But Democratic presidential candidates should hold off measuring the drapes in the Oval Office. The election outcome will turn on voter turnout. With an evenly divided electorate, every vote will count. And therein lies the rub.
The 2000 election debacle, and John Kerry and John Edwards' broken promise "that in this election, every vote would count and every vote would be counted" undermine voter mobilization efforts. African American voters will be particularly disillusioned given that Kerry conceded before all the votes were counted in Ohio. And without a high black voter turnout in Ohio, Florida and other battleground states, Democrats don't stand a snowball's chance of winning.
Republican operatives will make political hay out of the stories of black voters who waited in lines up to five hours for a presidential candidate who conceded before their votes were counted. Kerry's flip-flop on the importance of counting every vote gives Republicans an effective message to demobilize Democratic base voters: Remember Ohio.
At the same time, voters remember "Florida," which has become a metaphor for voter disenfranchisement, voting irregularities and unreliable voting machines.
In 2000, the American public met Chad. In 2006, Chip took center stage in Sarasota County, where paperless voting machines lost more than 18,000 votes in the election to fill the Congressional seat vacated by former Secretary of State Katherine Harris. The election was decided by 386 votes.
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist has since tossed out the state's electronic voting machines. Last month, the General Accountability Office released a preliminary report on what happened. The GAO said it could not conclusively eliminate the paperless voting machines as the cause of the 18,000 undervotes.
After the initial excitement, it didn't take long for voters to lose trust in the new system, as they increasingly deemed DRE too complex, unreliable and insecure; the only thing worse than a confusing paper trail, it turned out, was no paper trail at all.
The high black voter turnout in 2000 exposed the underbelly of Florida's electoral infrastructure. Seven years later, Florida still matters. And because it does, Sen. Bill Nelson recently introduced the "Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2007," which would ban e-voting machines in federal elections by 2012. Sen. Nelson said:
The bottom line is we have to ensure every vote is counted – and, counted properly. Citizens must have confidence in the integrity of their elections.
The Pew Research Center found there is a partisan and racial gap in voters' confidence their vote will be accurately counted. While 79 percent of Republicans have confidence their vote will be counted, only 45 percent of Democrats are sure. The percentage of black voters who express little or no confidence their vote will be counted has doubled since 2004, from 15 percent to 29 percent.
It doesn't take a computer scientist to know there is a correlation between voters' confidence in the integrity of the electoral process and voter turnout. The bottom line: If Democrats fail to address voters' distrust in the machinery of our democracy, they do so at their own peril.