As the sun was about to set on election day, I took a leisurely stroll along Washington's Massachusetts Avenue on my way to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Along the way, I saw many people wearing stickers with the message ``I voted.''
The stickers are given at polling stations to voters to encourage people to cast their ballots.
Jessica Mathews, president of the Carnegie Endowment, told me she had just received a phone call from a friend in Ohio. The friend said, ``It rained in torrents. People had to stand in line for four hours before they could cast their votes. No one left the queue.''
``Across the nation, voters seemed determined to stick to their guns,'' she said.
The United States is divided. Both the Republicans and Democrats refused to concede on election night.
I ended up staying up all night, watching television at The Asahi Shimbun's American General Bureau for the final results-but in vain.
According to a January 2003 Gallup poll, 45.5 percent of Americans supported the Republicans and 45.2 percent the Democrats.
With such an intense two-party system, every presidential election tends to look like a clinch between two fighters in a boxing match.
This year's presidential election was almost a virtual plebiscite on the Bush administration's policy on terrorism and Iraq.
But as of March, 90 percent of American voters had made up their minds about which party to vote for. The entire nation is clearly divided into Republican and Democratic camps.
A wide gap between the two camps over ``values'' on issues such as abortion, gay rights and gun control underlies the situation. This is why the election was dubbed American ``cultural war.''
This time, President George W. Bush wooed right-wing religious organizations and other groups that support his stand on these problems and won 3.5 million votes more than his contender, John Kerry.
Most of the time, elections are a war of words and images with no bullets. But this year's presidential election stood out from others in the way it came to resemble guerrilla warfare, or more aptly, a ghastly war of terrorism with both sides aggressively casting aspersions on each other.
Supporters of both camps took the election so seriously that they acted as if the world would end if they lost.
Such a mood was particularly prevalent among young people.
John Zogby, president and CEO of the polling company Zogby, called this year's presidential election the ``Armageddon election,'' referring it to the biblical battle that would end the world.
Under such circumstances, seemingly trivial differences lead to partisan strife.
The following is a story I heard from a friend, who is an influential Republican: He belongs to a prestigious golf club in the Midwest with a limited membership of 50.
When he had lunch there the other day, two gentlemen at the next table started shouting at each other at the top of their voices. They were talking about their evaluation of Vice President Dick Cheney but the argument became so emotional that they couldn't stop yelling.
According to my friend, ``One was a graduate of Harvard and the other of Brown and both are executives of leading companies.'' He called the scene ``the worst scandal in the club's history.''
The magazine Time described the election as an ``uncivil war'' as opposed to civil war.
And the victor tends to believe and act as if ``might makes right.''
Unless election laws and procedures are reformed, it will become increasingly difficult to strictly observe election rules. Moreover, courts, not voters, decides disputed election results.
This could undermine the effects of elections as a political catharsis. Properly speaking, elections should have a refreshing, purifying effect like a clear day after a storm. But confusion over election results makes it difficult to achieve such effects.
What happened to the democracy in which the United States takes pride?
It becomes a serious issue when Americans and the international community start to doubt the legitimacy of U.S. governance and policy.
Four years ago, the Bush administration came into being with the difference of a single vote-in the Supreme Court. The fact that it went to war with Iraq without just cause subsequently gave rise to distrust and antipathy for the administration.
If the legitimacy of the election results is questioned once again, it will damage U.S. prestige further.
Concerning elections, Soviet leader Josef Stalin once said: ``Those who cast votes decide nothing. Those who count the votes decide everything.''
That may have been true under single-party dictatorship. But who would have thought the United States would be reduced to the same level.
Stalin may be laughing at America from his grave.