Electioneering in Israel and Palestine

It's probably a bad idea for parliamentary election campaigns to be held at the same time for the Israeli parliament (the Knesset) and the Palestinian Authority. The opportunity for brinkmanship, provocation, violence, and stirring up of revanchiste passions is not conducive for election results that all participants can live with.

Two incidents reported today are clearly aimed at helping Likud in the Israeli elections, but they seem more likely to have an impact on the Palestinian vote.

First, the BBC reports that a row has erupted between the Israeli and Palestinian authorities over the decision to bar Palestinians living in Jerusalem from voting in the Palestinian election next month (January 15 2006).

The Israeli government's argument is that allowing East Jerusalem's Palestinians to vote would give Hamas power. It is hard to see that preventing some Palestinians from voting will encourage the others to vote for moderate candidates. In fact, the decision allows the Palestinian Authority's ruling party to cancel the election and blame the Israelis.

Second, as if to underscore the notion among Palestinians that Hamas is the real power in the Palestinian Authority, news that Zayid Khalil Moussa, a commander of the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades (a leading Hamas terrorist group) has been killed in a shoot-out with Israeli troops in Jenin. One Israeli border guard was wounded.

Both incidents are of course aimed at encouraging Israeli voters to back either Likud or the new Kadima party, in advance of their March 28 2006 showdown.

Rumours of election fraud in Iraq

With a two-week blackout period between the closing of polls in Iraq and the publication of official election returns, a great deal of speculation is going around, particularly about Shi'ite candidates doing unexpectedly well in Bagdad.

The shortage of external links in this posting on Iraq the Model, is an indication that we're not dealing with much published information.

More updates as I get them. For the record, this is what I wrote before the elections began.

Democrats hold second place in O.C.

The election for the 48th congressional district of the U.S. House of Representatives ended, predictably, as a victory for the Republican candidate, Mr john Campbell [click here for official results].

I previewed the election here.

Despite considerable media attention, Jim Gilchrist, the candidate for tighter immigration controls failed to hold the second placed he held in the first round of voting. Democrat Steve Young is publicly gloating his second place, but the truth is that there was no fright for the Republicans to be had.

Local media comments on the election can be found here, and here.

The special election isn't really a disappointment for the Democrats, but if we take national polls [compiled by RealClear Politics] and compare them to this result, it is clear that claims of a Democrat takeover of the House of Representatives in 2006 are wildly optimistic.


Polling opens in Iraq, blogged here

On the spot coverage of Iraqi polling can be followed on this site.

[Hat tip to Instapundit.]

US Supreme Court to consider Texas gerrymandering cases

The U.S. Supreme Court is to review laws concerning the drawing up of congressional districts in the individual states, following complaints about the election of Republican members to the Federal House of Representatives.

Election Law blog carries an analysis on the possible effects of the appointment of two new supreme court justices since the last similar case in 2004.

Opinion Poll suggests that Iraqi elections will succeed

To the almost palpable amazement of much of the world's media, Iraqi public opinion (as far as it can be measured) remains doggedly optimistic about the future. People seem to be generally optimistic about their own lives (70%), rather than the general outlook for the country (44%), by support for the elections is high, with even a substantial minority of people in Sunni areas supporting them. It's intriguing to note that these figures are substantially better than for either the U.S. or the British administrations.

There are positive political signs as well. Three-quarters of Iraqis express confidence in the national elections being held this week, 70 percent approve of the new constitution, and 70 percent — including most people in Sunni and Shiite areas alike — want Iraq to remain a unified country.

Interest in politics has soared.

Preference for a democratic political structure has advanced, to 57 percent of Iraqis, while support for an Islamic state has lost ground, to 14 percent (the rest, 26 percent, chiefly in Sunni Arab areas, favor a "single strong leader.")

My tip: a higher turnout than in the last U.K. or U.S. general elections, to say nothing of the turnout in European constitution referendums!

President Mubarak names women and Copts as "top-up" members of parliament

Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak has appointed five women and five Coptic Christians as members of Egypt's parliament after last week's final round of elections (report on earlier round here).

The Egyptian parliament has 454 members, most of whom are elected in stages.

Early tip for Democrat challenger to Hillary Clinton

My early tip for a challenger to Hillary Clinton, outgoing Virginia Governor Mark Warner, has raised $2.5 million in what has been described as a "coming out party." I have commented earlier about the choice of Democratic candidate for the next U.S. presidential election of 2008.

Warner's approval ratings in Virginia ran to 80% and he is widely credited in having facilitated the election of his Democratic successor Tim Kaine. His problems at the moment are the relative low name recognition that Warner has outside the South, the superstar status and likely fundraising power of Senator Hillary Clinton (New York).

At this stage, I see no sign of a strong Republican candidate other than the aging and divisive (among Republicans) Senator John McCain. Right now, I would predict a Democrat win in 2008 if McCain is going to be the Republican nominee, against either Senator Clinton or ex-Governor Warner.

Chile election goes to run-off

Reports here and here, from Chile suggest that Michelle Bachelet, the leading candidate for the presidency, is a shoo-in for the second round with her estimated 45% of the first round vote.

The truth is somewhat different. Joaquin Lavin, the right-wing candidate who finished third with about 23% of the vote has endorsed his rival Sebastian Pinera (who scored over 25%, and urged his supporters to back a united right-wing campaign in the second round.

If the Socialist candidate were perceived as promoting actual socialist policies, it seems almost certain that she would be defeated in the second round of voting. However, with the economy generally in good shape thanks to the Left's stable economic policies over the past 15 years, we may see a less than total mobilization of conservative voters.

Don't bet the house either way (yet) on this one!


Riots at Egyptian polling stations

It's easy to have a non-violent election: just make sure that all the parties agree to lose the next election and/or the one after that.

