vast majority of houses in our neighbourhood have no signs outside, but those that do generally favour McCain / Palin over Obama / Biden by about three to one. And when Viola and I went out for a sandwich the other day, the lady in the shop told us that she would be "voting for Sarah Palin. I like her". It is something of a contrast with DC, which we visited a couple of weeks ago, and everywhere we looked we saw Obama hats and stickers. A lady on the open-top bus there had a word with my mother-in-law to try to persuade her to vote Obama and was a bit disappointed to hear that we did not have the vote. There is a contrast again with Durham, where Duke is located and where I work, and where one sees a far great proportion of Obama-Biden signs.

And it is signs in people's gardens ("yards") that are the sign of which way that they are voting. It would be pointless to do the British thing and put a poster in your window -- no one would see it. Nor are lamposts taken over by candidates' posters as in England, though at intersections of roads, there are more of the signs clustered together, the same kind that you see in people's gardens. I am tempted to take a couple of photographs tomorrow to show you what I mean.

One big contrast with the UK is that apparently people often have to queue here for ages in order to vote. I have never had to do that in England. In fact, I feel like I am often the only person there when I wander into the school building to put my black cross down next to the Labour candidate. I am not sure why it is the case here that people have to queue. Perhaps there are fewer polling stations than in England. Certainly lots of schools appear to be open, which suggests that they are not being used as polling stations. Then again, there has been something called "One stop voting" for the last couple of weeks, including at Duke, from which people come away with a sticker saying "I have voted". The "one stop" element makes me smile since it would never occur to me that one would have two or three stop voting.

These are my thoughts on the eve of a historic day. CNN has already begun its coverage, with its count-down showing 16 hours to go, and counting, until the first polls close.


Anonymous said...

Q is very disappointed to hear about your automatic vote for the Labour candidate (the party that has given us three goes of Peter Mandelson!). He thinks that, in the words of Stevenson's Lord Braxfield, that many of them "would be none the waurr for a good hanging". That of course applies to most politicians, and Q deprecates blind party voting without looking at the credentials of the individual candidate.

Mark Goodacre said...

The Resident Alien enjoyed Q's faux disappointment on this score. As he knows, RA weighs the advantages of all the candidates very carefully before voting Labour, with his eyes wide open and frequently with huge reservations, of course. He couldn't resist writing the line above because it made him smile.