Tuesday, November 6, 2012

View From A Voter Abroad -- Election Day 2012


And would some Power the small gift give us

To see ourselves as others see us!

It would from many a blunder free us,

And foolish notion:

What airs in dress and gait would leave us,

And even devotion!
(modern language translation of Robert Burn’s “To A Louse”)

When I came to France at the height of the crazy season for presidential elections, I actually thought that those annoying robocalls would get a lock on my cell phone and follow me across the ocean.  Certainly their e-mails to donate more money didn’t stop at our shoreline.

Many people I’ve encountered here have been very aware of our upcoming election, asking all the time who I think will win and if I’ve already voted (yes, absentee before I left).  In fact, they’re more aware than some people back home.  Author Sue Williams Silverman reported on her Facebook page that as late as this weekend she encountered a 30-year old at her beauty salon who not only hadn’t decided for whom she’d vote, she hadn’t even realized the election was Nov. 6.

The last time I was in France during autumn (2007), even the average taxi driver had an opinion about the upcoming 2008 election, and an even louder one about George Bush.  The French news programs have divided their reporting on this visit almost equally between French/European news and reports about Hurricane Sandy and the election, even though they are experiencing their own devastating flooding in the region of Calais in the northern part of their country.

This summer, as I reported, one acquaintance asked at dinner why Mitt Romney seemed to be so far ahead of Barack Obama in fundraising.  Have you ever tried to explain Super-PACs and "Corporations are people, too"?  That’s how attuned to the election those outside our country are.  To some extent, they feel they have a stake in it.  As goes America, so goes the rest of the world.

That’s one of the best benefits of travel.  We can step back from our neighborhood perspective and see our own country with fresh eyes.  Too often, I think we act like the high-born lady in Burns’ poem – feeling so secure and special while unaware that we’re carrying the same crawling vermin as every other person in that church on Sunday.  That’s a bit of the foundation on which the “ugly American” image rests.  We often give off the attitude that we’re the beginning and the end of world politics and culture without understanding how we’re seen by others or without bothering to understand what is going on in their country.

We can learn from other countries.  For example, let’s move to Sunday voting like in Europe.  Let’s have national ID cards recognized across state lines for all essentials like voting and cashing checks and be done with it.  Let’s develop uniform voting procedures (that’s been the hardest to explain, that each state – each county –  makes up its own rules for voting in presidential elections).

But most importantly, let’s remind everyone why we should be the model for democratic politics by getting out to vote, no matter how inconvenient.  If you think someone might not have a ride to the polls, give them a call and help out.  Be patient and cheerful while waiting with your neighbors.  Don’t forget some kind of ID because even if your county doesn’t require it, you never know if some pesky poll watcher let loose to gum up the wheels of democracy might try to make an issue of your identity.

I’ll be staying up late and getting up early to follow the results on my computer and my newly installed cable television.

And if your guy doesn’t win, find a way to move on and compromise on the most essential issues so that America can remain worthy of the attention the rest of the world gives us.


Talk to us in the comments box about your experience voting in America or elsewhere.  What do you think we do right in that area?  What have you seen in other places that you think we could adopt?  Why do you or don’t you choose to vote regularly?


Nadine Feldman said...

In Washington State, ALL voting is done by mail. We filled out our ballots this weekend and walked them to the ballot box, though people can stick them in the mail. It seems to work well at the moment, though I could see the potential for election shenanigans if it were a swing state.

In general, the Europeans I've met are far more informed than we are. We've had lively discussions with Parisian strangers on the Metro and elsewhere.

I'll be so glad when it's over! I hope we have a verdict today!

Julie Farrar said...

Unfortunately, all the voting processes seem to be victims of election shenanigans, swing state or not. This election was proof of that.

northsidefour said...

I do think that one of the very best things about travel is seeing the US from a different vantage point. I was in England the summer before the 2004 election and was shocked and thrilled to see just how closely they were following what was going on here. As for my voting experience, I live in Chicago, it never makes sense but I love voting!

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