Balanced News Blog reports on violence at yesterday's final round of voting for the Egyptian parliament. The government's claims that the riots were provoked do not seem to be backed up by foreign reporters (but then this is the crew that showed us the return of Ayatollah Khomeni to Iran in 1979 as the dawn of democracy in that country, and informs us that two car bombs a day in Bagdad is evidence of a massive insurgency).

A shockingly naive view of Islamist politics, but which contains details of government repression in trying to limit Muslim Brotherhood election gains can be found in the New York Times [subscription may be required].

I may be doing the Muslim Brotherhood an injustice (I would be happy to stand corrected). I recall that in October 1992 for instance, it was Islamic volunteer efforts, allied to the Brotherhood, not the government, which organized effective relief efforts (food, water, tents) after the Cairo earthquake. The suspicion remains whether the appetite for democracy by Islamist parties is down to their failure to effect regime change through violence, and if they would allow an election to take place in which a non-Islamic party took their place in power. The historical evidence appears to be non-existent on the latter score.

The Egyptian government should never of course have repressed its citizens for so long that only an Islamist party offers an alternative. The Copts (Egypt's Christian minority) must be looking South at the genocidal warfare in the Sudan and wondering if the same could happen in Egypt.


Traffic interruption

Apologies for no posting for a couple of days.

My laptop and online connection was commandeered in an emergency.

Business resumes in the morning.


Paper trail

Pretty good post on Count Every Vote.

Just to make clear, I don't buy the 2004 "Ohio vote was stolen" line, at least in the sense that I doubt if the Republicans did anything worse than the Democrats did. As for the canard of exit polls: the early returns in 2004 were wrong because they were unrepresentative. Period. Exit polls always will have discrepancies with the counted result because 1) older conservatives generally don't brag about it to pollsters, 2) whoever thinks they're the minority may feel intimidated.

My only quibble with paper voting is the ridiculous "push a pencil through the perforation" system that gave use "hanging chads", "dimple chads" "pregnant chads" and months of wrangling in 2000.

If it's reasonable to expect an illiterate person to sign with an "X", I can't see why putting an "X" in a box won't do on a ballot paper. Many countries put party logos on the ballot paper, which should be enough for someone who can't read.

The only exceptions I can think of are blind people and those who can't hold a pencil. Worst case scenario there is to have proxy voting, but I'm sure there are viable alternatives.

How to register to vote in Canada

Useful information here on how the Canadian elections authority puts together the final list of electors, and how latecomers should register.

Any lessons for certain parts of the U.S. we choose not to mention?

What those Canadian MPs really did

For all undecided Canadian voters there's a useful web resource: the "How'd they vote?" site.

It's a pretty easy to use tool for anyone interested in following Canadian parliamentary politics. I'd love to see one for the U.S. Supreme Court!

[Hat-tip M.D. Benoit on her Life's Weirder than Fiction blog.]

Palestinian Authority election: a multiple choice test

The Palestinian Authority election will be a multiple test. First there is the logistical problem of running the election. That could turn out to be the least of President Mahmoud Abbas's problems.

According to Israel National News:
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a veteran component of the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization), will be running in January’s Palestinian Authority election under the banner, “Destroy the Zionist Enterprise.”

At the head of the PFLP’s list for the PA parliament is Ahmed Sa’adat, the organization’s chairman, who ordered the assassination of Israeli minister Rehavam Ze’evi in October 2003. Another prominent figure on the list is Mohammed Alrimawi, who led the hit men who shot Ze’evi.

Sa’adat and Alrimawi are supposed to be serving time in a Jericho prison for that assassination. The PA agreed to imprison the two men under pressure from the United States and Great Britain.

[Hat-tip to discarded lies]

The Palestinian Authority's parliamentary elections will no doubt influence the Israeli elections two months later. Widespread support for PFLP candidates will do nothing to create a climate of trust with Israeli voters. This is exactly the sort of banana-skin that Ariel Sharon's new party could do with avoiding.

N.B. The Palestinian Authority's website still doesn't carry any news about the legislative elections (which I find worrying). There is however a communiqué commending Javier Solano's endorsement of:
the Palestinian people's right to end Israeli military occupation "peacefully".

Sharon's new party has momentum

Interesting analysis of the Israeli election by Emanuele Ottolenghi over at Oxblog.

The signing up by Ariel Sharon of Shimon Peres is a coup, and its timing suggests that a well-focussed campaign strategy is revving up nicely. Kadima has a nicely defined political niche (right of centre between Likud and Labour), the two best known living Israeli politicians, and yet can present itself as a "kick them out!" alternative.

However, the one worry for the new party is the length of time until polling day: March 28 2006. A lot can go wrong between now and then and a new party doesn't have the tribal bedrock vote (yet!) to back the party through thick and thin.

Over to Likud...

Kazakh Presidential election results show lack of choice

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (O.C.S.E.) has welcomed improvements in the organisation of elections in Kazakhstan, which has resulted in the landslide re-election of President Nursultan Nazarbaev with over 90% of votes cast.

The OCSE press statement goes on to criticise the lack of pluralism in the Central Asian Republic:
OSCE Chairman-in-Office Dimitrij Rupel said the findings pointed to a continued need to open up the political life in Kazakhstan, in order to allow meaningful competition among candidates and political parties.

The Slovenian Foreign Minister, who is hosting the OSCE Ministerial Council in Ljubljana, said that the international observers had also acknowledged positive developments where they occurred.

"Sustained efforts are necessary, however, to bring about a situation where OSCE commitments on democratic elections and accountable governance are truly met" he added.

The B.B.C. reported the story negatively here.
Main opposition candidate Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, who secured just 6.64% of the vote according to official results, alleged there had been "multiple violations".

"We will take all legal measures to protest the official results of the voting and will press for this election to be declared invalid," Mr Tuyakbai said on Monday.

"The authoritarian regime of Nazarbayev is taking a totalitarian turn," he said.

The results were broadly expected, as illustrated by this poll published on Friday by Intermedia.

