There were two forces at work when Americans turned out in record numbers this week. And the contrast between them could not have been more stark. On one side, the forces of democracy, an estimated 135million of them. Aged 18 to 100, they stood in line for hours, some from as early as 4am, and even braved pouring rain (that climatic bête noire of election turnouts) to vote overwhelmingly against the politics of the past and for something new. On the other side, the forces of anti-democracy. Besuited and benighted ‘watchers’ from both the Obama and McCain camps who were convinced that fraudulent voters or a ‘Whitelash’ would jeopardise the election, and who hoped – certainly the McCainites did – that the election result would have to be decided in the rarefied courts far away from the rowdy, rain-sodden queues of the democratic process.
As soon as it was known that voter turnout would be high, the elites of both the Democratic and Republican parties panicked. This was captured perfectly in a Fox News headline on Monday: ‘Expected high voter turnout has government officials, watchdog groups on alert.’ (3) The threatened outpouring of millions of voters on to the streets of America – some of whom were given chairs and umbrellas by schoolchildren to make their wait to vote more tolerable – was treated as a dangerous thing. In the days before the election, both McCainites and Obamaites began to discuss the electorate, not as the decider of America’s fate, but as the potential wrecker of the parties’ political plans.