I just voted! ✔ How about you?

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.

“The First Vote”

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. Continue reading I just voted! ✔ How about you?

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“Aux urnes, citoyens!” • “To the ballot boxes, citizens!”

Today, like some kind of United Nations election observer (or a self-appointed election journalist for the online media), I witnessed my first foreign election in progress. April 22, 2012 : It’s the first round of the French presidential elections, and I tagged along as Michel went to his polling place and exercised his franchise. It was a proud moment for him and for me. It was even memorialized on Facebook. Here’s the picture …

“Michel Denis Pouradier … a voté.” • “Michel Denis Pouradier … has voted.” © 2012 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved

As an American — coming from a tradition that likes to view of itself as the father (even the guarantor) of democracy around the world — I found it very intriguing to watch the voting process here. As in America, the voting system differs from town to town, but here in La Courneuve, they still use paper ballots and ballot boxes (“urnes“). That struck me as both surprisingly outmoded and, somehow, so much more legitimate than pressing buttons on a touchscreen and watching your vote disappear into the ether. Watching Michel vote brought to mind images of elections in less developed countries that we Americans often see on our evening news, but also memories of my childhood, accompanying my parents to their polling place in rural South Carolina where, after having voted, they dropped their ballots in a little locked wooden box with a slot in the top. Nostalgia. Continue reading “Aux urnes, citoyens!” • “To the ballot boxes, citizens!”