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Election Day in America; Razor Thin Margins in Key Races; Making Voting Mandatory in America?; Marijuana on Ballots in Four States Today

Aired November 04, 2014 - 09:30   ET



CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, in case you have forgotten, it is an Election Day in Alaska.

Let me take you out to Lawrenceville, Georgia; that's in northern Atlanta where people are going to the polls to cast their ballots. As you know, there's a very hotly contested Senate race in the State of Georgia. And I guess officially the results are underway, or at least we hope so, although there may be a runoff in Georgia because it's really close there.

Also in Greensboro, North Carolina, we have pictures of people going to the polls. We know that early voting in North Carolina was substantial. People were saying like more people expected voted in early voting and hopefully that will hold true, in the way people traditionally vote in these midterm elections.

Also in Iowa, we have record from the Commissioner of Elections. He reports that early voting in the run-up to today was substantial and they're seeing good to moderate turnouts since the polls opened at 7:00 a.m. Eastern Time. Of course, we will keep you posted.

Let's head to New Hampshire now, shall we? Voters lined up before the polls even opened at this Manchester precinct, where the race between incumbent Jeanne Shaheen and challenger Scott Brown is still too close to call. CNN's Brian Todd is there. Good morning.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. Voter turnout is going to crucial here in New Hampshire. We had some long lines here when the polls opened about 3-1/2 hours ago. They have tapered off here, but a very steady voter stream here at the First Ward voting section in Manchester, New Hampshire. This is the busiest ward in New Hampshire. Its biggest city. And, as you mentioned, the vote is very, very close between Democratic incumbent Jeanne Shaheen and Republican challenger Scott Brown.

Voter turnout, they say, is going to be crucial. They expect a good turnout, a pretty heavy turnout. More than 50 percent. And they also expect, according to the Secretary of State's office, more people than ever to come and register to vote for the first time today.

So according to one analyst we talked to, that favors Jeanne Shaheen. But this is a razor thin margin right now. Depending on what poll you look at, Shaheen is ahead by maybe two points. Another poll shows Brown ahead by about two points.

This is old school voting, Carol. We love this. They come in here, they sign up. Then you get your poker chip. Check it out. You get a little poker chip. Then you go over here and you get your ballot. You fill it in in one of those booths over there, then it goes into a tabulator face down like a copy machine. They print it out in ticker tape and they tabulate it here; they take it over to City Hall. This is great, old school voting. Kids are coming in and going into the booths with their parents. This is what you like to see on Midterm Election Day, Carol.

COSTELLO: You like to see people voting, that's for sure. Brian Todd, many thanks to you.

Let's head to Florida now, shall we? The governor's race there also neck in neck where challenger Charlie Crist, a Republican turned Independent turned Democrat, is in a virtual dead heat with the incumbent Republican governor, Rick Scott.

CNN's Erin McPike is in Florida this morning. Good morning.

ERIN MCPIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Carol, good morning. And, you're right, it's neck and neck and lots of the voters here in Florida say that they really don't like either Charlie Crist or Rick Scott. Well, there's a Libertarian on the ballot, his name is Adrian Wyllie. And he is polling between 6 and 10 percent. So he could tip the balance and take support from either one of them. Pollsters said originally he was pulling from Rick Scott; now they think he's pulling from Charlie Crist. But, again, it's still a razor thin margin here in Florida as well.

But I would tell you, in terms of early vote, the turnout is much higher than expected. 3.1 million Floridians have already come out to vote. Now, looking back at 2010, Rick Scott went in to an Election Day with 272,000 more Republicans than Democrats coming to vote early. This year, going into Election Day, that margin is just 100,000 more Republicans than Democrats. So again, Carol, it's very tight. But what happens tonight will matter, because if the margin is less than half of a percentage point, it triggers an automatic recount.

COSTELLO: Interesting. Some say pot could actually swing Florida's deadlocked race. Tell us about that.

MCPIKE: This was a little bit of a political push. Now, in order to get medical marijuana passed as an initiative here in Florida, it needs 60 percent to pass. That seems unlikely, but the Democrats have put that on the ballot in the hopes that it would pull some unlikely voters out to the polls who wouldn't vote in a midterm election year. But there's been money spent on both sides. The Republicans are obviously campaigning against this. And it may backfire, but consultants I've talked to on both sides of the aisles say that they don't really think this particular measure is going to skew things in either direction.

COSTELLO: Well, we'll just have to see, won't we? Erin McPike, reporting live from Florida this morning, thanks so much.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, how excited are you about these midterm elections? If history is any guide, probably you're not so excited and probably won't vote. But what if you were forced to vote? We'll talk about that next.


COSTELLO: Only 40 percent of the electorate is expected to actually vote today. That means a minority will decide who leads the country. It's sad, but it's become a fact of life in America. The question is how do you change that? Well, how about you force Americans to vote? You require them to vote.

William Galston is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. He wrote a provocative op-ed on suggesting just that. Good morning.


COSTELLO: So forcing Americans to vote would be a good idea?

GALSTON: Well, it's worked in a lot of countries around the world, including countries such as Australia that are pretty much like America. Australia instituted a mandatory voting, and the very next election after they did, turnout rose from 59 percent to 91 percent and stayed above 90 percent ever since. And that's with a fine the equivalent of a traffic ticket if you don't show up to vote.

COSTELLO: Interesting. You also say that forcing people to vote would actually eliminate partisanship. How so?

