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A vote for history?
The chance to see either a black man or a woman in the White House has many excited about voting
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Election 2008, more local and state election coverage.

See our Voters Guide for key information you need, plus a link to sample ballots. On Election Day, check back throughout the day for updates on voting traffic at local polls and all night long for election results as they come in.

On the Issues: Where the candidates stand

Our Views: The quest for leaders

History on the ballot

Depending on the results of the fall presidential election, history will be made one way or another. Here are some of the firsts we could see on the night of Nov. 4:

  • For the first time, the nation will have a president elected outside of the continental United States. Barack Obama was born in Honolulu, John McCain in the Panama Canal Zone.
  • The nation will elect a sitting senator as president for only the third time in our history (John F. Kennedy in 1960 and Warren G. Harding in 1920 were the other two).
  • McCain would be the oldest man elected as a first-term president at age 72. If Obama is chosen, he will be the fifth youngest at 47.
  • McCain would become the first veteran of the Vietnam War to reach the White House. Other presidents served in uniform during that period but not in combat.
  • If Obama is elected, he will become the first black man to reach the nation’s highest office, 45 years after passage of the Civil Rights Act.
  • Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin would become the nation’s first female vice president, 88 years after women were granted the right to vote. She’ll also be the sixth youngest at 44, and the first born in Idaho.
  • Joe Biden would become the first-ever Catholic vice president and only the second born in Pennsylvania.
  • For the first time in 16 years, the nation will have a president not named Bush or Clinton.

No matter how the votes fall at the polls Tuesday, this year’s election will prove a first in the history of the United States.

Voters are likely to flood the polls in this general election — and many already have done so in early voting — and the country will see its first minority president in Sen. Barack Obama or its first female vice president in Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

Is this historic possibility bringing more people to the polls?

Obama’s race may bring more voters to the polls than Palin’s gender, according to one area political scientist.

The Illinois senator’s candidacy has resulted in a record number of black voter registration said Charles Bullock, a political scientist at the University of Georgia.

Georgia doesn’t track early voters by party, but it does by race. About 1.4 million Georgians have already cast ballots, and blacks are voting in disproportionate numbers.

Black voters make up about 35 percent of those who have already voted in Georgia — a big increase from the 2004 election, when 25 percent of the state’s electorate was black. Blacks voted for Obama by ratio of 9-1 in Georgia’s Democratic primary this year.

"Palin doesn’t seem to have the same kind of impact on women," Bullock said. "It may have been anticipated by John McCain that it would, but it doesn’t seem to."

Lauren Bell, Hall County’s Obama delegate to the Democratic National Convention this summer, said she does not believe people are voting for the Illinois senator simply because of his race.

"I don’t think anybody has voted really just for Barack just because he is black," Bell said. "I think it makes it a historic moment, but I think he was really tested through the primary and from the beginning he didn’t really have a lot of the black vote.

"He had to prove himself to all the races in the population."

Married women might be more likely to vote for the McCain-Palin ticket, but not simply because of Palin’s gender, Bullock said.

"That fits the pattern over the last several elections where married women have been much more Republican than their single sisters have been," Bullock said. "Palin seems not to have offset, but it has been a pattern out for about 20 years."

The difference between black voters’ magnetism toward Obama and women’s draw to Palin could be attributed to the experience of this generation of voters, Bullock said.

In today’s voting population, white women have not experienced the same kinds of obstacles and limitations that black voters have.

"Younger women may not be as motivated simply on the basis of gender as their ... grandmothers," Bullock said. "(Black voters’) experiences are such that, while certainly the nation’s made dramatic progress, I think there’s still more of a sense that there’s discrimination or obstacles out there."

Black voters who may have been denied the right to vote early in their lives are now able to vote for a president that looks like them, and Bullock said some people feel that to be adequately represented that they have to be represented by a person that looks like them.

Hall County’s first female elected official, Emily "Sissy" Lawson, who was elected to the Gainesville City Council in 1986, said having someone in an elected office that looks like the voters makes the official more approachable.

"It makes it a grassroot effort," Lawson said. "Everyone is represented and can identify with an elected official ... you feel more comfortable approaching someone for advice about your local government or your national, state, whatever they represent, you feel comfortable."

Said Bullock: "Bill Clinton made this a part of his administration; he wanted to have a cabinet that looked like America so he wanted to have more women, more minorities. Probably for most people it’s not that big of a thing. ... More importantly for an awful lot of people would be the substantive stand, you know, liberal women are not flocking to support Sarah Palin."

Bell agrees. She says this year’s election is too important to vote simply based on identity and descriptive representation. The issues matter too much.

"I think people are actually looking past whether it’s a woman or a black man, and I don’t think anyone would vote for them just because of that," Bell said. "I think they are looking for whether or not each candidate will address the issues that are important to the voter."

People may not vote based on race and gender, but the fact that minorities and women are in the running make the election more interesting, Lawson said.

"I think that if you have someone that you’re excited about you’re going to get involved and be interested in events, and that’s wonderful," Lawson said.

No matter the reason — and there is a reason — voter turnout in the presidential primaries proved that this presidential election has piqued the interest of voters, Bullock said.

"It’s something about this presidential election. It’s not that we can say ‘well, people have just lately become far more interested in politics,’" he said.

Whichever ticket nabs the election, it will certainly change the way the country imagines the person behind the desk in the Oval Office.

"It will certainly go down in the history books ... but it will also probably mean that having that characteristic will be less significant in the future," Bullock said.

But the historical moment will soon take a back seat to the job at hand, Bell said.

"Whoever gets the job that day, they’re going to have a lot of work."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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