The problems of taking the polling and election figures at face value are the usual suspicion of electronic voting systems and the degree to which opinion poll respondents consider themselves free to express dissident views. Whatever reservations one may have on this issue, this was no Ukrainian fraud.


Canadian Election Vote Predictor

Hill and Knowlton have set up an election predictor for the Canadian election on 23 January 2006.

[hat tip markrite]


Democrats toying with primary timetable

Democratic party activists are pushing to change the order of the US primaries (the demographics of the Iowa Caucus and the New Hampshire primary don't represent the party's base).

However, as this posting on MyDD shows, the process is not straightforward. For starters the State of New Hampshire has a law that requires it to hold the first full primary of election year.

For what it's worth, I think the parties should decide the order they want to hold their primaries. But there is a danger that the U.S. Democratic Party is "fighting the last war" - again. Howard Dean's failure in 2004 to compete in either Iowa or New Hampshire killed his chances of winning the Democratic nomination. In event, I can see no basis for the belief that he would have got more votes than Senator John Kerry did. And if anything, a Howard Dean candidacy would have guaranteed that all the Republicans who came out to back President George W. Bush's re-election, were prepared to stand in queues for hours to vote.

Egyptian elections draw to a messy close

Opposition parties in Egypt are complaining about excessive police intimidation today at polling stations, according to a Reuters report.

Another round of voting is expected next Wednesday (7 December) in those seats where no candidate has secured a majority.

Update: Report of fatal shooting here.

Canada poll suggests a tight race

(via Instapundit)

Ed Morrisey has analysis of AP-Ipsos poll which he compares to a private Robbins Research poll.

Both parties [Liberal and Conservative] get 31% of the national vote, and NDP picks up 18%. BQ gets 14%, all of it from Quebec.

However, the details have to disturb Liberals who hope to return to power in the next Commons. Their support base in Ontario appears to have seriously eroded. Earlier polls show that the Liberals once enjoyed a double-digit lead in their power base. Now that lead has collapsed into a statistical tie with the Conservatives, 37%-35%. The NDP appears to have taken advantage of Liberal slippage, moving up to 21% support in the province. The Tories now outstrip the Liberals in British Columbia, where the Liberals had made inroads in provincial voting last March; the Tories have a 34%-28% advantage on the West Coast province. Liberals only have an outright plurality in the Maritimes; they lead the Tories 24-7 in Quebec but get trounced by Conservative partner Bloc Quebecois, 58-24, showing that the Liberals can expect to lose seats in the region most touched by Adscam.

It begins to look like an interesting contest.

Chavez wins

CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) - Most of Venezuela's main opposition parties are boycotting legislative elections on Sunday that could allow President Hugo Chavez to consolidate his self-proclaimed socialist revolution.

Read the whole story here.

Round up of Canadian election news

A slip-up by Conservative leader Stephen Harper.

Unforeseen loophole? Heh!

But it appears that the major parties (especially the Liberals, who benefit from an abundance of support from corporations and wealthy individual donors Â) stand to gain the most from the unforseen[sic] wrinkle in the elections act.
Andrew Mills, The Toronto Star

The agonies of democratic choice, by a Canadian blogger.

Finally, Mark Steyn has a competition for election watchers.

Canadian election set for January 23

Reported by Fox News:
The election will be held for all 308 seats in the lower House of Commons. The seats in the upper Senate are appointed.

On Monday, the Conservative Party teamed up with the New Democratic and Bloc Quebecois parties to bring down the government, claiming Martin's ruling Liberal Party had lost its moral authority. Recent polls have given the Liberals a slight lead over the Conservatives, with the New Democrats in third place.

The same surveys suggest the Bloc Quebecois would sweep the French-speaking province of Quebec, making a majority government unlikely no matter which party wins the most seats.

Tradesports has the Liberals firm favourites, but slipping. At the moment, details of the corruption scandal that has brought down the government are largely unreported in Canada, thanks to a gagging order issued by a judge. With seven weeks for the more lurid details to circulate the blogs and spread by word of mouth, I'd say the Liberals' strategy will backfire.


The real chance for Democrats in 2006

The RealClear Politics Blog has the lowdown on the approval ratings of U.S. Governors (SurveyUSA did the polling).

If the figures quoted don't shift much in the next few months, we could be looking at a bloodbath for the Republicans in the gubernatorial elections.

California, New York, Ohio and Texas are the biggest serious opportunities for Democrats. With the highly popular Florida Governor Jeb Bush (Republican) standing down due to term-limit constraints, the Democrats will not get a better chance to sweep the biggest states for years.

All is not gloom for the GOP. Six Democrats due for re-election as Governors next year are currently polling less than 50%. One other (in Iowa) has chosen not to seek re-election. Most are in states that were narrow contests in the 2004 presidential election.

California opportunity for Democrats

Next Tuesday (December 6th) sees the second round of a special election (by-election) in the 48th congressional district of California, following the appointment on June 2nd by President George W. Bush of Christopher Cox to the position of Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Board (S.E.C.).

The Republican candidate, John Campbell seems best placed to win, as he scored 45.5% of the first round vote. An American Independent candidate came a distant second with 14.8% and the Democrat Steve Young, managed a pitiful 8.7%. A Libertarian and a Green Party candidate will complete the line-up for the run-off. Unusually for a two-round election, in California the leading candidates of all the parties in the first round go through to the second round, instead of the more commonly used method of taking the top two candidates only.

So far, so good for Republicans. The problem lies in the announcement this week that Republican Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham has resigned his seat in Congress following his guilty plea on charges of bribery, tax evasion, mail fraud and wire fraud. He was first elected to Congress in 1990 and was serving his eighth term as a member of the House of Representatives. The Congressional seat in question is the 50th district of California, which covers the County of San Diego.

As these elections returns show from 2004, there is a sizeable Democratic vote in San Diego. If one in five Republican voters stays at home in disgust with "Duke's" ethical performance, the Democrats have a chance of picking up a seat they would otherwise not really compete for. In 2004, the presidential election would tend to have encouraged Republicans to come out and vote, whilst the comparative safety of California as a Democrat stronghold (in presidential elections at least) might have made some of their voters complacent.

