President Obama has won reelection. The Republican Party faces a reckoning about its identity. In Florida, however, the election goes on.
The state whose dysfunctional voting methods traumatized the nation 12 years ago is still up in the air. The state was supposed to have been a major presidential battleground, but the morning after election day, it was still a question mark.
Instead of butterfly ballots and hanging chads, the problem appears to have been caused by a long ballot, high turnout and some mechanical failures.
Even the president, in his victory speech in Chicago, acknowledged the problem:
“I want to thank every American who participated in this election, whether you voted for the very first time or waited in line for a very long time -- by the way, we have to fix that.”
On Wednesday morning, all precincts in Florida had finished reporting, and the totals gave an edge of more than 46,000 votes to Obama, about one-half of 1%. Even without Florida’s 29 electoral votes, Obama accrued far more than the 270 he needed to secure reelection. (Without Florida, the total was 303 electoral votes for the president to GOP challenger Mitt Romney’s 206.)
The worst of the problems occurred in Miami-Dade, the state’s largest county. Long lines began before the polls opened Tuesday and never let up; when the election was called for Obama, people were still standing in line at dozens of precincts. The Miami Herald reported that the last Miami-Dade voter finished just after 1 a.m.
A number of counties had not yet counted their absentee ballots. In Miami-Dade, elections workers still had to count 20,000 absentees. In Pinellas County, which includes St. Petersburg, there were about 9,000 absentees yet to be counted. Elections officials said it would be Wednesday afternoon before the results would be final.
John Card, an attorney heading the Elections Protections monitoring effort in Miami-Dade on Tuesday, said voting actually went smoothly in much of the county. But in some precincts, he said, it was a “debacle.”
Voters faced a ballot filled with complicated constitutional amendments and local issues. For some, it was 12 pages long. In some crowded precincts, scanners malfunctioned. In others, poll workers were confused about the state’s new rules on address changes, Card said. Some voters were told they were ineligible to vote; others may have been purged from rolls improperly.
“I do think they were a little overwhelmed in some places,” he said. “A number of people got frustrated and left,” said Card, whose organization is a coalition of advocacy groups. “The system played out in a way that denied them the right to vote.”
The president’s victory may not have packed the same emotional punch as his historic 2008 win as the first African American to win the presidency. But early Wednesday morning, as he stood on a Chicago stage to address the nation, he seemed to reconjure the conciliatory, high-minded politician the country first got to know four years ago.
That man -- with the inspiring speeches and the ability to make Americans believe in their better angels -- had sometimes disappeared under the fatigue, stress or just plain aversion to the brutal campaign process.
The president attempted to set a peaceable tone for a nation inflamed by hot partisan sentiment, stoked by the stunning amounts of money that had flowed unimpeded into the race.
Though his first-term accomplishments, such as healthcare reform and a stimulus bill that most economists say helped stave off a second Great Depression, were accomplished with almost no Republican support, he vowed to be better at bipartisanship in his second term.
“I am looking forward to reaching out and working with leaders of both parties to meet the challenges we can only solve together: reducing our deficit, reforming our tax code, fixing our immigration system, freeing ourselves from foreign oil.”
He also said he planned to meet with Romney “to talk about where we can work together to move this country forward.”
Before the president spoke, Romney, 65, the former Massachusetts governor, had conceded the election in a gracious but wistful speech before downcast supporters in Boston.
“I so wish that I’d been able to fulfill your hopes to lead the country in a different direction,” Romney said in his brief speech, “but the nation chose another leader and so Ann and I join with you to earnestly pray for him and this great nation.”
Meanwhile, in Washington, Republicans began to grapple with the party’s future. The party kept control of the House but, despite its hopes for much of the election cycle, did not wrest control of the Senate from Democrats. Montana incumbent Jon Tester was declared the victor over Republican Denny Rehberg on Wednesday morning, saving for Democrats one of Republicans’ biggest pick-up hopes.
With Romney vanquished, the party’s putative leaders are its top legislators, House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
But Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, often touted as the ideological leader of the party’s conservative wing, will have solidified his importance as the GOP grapples with its ideological future, as well as with the demographic changes that contributed to its failure to recapture the White House.
In a statement released after midnight Tuesday, Boehner congratulated Obama, noted that the Republicans have maintained their majority in the House of Representatives, and cautioned the president.
“If there is a mandate,” said Boehner, “it is a mandate for both parties to find common ground and take steps together to help our economy grow and create jobs, which is critical to solving our debt.”