When will we know?

Lots of factors affect when we'll know the outcome – lines at the polls, counting time, how close the race is, weather

    As the political sage of Al Jazeera’s US Midterm election coverage, the question I get asked most is: "When will we know who wins?" The answer I usually give is: "When we know it."

    Tuesday is Election Day in the United States. All 435 members of the House of Representatives are being contested, so are 37 Senate seats, and a number of governor's offices. Lots of factors affect when we'll know the outcome – lines at the polls, counting time, how close the race is, weather delays ... after polls close in each state, it could be minutes, it could be hours. Or in the case of a recount, maybe even weeks.  

    I passed by a local polling station on my way to work this morning. There were only a few people in line, a far cry from 2008 when the queue was around the block. That's typical for a midterm election. Only the most committed vote.   

    With nearly $4bn worth of ads and the barrage of robocalls from candidates asking for support, it's hard to imagine anyone who doesn't have an opinion about the Midterms. But it's true. Turnout is generally lower than a presidential election. In the 2006 Midterm election, turnout was 48 per cent of those eligible. When President Barack Obama was elected in 2008, the turnout was 64 per cent.

    The country will know soon what the makeup of the next Congress is. The White House will begin a new strategy for dealing with a potentially difficult legislative body. Administration officials have already begun strategising. The president has even called a news conference for Wednesday afternoon. Presumably he'll hold out an olive branch to Republicans who've been vilifying him out on the campaign trail. The next chapter of his presidency begins then.

    The perpetual campaign is a fixture in American politics. Even though voters in the US and viewers around the world may be hoping for a break from watching the sausage get made in Congress and negative ads on the airwaves, they won't get it. Because as soon as the results of this election are known, the 2012 US presidential campaign begins ...


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