Normally, I'd say that a campaign push by the Governor or even the President would be useful. However, apart from helping with fundraisers, neither Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger nor President George W. Bush would necessarily be a positive influence on this election. The recent presidential effort in Virginia for instance did raise a lot of money but failed to change the outcome. In fact, even hosting lavish fundraisers might cause a problem, given the circumstances in which this election has been provoked.

At this time, I still think it would be wildly optimistic for the Democrats to win control of either chamber in Congress. But if they keep holding their Governorships, and pick away at the Republican lead in the House of Representatives, they may hang on until 2008, when the Republicans will be defending large numbers of Senate seats, and they have as yet no clear cut presidential candidate.

[hat tip to The Green Papers]


The Guardian says...

2005:Blogged, gets a review in the Guardian's online newspaper edition. Tim Worstall's book reprinted my posting on this site of "Operation Clark County".

It's nice to know that my criticism of a bungled attempt to win the 2004 Presidential election for Democratic Senator John Kerry, does not prejudice Guardian reviewer Jane Perrone.

However, I bet someone at The Grauniad is smiling: 2005:Blogged's index contains a misspelling of my name.


Elections around the world in 2006

For democracy nerds everywhere, here's a list of countries where elections are expected to be held at national or State level in 2006. I've included two proposed referenda on the E.U. constitution, although neither are likely at present: the British government has declared the constitution in its present form as not worth putting to the vote and the Czech government won't hold a referendum until everyone else has. There are local elections planned in other countries amnd I'm sure I've missed a few anyway, but then Wikipedia missed out Angola and Israel when I looked.

Angola (possible)
Czech Republic (Referendum EU constitution)
Ukraine (Parliament)
U.K. (Referendum on EU constitution)
U.S.A. (House of Representatives, Senate and gubernatorial elections)

Updates as I get them.

Wikipedia (see above) now shows the Israeli election, but not the Angolan. Also we both missed the Palestinian Authority legislative elections in January 2006.

The fact that the Palestinian Authority's own website doesn't have any details on the election timetable does not help. From the Australian parliament's website comes the following: "President Abbas has announced that it will be held on January 25 2006".


Israeli election date no later than March 28

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has asked President Moshe Katsav to dissolve the Knesset (Israel's unicameral or single-chamber parliament). Mr Sharon has also announced that he is leaving Israel's right-wing Likud party to form a new political movement aimed at the political centre of Israeli politics. Meanwhile, President Katsav has proposed a date of "no later" than March 28 2006 for elections.

The Knesset can vote to set a different date for the election, and my instant gut feeling is that it might not suit either Likud or Labour to go along with a snap election as both parties will have recently changed leaders and both may be wary of giving Mr Sharon the benefit of a short election campaign. (I wouldn't in their shoes, but then I'm not hired by any of the parties to do their campaign strategy, so what do they know!)

The fractious nature of Israel's proportional representation system makes such Mr Sharon's move difficult to predict. Small and often extreme political parties tend to hold disproportionate bargaining power in the formation of a coalition government. Mr Sharon appears to be calculating that he is better off outside Likud and offering to support either of the main two parties (Labour being the left-wing party), in exchange for a moderate position towards the Palestinian Authority.

In America or in the U.K., such a move would be a simple case of political suicide. However, with a proportional representation system, it's in the hands of the party horsetraders... after the next election.

Angola may hold general election in 2006

The Angolan government has publicly stated in the past 24 hours that it aspires to organising a general election during 2006.

However, the tone of Edeltrudes Costa (the Deputy Minister of Territory Administration) speaking to a press gathering yesterday was more hopeful than confident.

Finland's presidential election January 2006

The first round of voting for the presidential election in Finland is scheduled for 15 January 2006. The date is chosen as being the third Sunday in January.

The system is identical to that used in France and the State of Louisiana in the U.S.A. - if a candidate fails to win a majority of the votes cast, there is a run-off between the top two candidates. The run-off - if required - will take place on 29 January 2006.


Election Watch ambition

In case readers are wondering why the occasional foray into elections outside the U.S., (Canada, Ukraine [and here], Palestinian Authority, U.K.) I'm putting together a database of all election contests at national level around the world.

I'm concentrating first on countries whose election systems I am most familiar with, or that spring up in the news: Europe, U.S., Central Asia, Middle East. So unless I get requests, don't expect any particular method in the forays into new countries. For now, at least.


Are the Democrats celebrating the right things?

The Democrats are excited. Not without just cause. But perhaps about the wrong things.

The present unpopularity of President George W. Bush is causing Democratic commentators to dream of capturing both Houses of Congress in 2006, as the prelude to a Democrat victory for the presidency in 2008. I'd say such forecasts are way premature, if not outright utopian.

Where the Democrats can take considerable satisfaction is in the three gubernatorial elections of 2005. I'm including the recounted and court-challenged Washington state election, as well as Tuesday night's more orderly elections in New Jersey and Virginia.

The was every reason to fear that the Republicans could win all three, one by judicial review (Washington), one because of scandals affecting local Democrats (New Jersey), and one by simply not having as good a candidate as the previous one (Virginia). This would have left the Democrats with 19 Governors to the Republicans' 31.

So 2005 is an excellent year for the Democrats in terms of containing the Republicans, given that there have been no opportunities for making electoral gains so far.

Next year's Congressional elections are unlikely to see any change of control for purely technical reasons. The House of Representatives is showing a falling number of truly competitive seats (28 according to Charlie Cook [see "Political Dashboard"]). The Republicans only need to win three (they currently hold 17 of them) to retain control of the House.

In the Senate, another bad tactical situation exists for the Democrats. Last year they were defending 19 Senate seats to 15 Republican, the Democrats promptly made a net loss of four seats. In 2006, the Democrats will be defending 17 Senate seats (plus the Independent seat of Jim Jeffords in Vermont). The Republicans will only be defending 15 seats and would need to lose at least a third of them to lose control of the Senate. At this stage, I don't see this as likely.

