03 November 2004

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A tense and polarised atmosphere - Anglu Farrugia

By Kurt Sansone

Jack, a black factory worker lost his job in the last four years as his home town of Cleveland Ohio was shackled by rising unemployment. He blames the US government for looking the other way as it grew obsessed with the war in Iraq.
Yesterday Jack was one of the first people to wait under drenching rain to cast his vote, a right he reneged on four years ago. He voted for John Kerry yesterday.
It still has to be seen how many of Jack’s fellow working Americans in the state of Ohio chose to shift their vote to the Democratic presidential challenger. In 2000, the Buckeye State awarded its 20 electoral college votes to George W. Bush, who beat rival Al Gore by 165,000 votes.
Polling stations in Ohio closed at 1.30am (Malta time) and with the state promising to be to election 2004 what Florida was for the election in 2000, both presidential contenders have their eyes trained on the outcome.
Talking to The Malta Financial and Business Times from Cleveland where he was posted as an observer for the OSCE, Labour MP Anglu Farrugia yesterday described a tense and polarised atmosphere.
“This is the most polarised and intense election contest ever in 70 years and here in Cleveland litigation has been the order of the day,” Farrugia said.
In the early hours of Tuesday morning Farrugia and the other four OSCE observers assigned to Cleveland were asked to leave their hotel rooms after a security alert. “We do not know what the threat consisted of but we were allowed back into our hotel rooms after half an hour,” Farrugia recounted of his experience.
The Labour MP also spoke of tension in polling stations as lawyers from both political parties were allowed by the State’s Supreme Court to be present in polling booths to challenge voters’ rights.
“A decision was handed down by the court late Monday night and gave political parties the right to have their lawyers present in polling stations to confirm voter registration. Lawyers were scrupulously checking whether voters were registered correctly,” Farrugia told this newspaper.
In what is uncharacteristic for an American election, where voter passivity is standard fare, queues formed outside polling stations across the country. No other election in recent American history has caused as much animosity and fervour. It will also leave half the nation a dejected lot when the results are officially known.

But Farrugia does not believe the result will drag on for weeks like happened in 2000. “If I have the correct feel of things the US will have its president as soon as the polls close,” Farrugia told this newspaper.
By the time of going to print, polls across the country were still open. The last to wrap up voting was Alaska, where stations closed at 7am this morning (Malta time).
As the results trickle in media networks will be more cautious in announcing who the winner is, conscious of what happened in Florida four years ago.
To win, a candidate must pick up 270 votes out of the 538 in the Electoral College. There are 14 states, representing 151 electoral votes that remained competitive until the very end of the campaign. However, the top three battleground states are Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania with an aggregate of 68 electoral votes.

Copyright © Newsworks Ltd. Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
The Malta Financial & Business Times, Newsworks Ltd, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann
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