GALSTON: Right now -- and survey after survey confirms this -- it's the most passionate, partisan, ideologically committed people who turn out to vote, especially in midterm elections. And so people who are moderates, who are less attached to the two political parties, who are less ideologically polarized, are the ones who stay home. What that means is the campaigns are all about mobilizing the most passionate voters. I have nothing against passion, but we also need to hear from people who are less passionate but just as important.

COSTELLO: Well, you know what those passionate people are probably saying right now. If you forced every American to vote, you would get some voters who are just voting because they have to and they have no idea about the issues or the candidates.

GALSTON: Well, I can understand that fear, but in fact, the evidence from Australia and other countries indicates that once people know they have to vote, they start taking it more seriously. In the same way that if you know you have to show up for jury duty and serve on a jury, you're going to pay attention, even if you didn't want to be on that jury.

COSTELLO: Do you really think this will ever fly in America? Because Americans don't like to be forced to do anything, frankly? GALSTON: Well, if you know Australians, they don't like to be forced

to do anything either. Look, let's be practical. This is not going to be instituted all at once as a national norm. What about, you know, if half a dozen willing states step forward and experiment with it for a few election cycles?

I think two things are going to happen. First of all, it would have a dramatic effect that would be appealing to the rest of the country. And secondly, I think it would reveal very clearly that this is not some awful instance of state compulsion, and could I make an old fashioned civic argument? You're not required to do all that much as a citizen, and it seems to me that asking citizens who enjoy all the rights and privileges of American citizenship to vote once every two years is not too much to ask.

COSTELLO: It is not too much to ask at all, and it should be your civic duty. You are correct. Thank you so much for the interesting idea. William Galston from the Brookings Institution, I appreciate it.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, it's a pot push on election day. From recreational to medical marijuana, do the measures have a shot at passing? We'll talk to the man who helped Colorado pass so many pro- pot laws next.



COSTELLO (voice-over): The polls are now open and, as you can see, there's Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey casting his ballot at a local polling station. And there he goes, doing his civic duty. And, of course, all politicians of all stripes are asking you to get out and vote in these midterm elections because, of course, it is your civic duty and, of course, it could change the balance of power in Washington. Yes, vote cast.


COSTELLO (on camera): All right, let's talk about pot, marijuana. It's making a push again on ballots nationwide. Today voters in four states will have to decide if marijuana is right for them. Legal marijuana, I should say. In Alaska and Oregon, they'll decide if recreational marijuana should be allowed. In Florida, it's the use of medical marijuana, and in Washington state there's an advisory question asking if marijuana growers should get a tax break.

But marijuana could be a factor for Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado if he loses his re election bid today. Leading a state where pot has proven to be big business, Hickenlooper quickly had to back away from comments he made last month, calling it reckless to legalize marijuana. A day later, though, he toned down his language, calling the pro-pot law risky.

Mason Tvert is the communication director for the Marijuana Policy Project. He joins us now, live from Denver. Good morning. MASON TVERT, COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, MARIJUANA POLICY PROJECT: Good

morning, Carol.

COSTELLO: So, I imagine you have been a very busy man. Have you slept?

TVERT: Oh, you know, here and there, but there's really a lot going on around the country, which says something about where things are headed with marijuana policy.

COSTELLO: There is a lot going on across the country, and NBC reported the Marijuana Policy Project, the pro-pot lobby, has poured $700,000 into Alaska's yes ballot measure. That's just Alaska. Public opinion polls seem to favor legalization in Alaska, yet the polls have narrowed closer to voting day. Why do you think that is?

TVERT: You know, for 80 years we've had people trying to scare voters into keeping marijuana illegal. They've exaggerated its potential harms and really just said just about anything to keep the substance, that's actually safer than alcohol, illegal for adults. But voters are seeing through that, that's why we're seeing public support at an all time high, and hopefully we're going to see that translate into some victories today. But win or lose, things are headed in one direction, it's just a question of how quickly.

COSTELLO: Well, even the Colorado governor, as I said, is not overly enthusiastic about legalization anymore, despite the revenue it's brought to his state. Some say legalization could pave the way for the pot industry to hook kids just like, you know, tobacco companies did.

TVERT: Well, the big difference here is that tobacco kills about 600,000 Americans each year, alcohol kills tens of thousands, marijuana, no deaths are really attributed to marijuana. It's an entirely different substance, so it's really an unfair comparison.

But really, you know, what we're seeing is that more and more Americans are coming to recognize that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol. It is less addictive, it's less damaging to the body, and it doesn't contribute to the violence that we see associated with alcohol. So, why on earth would we punish adults who are simply using this safer substance?

COSTELLO: Why did the governor of Colorado say legalizing marijuana is risky? Why did he say that now?

TVERT: Well, you know, not everyone's as evolved when it comes to this issue as others, but, you know, I think that it's safe to say most voters in Colorado are feeling this way. A majority of Americans, according to all the polls, feel that marijuana should be legal. You know, elected officials tend to be a little bit behind the rest of the public when it comes to social issues like this, but more and more we're seeing elected officials take this issue on, and we hope to see state legislatures around the country adopting laws similar to Colorado's within the next few years. COSTELLO: If you are successful in these states with ballot issues to

legalize marijuana in some way, shape, or form, this could set the table for 2016. Why is that?

TVERT: Well, regardless of what happens today, we expect 2016 to be a very big year. We're likely to see initiatives on the ballot in upwards of five states, Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, and in all of these states during a presidential election, especially when there's more voters turning out, we could see the tides turn, and we could really see a big shift at the state level that forces our federal government to revisit this and take it seriously.

COSTELLO: Mason Tvert, thanks so much for being with me, I appreciate it.

TVERT: Thank you for having me.

COSTELLO: I'm back in a minute.