Where the Democrats really have chances are in the gubernatorial elections. No fewer than 36 States are due to elect a Governor in November 2006. Only 14 are Democrats, and a staggering 22 are Republicans. Here's were the opportunity to do some real damage lies.

California, Florida, New York and Texas are the big four states with 147 electoral college votes for the presidential elections in 2006 and 2010. All four presently have Republican governors who are up for re-election. Two of them, Jeb Bush in Florida and George Pataki in New York will not be seeking re-election. Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected in California during a special election in 2003, he would do extremely well at this stage to win a primary and general election. That leaves Texas.

Among the other states up for election there are plenty of chances for both sides. For the party in opposition nationally, this is the kind of scenario campaigners need.

A reasonable set of goals for 2006 would seem to be to make whatever gains in the House of Representatives are possible. In the Senate to come away with any increase would be a satisfactory outcome (the real chance for change will be in 2008, when 19 Republican senators face the voters). But in the gubernatorial contests the target has to be to win back at least California and New York, and pick off several other states. A majority of the Governors should be the goal of the Democrats for next year.

Meanwhile, of course we have the Supreme Court nomination of Samuel Alito. At this stage I can't see him failing to be nominated to the Supreme Court bench, replacing Sandra Day O'Connor. Judge Alito won't have to be a hardline conservative to tilt the balance of the court away from liberalism. In the long run, that may be the biggest election of the year.

Canada limps towards general election

Canada's minority Liberal government is limping towards a general election either around Christmas or early next year according to this report in the Toronto Globe and Mail.

The fact that the Liberals are expected to win most seats is no doubt limiting the ambition of opposition parties to force the issue.


Democratic Party holds Virginia

Tim Kaine has convincingly won the election for Governor in the Commonwealth of Virginia last night, defeating his Republican opponent by nearly six percentage points. The result will undoubtedly give some cheer to Democrats, who retain both [link to New Jersey results] Governorships up for election in 2005. With nine precincts yet to report in Virginia, the results show [hat-tip to The Green Papers]:

TM Kaine 1,019,206 votes (51.71%)
JW Kilgore 907,039 votes (46.02%)
Others (including write-ins) 44,705 (2.27%)
Voter turnout 1,970,950 (44.27)
Precincts reporting 2417 out of 2426 (99.63% of votes confirmed)

Provisional figures suggest that a swing of about 0.5% to Democrats has occured, although late returns could affect this analysis.

I must admit that this is an impressive result, which should avoid the acrimony of the Washington State poll last year that I have written about ad nauseam here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Mark Warner, the outgoing Democratic holder of the Governorship in Virginia, was thought to be the perfect candidate for the Democrats in that state, with his relatively conservative outlook and running an administration considered to be among the best, if not the best in the United States. His successor has increased the Democrat lead, albeit with a slightly reduced share of the vote.

On the one hand, Mark Warner's position as challenger to Hillary Clinton is enhanced. Virginia along with the recapture of the two states (Iowa and New Mexico)lost by Senator John Kerry in last year's presidential election would be sufficient to win the presidential election for the Democrats. Governor Warner did campaign for his successor Tim Kaine, just as President George W. Bush campaigned (and very successfully fundraised) for Jerry Kilgore.

On the other hand, the more Tim Kaine is perceived to have won the election on his own merits, the less necessary Mark Warner becomes.

Watch out for Hillary Clinton fans talking up the merits of Tim Kaine!

My own view (given that I got this result wrong) is that Mark Warner's status as the conservative Democrat candidate is enhanced, at the expense of Phil Bredesen (Governor of Tennessee) among others.

All of a sudden though, we're looking at a clutch of effective Democratic Party Governors, and for the time being, I don't see the Republican candidate with the same background, unless Jeb Bush (Florida) makes a run, and one has to wonder if being the brother and the son of two presidents isn't too much of a good thing!


Voting machine, Party machine?

Amy Alkon discusses a report by the U.S. General Accounting Office into the opportunity for fraud using voting machines.

Her conclusion is that the winner must have stolen the election, which I think isn't proven beyond resonable doubt (see the first comment by Radwaste who takes a similar line). What is clear however is that my views of the Washington gubernatorial election in 2004 (which resulted in a narrow Democratic Party victory there) are echoed by critics of the presidential election in Ohio in 2004 (although the margin of victory for the Republican candidate there was several orders of magnitude greater).

As far as voting machines are concerned, I see them as a solution to yesterday's problem: "Hanging chads" anyone? It's a classic "Willetts".

What's wrong with a piece of paper with a box next to each name, and the voter marks "X"?


Even the best polls underestimate Republican vote

Rasmussen Reports, the U.S. pollster has a self-congratulatory article about its polling for the 2004 presidential election.

It is true that Rasmussen forecast the overall result in terms of the popular vote, getting within half a percent of President George Bush's score and even closer with Senator John Kerry's.

However, is it really clever to publish a list of 25 states that shows that Rasmussen underestimated George W. Bush's vote in 23 of them? With only New Mexico spot on and New Jersey the only state overestimated for the Republican candidate?

I would have a lot more time for opinion polls if in a tight race the over- and underestimates showed more consistency. As it is I expect polls to underestimate Republican voting figures, which is why commentators may believe that I'm biased against Democrats.

According to Matthew Dowd, Bush's campaign strategist: "Scott's [Rasmussen] polling data was dead on this election. Both nationally and at the state level, his numbers were hard to beat."


Antoine Clarke's Election Watch in print

Tim Worstall has asked for permission to republish my posting about Operation Clark County in a book about blogging.

This book is called "2005: Blogged", and is apparently available through Amazon.co.uk (not the U.S. site). Launch date is November 18.

