ALL politics are local, the late US Speaker Tip O'Neill once famously remarked: and, as we go to Press, it may be that a few votes in a small area of Florida will appear to have decided the name of the next US President. How local can you get in a constituency of hundreds of millions of voters!!
Of course, there is something of a numerical illusion in such an image: the reality is that the tiny number of votes marks only the difference between the candidates: the election will in fact have been decided by every vote counted, not merely the last few hundred.
But the extraordinarily close presidential contest illuminates more brilliantly than any in living memory the adage of political activists that every vote counts.
The prolonged drama in Florida has given the whole world - and American citizens in particular - a practical demonstration of the best and the worst aspects of ballot-box democracy itself.
For many, the Gore-Bush contest provided the first occasion on which they had ever heard of the Electoral College, for instance: this device, which has now been debated exhaustively in the media, ensures that the smaller States cannot be ignored.
Some, in the name of both efficiency and democracy, might prefer that the presidential election should be a straightforward one person/one vote election right across the United States, with a uniform ballot paper that was kept separate from all the other contests taking place on the same day.
On the other hand, such a streamlined electoral process would inevitably lead to an unbalanced concentration of campaigning and of special-interest lobbying in the areas of highest population concentration. Mega-cities like New York and Los Angeles would dominate in a manner which would in effect disenfranchise voters in more dispersed populations. …