Voting from a foreign perspective: just do it

With the presidential election looming in the not-so-distant future, countries around the world are closely watching the American political scene. So much depends on the United States and its president – financial markets, foreign aid, war – it’s only natural for countries to be worried and openly critical of the U.S. election system. Playing devil’s advocate, here are some aspects of American elections that we foreigners don’t understand.

One: the Electoral College. Many of us weren’t even aware of this system until the confusing presidential elections in 2000, and a common reaction was, well, shock and awe. The United States, supposedly the spreader of democracy, has an indirect voting system? The so-called leader of the free world isn’t elected by the popular vote? Yes, POL 211 will teach you that this reflects the Founding Fathers’ fear of the ignorant masses. However, foreigners don’t take POL 211, and it seems that what might have been appropriate in the 18th century is somewhat outdated. Isn’t the American public educated and responsible enough to be entrusted with electing its own president?

Two: voting procedures. Pregnant chads? Hanging chads? Touch screens whose records cannot undergo public scrutiny? Whatever happened to pen-and-paper and fill-in-the-bubble? So much money and technology, and some Americans can’t even cast a ballot… Granted, this writer doesn’t know the history of voting procedures in the United States. Then again, neither does the rest of the world, nor does it care – the hanging chad story gave foreign (and domestic) cartoonists enough material to put to use in many a slow news day.

Three: the indifference and ignorance of the American public. Americans are infamous for being uninformed, uninvolved and uninterested in politics. Perhaps they can afford to be this way because they are used to their country running relatively well regardless of who’s in office – unlike in many other countries, where rampant abstention has led to social and economic unrest. Only around 50 percent of the voting age population voted in the 2000 presidential election. How is it possible that the public doesn’t feel more strongly about choosing such a prominent world figure? Furthermore, how can a public where 85 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds can’t identify Afghanistan, Iraq or Israel on a map, according to a National Geographic survey in 2002, be trusted with picking a president of global importance? (The Founding Fathers’ fears return!)

Americans have the privilege of participating in caucuses and primaries, of voting without fear of electoral corruption or sabotage and, most importantly, of choosing the most powerful person in the world. Some outsiders would just like to see them take advantage of that.

Patricia Mazzei can be contacted at