Coincidentally, I should be travelling to the U.S. on that date. One of my stops (I hope) will be to Clark County. I would like to find out if the Guardian ever did get round to paying for their copy of the Clark County electoral register!


New Jersey and Virginia Governor contests tighten in final week

The news from Virginia is that the opinion polls are showing a close race for the governorship with Democratic Party candidate Tim Kaine the leader. This represents a turnaround since my last posting, when I forecast a Republican victory in the "Old Dominion".

In off-year elections (especially perhaps for elections occurring the year after a Presidential election) turnout is everything. I note that the online bookies still rate Republican candidate Jerry Kilgore as the favourite, whereas the pollsters seem to have made up their minds for Mr Kaine.

I'm going to stick with my forecast of a Republican gain in Virginia, partly because this was a state that Democrats and pollsters said would be close this time last year, before producing an eight percentage point lead for President George W. Bush.

In New Jersey we see a state that in gubernatorial contests has often been competitive (indeed the last Governor of New Jersey to be elected, as opposed to nominated by the State Senate was Republican Christine Whitman). Last year the polls for the presidential election showed a far closer result than was in fact the case, with Democratic candidate U.S. Senator John Kerry winning by nearly seven percentage points.

The online bookies are clear in backing Jon Corzine, the Democratic candidate with odds in the region of 90 percent. The pollsters however aren't so sure. Republican candidate Doug Forrester has not come within four percentage points of his opponent in 32 of 33 opinion polls.

I'm also sticking with a Democratic Party hold for New Jersey, but Forrester's odds are so bad on Tradesports that it might be worth a bet. You could win nearly seven times your stake, when I last looked.


And the winner was...

I missed this. So Christine Gregoire was elected Governor of Washington state after all. I'm glad Iraqi elections aren't run the same way...

Apologies for the appalling lateness of this report. That said, what comes out of the various recount efforts in Florida 2000, Ohio 2004 for presidential elections and Washington 2004 for the gubernatorial election is just how shambolic decentralization is. I shall assume that the result is a fair one in Washington, and that Miss Gregoire was properly elected. But the problem is that if her election was rigged, we couldn't tell.

If you have an election where polling stations open and close at different times and where reports of the likely result can be broadcast before all the polling stations have closed, there has to be an opportunity for vote-rigging. For presidential elections the solution is simple but drastic. No votes at all should be counted until the last postal vote has been received and the last polling booth closed. And that also means no exit polls until then either.

It is also absurd that within the same election different methods can be used for voting ballots. In Washington State, some counties showed virtually no change in the two recounts, others showed over a thousand votes added or lost. With the feeble system in place, I would assume that any political party could rig the ballot, given the flimsiness of the set up. At one point several hundred votes were found in a car park.

As daft attempts to improve turnout go, it is hard to beat on-the-day electoral roll registration (I believe they had this in Ohio). This means that someone can drive around all day crossing election county lines, and register fraudulently in several areas. There is no time to check for fraud and the evidence suggests that election boards don't share information effectively. I would expect that any determined effort to fraudulently register several hundred people in a series of statewide elections would succeed in many U.S. states. (You might not get away with voting a dozen times for Governor, but you've got a good shout a getting several votes in congressional seats.)

Maybe the system is free of fraud. If so only the restraint of the political parties can account for this. In a bad-tempered election, it would take the virtue of angels to resist the temptation to cheat.

Virginia problem (and opportunity) for Democrats

The gubernatorial election in Virginia this year throws up problems and an opportunity for the Democratic Party. The bad news for the Democrats is that it looks like we're going to see a Republican gain on Thursday 8th November. This is largely because Virginia is unusual as U.S. states go: Mark Warner, the hugely popular Democratic Governor is limited by law to one full term. There is little doubt that he would secure re-election if he were permitted to stand.

So we're down to twenty-one Democrat and twenty-nine Republican Governors by the end of the year, unless something dramatic happens in the New Jersey gubernatorial election where Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Corzine comfortably leads his Republican rival. Not for the first time, the electoral cycle is proving lucky for the Republicans. Considering the débacle of the Harriet Miers nomination for the Supreme Court, it must be intensely frustrating for Democratic Party campaigners not to have any Republican targets to hit in a fortnight's time. I'd be climbing the walls if I was on the Democrat payroll right now. It's almost enough to make one suspect that the Machiavellian figures around the President have managed the timing of the current crises, in order to let the Democrats peak too early.

Beyond the gloom of a likely defeat in Virginia (Bill Clinton couldn't win here in '92 or '96, let alone Vice-President Al Gore and Senator John Kerry), Democrats should take a look at Mark Warner.

Winning a normally Republican state less than two months after 9/11 in a state which houses a significant military vote should be enough to make any political strategist sit up and take notice. Maintaining approval ratings of over 70 percent ain't bad either. As Governor of Virginia, Mark Warner has the sort of executive experience that seems to translate into a better presidential candidate than a long-time Senator (as John Kerry discovered to his cost last year). If the Democrats were to win Virginia in a presidential election, it is most likely that they would win nationally. According to my favourite internet bookies, Mark Warner is currently second-favourite to be the Democratic candidate for President (admittedly a long way behind front-runner Senator Hillary Clinton (New York).

Comparing Mark Warner to John Edwards, the last guy who was supposed to unlock the South for the Democrats, there is little doubt that Warner is the stronger candidate. The truth is that John Edwards would surely have been defeated if he had chosen to seek re-election in 2004 in North Carolina.

The question for Democrats is will anyone other than Hillary Clinton mobilize the grass-roots. And won't she simply guarantee a bigger "anyone but Hillary" Republican turnout.

The most easy mistake to make in warfare is to "fight the last war". In Colorado last year, the Democrats probably did their chances of winning that state no good by backing a rule change that was obviously partisan, and would have been irrelevant in 2004. They let their anger over the 2000 election decide their strategy for 2004.

The next Republican candidate for the presidency is the person the Democrats should be aiming to defeat, not George W. Bush. It's a good time for the Democrats to think about the kind of candidate who can win for them in 2008.


