Despite the title and the subject of this post, I’m not going to turn this into a stump speech. After all, most of you probably already know or can guess my political leanings. Instead, this post is about civic duty and the exercise of our rights. As an American expatriate living in France, my view of the current election season back home is obviously a bit different. I read the same online news as most Americans and I regularly communicate via Facebook and Skype with my family and friends in America, but I also get to witness the campaigns through the lens of French society. I read election coverage in the French media as well and I often have the honor and — one might say — the burden of discussing it with my family and friends here. That certainly changes the perspective.
Looking at it from the outside, it’s easier to see how we Americans take our right to vote for granted and — with our unique Electoral College system — assume that our individual voices just aren’t that important, especially if we live in places where the election results are foregone conclusions (whether that’s Oklahoma or the District of Columbia or any number of states in between). Whether or not an individual vote will change the outcome on November 6 is really beside the point, though, isn’t it? After all, the very fact that we have the right to go to the ballot box (or the voting machine … or the post office with an absentee ballot in hand) is the result of centuries of struggle by generations of Americans: those who risked execution as traitors to their King; those who were lynched as “uppity” for trying to exercise their rights; those who faced down billy clubs, fire hoses, and attack dogs on the Alabama asphalt; yes, even those who risk being turned away from the polls in six and half weeks. Sometimes, you have to exercise the right in order to honor the right.
When I witnessed this year’s elections in the Middle East, where most voted for the very first time in a truly free election, I was moved by the immensity of that moment for them. Every time I see an image of a voter in another part of the world proudly holding up an ink-stained finger to show that she’s voted, my heart swells. In May, after the French presidential elections, I read that voter turnout here was 81%. Then I remembered that, back home in 2008, our voter turnout was just 62% — and that was the highest in a generation. So, let’s be honest with ourselves for a minute. Setting aside comparisons with other countries and our own previous election cycles, is 62% good enough? I don’t think so. When less than 2/3 of eligible voters come out to vote, I don’t think we’re doing nearly enough to honor the legacy of those who struggled and died to gain and preserve this right for us. We can do better.
When I walked to the post office in La Courneuve this afternoon to mail my absentee ballot back to DC and I posed for a photo outside, I was beaming with pride. I was standing on the shoulders of the men and women who came before me and who left me a rich democratic heritage. But the work of democracy is never done, and we have a long way to go together. So, I encourage you … I implore you to exercise your franchise on November 6.
Your vote is your right!
P.S. — If you are an American expatriate like me and you haven’t requested your absentee ballot yet, get a move on! There’s not much time left to act. If you need assistance, please click here.
© 2012 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved