|What an achievement! A sticker in Virginia for those who have voted. (AFP)
Washington, Nov. 7: In India, candidates are known to distribute liquor to get votes. In America, they give vaccines to get the voter to the booth.
Americans voted in mid-term elections amidst unconventional efforts to attract the usually polling booth-shy electorate to cast their ballots for 435 seats in the US House of Representatives, 33 seats in the Senate and 36 governorships in states across the country.
It’s not always the candidate who offers the incentive directly to the voter. For instance, in Florida, where those who voted got free vaccination against flu, which normally costs $25, the programme was organised by the local authorities, aligned to one of the two competing parties.
Some places offered vaccination against pneumonia for voters over 65, which would otherwise have cost them $40.
The blandishment isn’t always so boring. In Arizona, everyone who voted has been entered into a lottery: the first prize is $1 million.
On the eve of voting, many New Yorkers returned home from work to discover that Oscar-winning actor Robert De Niro had phoned them and left a message in their absence. Go out and vote for Hillary Clinton, said the message. Hillary is seeking her second term in the Senate.
The outcome of today’s congressional elections could determine whether she seeks the US presidency in 2008.
Also campaigning for the former First Lady were legendary singer Tony Bennett and actor Chevy Chase, along with other Hollywood celebrities.
In Colorado, Democrats hired a fleet of limousines to take their supporters to polling booths.
In California, authorities took to heart the proverb that if Mohammed does not go to the mountain, the mountain will go to Mohammed. They customised a bus to serve as a mobile polling station and went to the homes of voters reluctant to walk to election centres.
Such gimmicks have become necessary because polling in US mid-term elections have never exceeded 40 per cent in the last two decades.
In presidential elections, voting has hovered around 50 per cent in recent years — except in 1992 and 2004 — but that figure gives a distorted picture.
In recent elections, 20 to 30 per cent of eligible voters in America were not even registered to vote.
The efforts to persuade voters to cast their ballots was intense this year because Republicans and Democrats believed that their fate depended on the polling percentage. The Republicans have traditionally been better at mobilising their base, especially the religious right.
But there were fears that conservative voters, disgusted by sex and corruption scandals in the George W. Bush-led establishment in Washington, may opt to sit at home and not exercise their franchise today.
On the other side, the Democrats saw voter mobilisation as the only chance of regaining control of both or at least one House of the Congress after a gap of 12 years.
Of all the stunts used today, the Arizona lottery has been the most complicated. It required approval by voters today as a legislative measure. Mark Osterloh, the brain behind the measure,had sweetened his proposal by suggesting that once it is approved, it should be extended to offer other prizes, such as cars or household goods for lucky voters.
Osterloh, a failed gubernatorial candidate in Arizona in 2002, thought up the initiative after he found out that only 60 per cent of eligible citizens in his state were registered to vote. Of this, merely 56 per cent turned out to vote when he was a candidate.
Some of the gimmicks have not been without controversy. In Bush’s home state of Texas, where the Republicans are somewhat comfortably placed, Houston mayor Bill White ordered municipal health officials to stop offering free flu vaccine at “vote and vaccinate” clinics near polling stations.
White’s order came after Republicans complained that poor African American and Hispanic voters were likely to take advantage of the offer and that Democrats would unfairly benefit.
As polling stations opened, there were early reports of problems with electronic voting machines and power supply from some states.