Democrat or Democratic?

An anonymous correspondent writes:

You make D.C.'s three electoral votes sound somehow illegitimate. They were awarded by the 23rd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, passed in 1961.

Also, elsewhere on your site: although you claim to be non-partisan, you use "Democrat" as an adjective--a maddening practice characteristic of Republicans who can't bring themselves to use the proper term "Democratic." And by the way, the Vice President and his wife are Dick and Lynne CHENEY.

Considering that the District of Columbia's electoral college votes have never been allocated to any other Party than the Democrats' and considering also the complaint about my alleged partisanship, my guess is that I have irritated a Democratic Party voter.

1) The Democratic Party uses the web domain name www.democrats.org, so perhaps the Party itself does not mind which term I use. I tend to use "Democrat" because it is harder to confuse with the generic term a "democratic" party. Any political party that contests elections, has a system of accountability to its members, and does not resort to violence when the result goes the wrong way, could be considered democratic. The only reason that I don't use "GOP" instead of "Republican" is that most of my readers are European and so are unfamiliar with the expression. If "Republicanists" or "Republicists" were in common use, I would tend to use that expression to avoid confusion with an anti-monarchist Party.

However, Mr or Ms anonymous, I appreciate the tip. By the way, I am not eligible to vote in a U.S. election, I have never worked in an unpaid or paid capacity for any Republican candidate or campaigning organisation.

Because I have no wish to upset supporters of any democratic political party, I shall try to use "Democratic" more often, where there is no chance of confusion.

2) Washington D.C.
It is an anomaly that Washington D.C. has 3 electoral college votes in the U.S. presidential election. The allocation of E.C. votes is meant to be on the basis of the number of Senators and House Representatives that each State has. Like Puerto Rico and Samoa, the District of Columbia has no Senators and no full representative in the House of Representatives. Therefore, D.C.'s status is preferential compared with other Territories and States alike. As I understand it, the purpose in having the District of Columbia was to prevent any State from having a preferential position, by virtue of housing the federal government.

The 23rd Amendement is a compromise, and in my view a bad one for two reasons. In a close presidential election, Washington D.C. could determine the winner, which contradicts the principles on which the U.S. Constitution rest. The other Territories have a reasonable grievance in that they are excluded from the presidential vote.

I'm sure I would hold this view if the D.C. votes had gone for Goldwater, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush, Dole, Bush. It would be funny if they had gone for alternative Parties each time, Libertarian, Green, Socialist etc. But the point remains.

3) Cheney....
Thank you, Mr or Ms anonymous for pointing out my mistake. My embarrassment is only mitigated by the fact that future readers have been spared my ignorance.

Dick and Lynne Cheney
Dick and Lynne Cheney
Dick and Lynne Cheney
Dick and Lynne Cheney
Dick and Lynne Cheney
Dick and Lynne Cheney
Dick and Lynne Cheney
Dick and Lynne Cheney
Dick and Lynne Cheney
Dick and Lynne Cheney

I hope you didn't enjoy it too much!


Washington Governor court case begins Monday

From the Washington State Secretary of State's website:

Media Advisory
Issued: April 05, 2005

Superior Court Judge John Bridges today announced the 2004 gubernatorial contested election case will go to trial May 23 and end within two weeks.

This allows nine business days for the trial given the Memorial Day weekend.

The case is being brought on behalf of Dino Rossi, the Republican candidate. The election of Democratic Party candidate Christine Gregoire last December (after two recounts)could be overturned if the complaint is successful. The trial will focus on alleged voting irregularites.


Apologies for the lack of posting recently

Service is being resumed.


A trick question

A reader wanted to know who was the first U.S. President elected by the 50 states. This was John F. Kennedy in 1960.

However, if the question was "Who was the first President to be elected by the current size (538 votes) of the Electoral College?" then the answer would Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. The District of Columbia (D.C.) was awarded three electoral college votes in time for the 1964 presidential election, despite the fact that the U.S. federal capital does not have any U.S. Senators or Representatives (there is a non-voting "Territorial Delegate" to the House of Representatives).

The number of Electoral College votes per state is determined by 1) the number of U.S. Senators (two in each state), and 2) the number of House of Representatives members (minimum of one, but otherwise in proportion to the voting population).

If the question were: "Who was the first President elected by the current distribution of electoral college votes?" then the correct answer would be George W. Bush... in 2004 (not 2000). Because the number of Representatives is re-calculated every ten years after the census, and the last census was in 2000, the 2004 was the first time that the current electoral college distribution was used, and 2008 will be the only other time.

Finally, some thoughts to conspiracy theorists looking for "proof" that the census of 2000 fixed matters the Republicans' way.
1) The most recent census was carried out during Bill Clinton's Democrat presidency.
2) The last congressional seat to be allocated was given to North Carolina, a decison that was taken to the Supreme Court by the state of Utah. Both states went Republican in both 2000 and 2004.
3) The Supreme Court ruled that North Carolina should get the final seat, not Utah. For the record, the Democrats did not bother campaigning in Utah in 2004, although North Carolina was at one point considered a long-shot for them.
So the evidence does not support a fix by Republicans in the allocation of Electoral College votes.


Why Senators make bad presidential candidates

Real Clear Politics put the boot into Senator Robert Byrd recently, on the issue of filibusters in the Senate. The specifics of the issue need not concern us here.

The problem for Senator Byrd, or Senator John Kerry, or Senator John McCain or any other Senator with the sort of experience to be considered a viable presidential candidate is simple. In two terms of office a Senator clocks up twelve years of speeches, letters and votes on the Senate floor or in committee. He or she may block legislation or propose a panacea that turns out to be a curse.

All of the issues that a Senator concerns himself with are either national policy, or can be presented as self-serving. Either way it is open to criticism.

Let us assume for one moment that Senator Byrd were to run for the Democratic Party nomination for President in 2008. Every single vote in committee or on the floor of the Senate, every letter to a constituent, becomes a potential soundbite against him.

