I like voting in the US. It is quite straightforward and fairly well organized. The voting booth is usually some place near your home. When you arrive everything is clearly marked; you know where to go, what to do. If you have any doubt, there are always representatives of the parties who are eager to help. Once you enter the hall and identify yourself, you get the ballot and go to the machine to record your vote. It is swift and simple.
As I stood in line, I also liked the fact that I saw around me a wide variety of people. I saw men and women, old and young, Hispanics, African Americans and Asians like me. They had all come to vote early, because they had things to do on election day or they simply preferred to vote early. They had all come enthusiastically to discharge their citizen duty and vote.
I know, of course, that this picture is misleading. 45 percent of US adults – nearly half! –simply do not care to vote. Doubtless a small percentage may be people who are traveling, have to attend to some emergency or simply forget, but a voting percentage of 55 percent is disturbingly low, compared to Belgium’s 87 percent or Turkey’s 83 percent. Whatever values our schools, colleges and universities may be inculcating in the young, citizen spirit is not among those. A wiseacre once said that an American would rather cross an ocean to fight for democracy than cross the street to vote for a candidate.
There is a concerted Republican effort to create more roadblocks. Many states require identifying documents – some prescribe photos – which are harder for the poor, elderly or handicapped. This is ostensibly to prevent impersonation, though there is not the slightest evidence of significant fraud. Only 31 cases have occurred since 2000. On that excuse some state have ‘purged’ their voter rolls, invariably to eliminate minority community members and gain a political advantage. The US has the dubious glory of being, not only the world’s largest jailer with 2.2 million in prison and 4.8 million on probation or parole who can’t vote, but also the only country to deny votes to people even after they have served their sentence, in some cases for ever. Since African Americans represent 39 percent of the incarcerated, nearly three times their share of the population, this too has a clear political angle to hamstring minority voting.
What troubles me about all this is that partisan politics is intruding on a very fundamental process of a democracy: the election of key leaders. Whatever else we disagree on, we should be able to agree on the right of every person in our society to express his or her opinion with a vote. If we deny a person that, we are undermining the very roots of a participative society.
I voted and voted comfortably. I was happy to vote against the people who seem not to care whether every other person can do so too.