Elections of 2004

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Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I’m Faith Lapidus.

And I’m Steve Ember. Coming up ... results from the state and national elections of two thousand four.

That was Senator John Kerry last Wednesday, telling his supporters that he had lost the presidential election.

President George W. Bush begins his second and final term January twentieth. But first there is the Electoral College tradition. Electors in each state have to meet next month to make the vote official.

More than fifty-nine million people voted for President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. That was fifty-one percent. And that was three and one-half million more than voted for John Kerry and his vice presidential candidate, Senator John Edwards. The Democrats had forty-eight percent.

George Walker Bush is America's forty-third president. But he is the first in sixteen years to win a majority of the popular vote. The last one was his father, in nineteen eighty-eight.

On colored maps on election-night television, red states meant Republican victories. Blue states meant Democratic victories. In the end, the map looked very much like the map in the two thousand election.

Mr. Kerry won all three states on the West Coast -- California, Oregon and Washington state -- as well as Hawaii. He also won the Northeast including New Hampshire, which last time voted for Mr. Bush. And Mr. Kerry won states in the upper Midwest including Minnesota and Wisconsin. But most of the country was red.

The election was decided when a victory for Mr. Bush became clear in Ohio, a large state in the Midwest. There was a long night of waiting. But this election was not as close as many people had expected.

Four years ago, when Mr. Bush faced Al Gore, Americans had to wait more than a month to know their president.

Republicans also increased their strength in Congress in the general elections last Tuesday. Most notably, former Congressman John Thune defeated Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota. Mr. Daschle is the Democratic minority leader in the Senate. Fifty years have passed since a Senate leader of either party was voted out of office.

Republicans gained a majority in both houses ten years ago. In the next Congress, they will control fifty-five of the one hundred seats in the Senate. They will control more than two hundred thirty of the four hundred thirty-five seats in the House of Representatives.

Democrats did score a few victories. A new star in the party, Illinois state Senator Barack Obama, was easily elected to the United States Senate.

Mr. Obama gave a major speech this summer at the Democratic National Convention in Boston. He is the son of a black father from Kenya and a white mother from the United States.

Only two other African Americans have been elected to the Senate since the rebuilding after the Civil War in the eighteen-sixties.

In Colorado, Democrat Ken Salazar, the state attorney general, defeated Republican businessman Pete Coors in a race for the United States Senate. But in Florida, Republican Mel Martinez defeated Democrat Betty Castor, a former state education chief, to replace retiring Senator Bob Graham. Mr. Martinez was born in Cuba. He served President Bush as housing secretary.

Eleven states had to elect governors last week. Here, voters were about as likely to choose Democrats as Republicans.

On the morning of Election Day, long lines formed at schools, community centers and other voting places. And this was not just in the so-called battleground states. Democrats and Republicans had both signed up millions of new voters, many of them young.

Curtis Gans is director of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate, a research group. He says about one hundred twenty million Americans voted. By his estimate, the turnout was the highest since nineteen sixty-eight, at almost sixty percent of possible voters.

Most political experts had suggested that higher numbers of voters would be better for John Kerry. This was not the case.

We get some sense of who voted from the questioning of voters for exit polls. Fifty-four percent were women. Women have outnumbered men in voting for president for the past twenty years. More women chose Senator Kerry. But women were more likely to choose President Bush as four years ago.

Thirty-seven percent of voters said they were Democrats. Thirty-seven percent said they were Republicans. Independents were divided almost evenly between Senator Kerry and President Bush.

Election-day reports said that young people represented the same share of voters as four years ago. But University of Maryland researchers disputed the idea that young voters stayed away. They noted that all age groups increased their voting.

The researchers say the percentage of young people who voted reached about half for the first time in years. In fact, they were the only age group strongly for the Democrats.

Even if not as many young voters showed up as some people had hoped, conservative white Christians did show up. The Republican Party targeted this base of support throughout the campaign. Exit polls found that they made up about one-fourth of all voters. Many experts believe they were the deciding voice.

Terrorism and the economy were major issues to voters. But a national exit poll found that even more people said they cared most about "moral values." These include issues like same-sex marriage and the ending of unwanted pregnancies.

Elections in the United States are organized by local officials. They choose the voting equipment and ballot designs. Four years ago people had many problems voting, especially in Florida.

This year the major parties sent thousands of lawyers to voting places to prepare for anything. By the end of Election Day, however, most of the problems seemed minor.

Spending for federal campaigns this year reached an estimated four thousand million dollars. The Center for Responsive Politics says this is a thirty percent increase from four years ago. The research group says more than one thousand million dollars was spent in the presidential race.

The elections were the first under a new political finance law, known as the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act. This law bans unlimited money, usually from businesses or unions, in federal campaigns. Instead, the law increases the limit on how much individuals can give in direct support of candidates.

Americans also had many state issues to decide. Eleven states asked voters if marriage should be defined as being between a man and a woman. Voters in all eleven states agreed. They approved amendments to their state constitutions to ban same-sex marriages.

In California, a ballot measure to pay for stem cell research passed by fifty-nine percent. The state is to spend three thousand million dollars over ten years. Scientists will investigate possible uses for stem cells from embryos for medical treatments.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, supported the measure. President Bush has restricted federal financing of studies on embryonic stem cells. Opponents say such research destroys life.

In Arizona, voters agreed to require people to prove their American citizenship before they can sign up to vote. The initiative also requires state employees to report illegal immigrants who request public aid. Initiatives are a way for citizens to bypass a state legislature and put a measure to a popular vote.

The Democratic and Republican parties both opposed the measure. But many people in the state say more needs to be done about illegal immigration. Arizona borders Mexico.

In Colorado, voters rejected a proposal to change the way that state awards its nine electoral votes. Almost all states, including Colorado, have a winner-takes-all system.

Voters, however, did agree to require Colorado to get at least ten percent of its electricity from the wind and sun by two thousand fifteen.

Our program was written by Jerilyn Watson, Jill Moss and Caty Weaver, who was also our producer. This is Steve Ember. And this is Faith Lapidus. To send us e-mail, write to [email protected] And join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA, in VOA Special English.


Correction: An earlier version of this report said 13 states now have constitutional bans against same-sex marriage. The correct number is 17.