Contrast this with a Governor. He or she has no international or national political responsibilities. The track record is typically over a four to eight year period of office. There are fewer hostages to fortune. The Governor can display a leadership style, and employ a Cabinet, all of which is better preparation for the image of a President. Better still, a Governor has to guide legislation through the State legislature, a process not dissimilar to that of the President. Any executive skills will show up. So a successful Governor (especially one who beat an incumbent from the other side) from a significant State will always have the edge of a Senator in a dirty fight.

So the solution for Senators would seem to be to run for one term or to stand for president during the second term, as former Senator John Edwards did and Senator Hillary Clinton might be considering. The problem in the case of the then Senator Edwards of North Carolina is that he didn't get the nomination for President, as Vice-President he didn't deliver North Carolina to the John Kerry campaign, he is out office, and his Democratic nomination successor for the Senate in North Carolina lost. What this means is that by 2008 he will have been a one-term Senator from a state his Party has given up on, and one without a particularly memorable record to boot. Or as a cynic might put it: a has-been mediocrity, in short.

Whether by chance or design, Senator Clinton's timing looks good. She can run for re-election in 2006, hopefully win the race, giving plenty of media exposure. Or she can stand down and generate a frenzy of speculation about when she times her declaration of intent.

If either Party, Republican or Democrat picks a Governor to fight a Senator, it looks like a foregone conclusion. But right now, both sides seem set to pick Senators.


Just when you thought it was over...

The Washington State Governor saga continues. Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed (the official responsible for the conduct of elections) has now stated that he supports the challenge in the courts by Republican candidate Dino Rossi. The November 2004 election is still not over.

The story so far. After more than 500 votes were "found" in the most heavily Democratic area of the State of Washington, the Republican lead of 261 in the initial count was overturned, first by a machine recount that gave Mr Rossi a lead of 42, then the hand recount that produced a lead of 129 for Democratic Party candidate Christine Gregoire.

The wild discrepancies between electoral districts when it came to the two recounts (some making virtually no changes at all, others boosting one or several candidates votes upwards, yet others reducing the number of accepted ballots) give rise to the suspicion that serious incompetence is at stake or that the result was fixed.

I can't help drawing parallels with the Ukraine, where similar discrepancies in December led to street protests and the eventual re-run of the election. Clearly, the gubernatorial election in Washington state is not considered by locals as epoch-making, which is no bad thing.

The silence of the heavily pro-Democrat media in New York and Washington D.C. is deafening, considering the coverage given to attempts by pressure groups to get the Presidential election result overturned by querying the score in Ohio.

The value of the Washington State election for governor in 2004 is that it has become a microcosm of all the problems facing election organisers in the U.S.A.. Add the problem of time differences and results being declared (sometimes falsely) whilst other people are still voting and one gets a U.S. Presidential election.


Problems with polls

One of the problems with opinion polls in elections is that the margins of error are often greater than the majority for either side.

This can be seen most graphically in the Electoral Vote Predictor for last November's U.S. presidential election.

On election day this map shows what the editors of Electoral Vote Predictor believed the result would be.

Apart from getting the overall result wrong by predicting a john Kerry victory, no fewer than five states were won by the opposite party, and the errors were not all to the Democrats. New Jersey was also called an "exactly tied" state. I note Virginia listed as "Barely Bush" when it was won by about 9 percentage points.

The fault is not with the website editors, although they could have disregarded the less credible Zogby polling.


In praise of RealClearPolitics.com

Mrs Lynne Cheney, the wife of U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney, is quoted from a recent television interview as being a regular reader of blogs, including RealClearPolitics.com.

Mrs Cheney said of blogs in general: "It is a real democratization of information so that people don't have to rely on one or two sources, they've got multiple sources. And I can tell in about two minutes on a blog whether this is someone whose opinion I value or not."

RealClearPolitics in particular Mrs Cheney said that she "certainly looked at a lot during the campaign."

For the basic mechanics of U.S. elections, I have found that the Green Papers is the most encyclopaedic source. If you want to know what the term limits for the Governor of Virginia are (1 four year term) or what the election cycle of U.S. Senators in Utah is (classes 1 and 3), or which are the six states that have been won by every succesful presidential campaign since 1972 (Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio and Tennessee), then the Green Papers is for you.

However, if you want to know what's in the media right now, what the shape of the present political climate is and who's going to win next time, RealClearPolitics is an essential guide.

Not only is the sheer volume of material awesome: the home page alone is almost enough to make me quit blogging. The combination of totally professional opinion poll selection and analysis on the one hand and fearless commentary (on a different page) is a model for the rest of us, including the so-called mainstream.

I don't know what Charlie Cook's politics are, and I suspect that the editors of the Green Papers may have a liberal outlook. Both however have no hesitation in recommending RealClearPolics.com. I suspect that I am not alone in using RealClearPolitics as a portal for non-Republican sites.

The only complaint from me is that the typeface used is not as legible as using Arial would be.


On the Defensive

The New York Times is concerned about the "chequebook politics" employed by U.S. Senator Jon Corzine in the race for the Democratic nomination for the New Jersey governor's election in November this year.

In 2005, there are no elections scheduled for either the U.S. Senate or the House of Representatives, leaving only two gubernatorial elections: New Jersey and Virginia.

With acting governor of New Jersey Richard Codey announcing that he will not stand for a full-term and his predecessor (James E. "Jim" McGreevey)having stood down in controversial circumstances, New Jersey is a relatively good target for a Republican gain.

Meanwhile in Virginia, the state has a one-term of office limit, meaning that Governor Mark Warner (Democrat) cannot stand again. Considering that the previous elected Governor was a Republican and the state's strong Republican showing in statewide elections, and this looks like an even better Republican win prospect.

With 28 Republican governors out of 50, and the tainted election in Washington State still bubbling away quietly, the ambitions for Democrats in 2005 are restricted to holding onto what they have.