Friday, October 3, 2008

v is for vote

for the last few mondays I've been volunteering at a local health clinic registering folks to vote. it's been a very gratifying experience. I had hoped to have one more opportunity to volunteer, but yesterday my contact at the clinic called and said the deadline for getting the forms in is noon on monday. guess I'll have to think of another activity to help get out the vote!

I have had some interesting conversations and experiences during this volunteer stint. in 2004, I also volunteered to register voters at a health clinic, it was a different location, but the types of clients served were very similar in terms of both their health needs and their socio-economic characteristics. this year I've encountered fewer individuals who are uninterested in being registered voters. I take this as a good omen.

being a registered voter and actually voting are two separate matters - but one can't vote if one isn't registered! in the united states it is estimated that only 70 percent of the eligible population is registered to vote. over the last few decades the u.s. has averaged about 50% of the eligible voters actually voting. in 2004 the u.s. had a bit better voter turnout than in the previous presidential election with 56.7 percent voting.

it's quite vexing to see how the u.s. compares to other countries in terms of our voting patterns. in 2001 social scientist mark franklin published a study examining electoral participation rates in 37 different countries he looked at all major general elections held in these countries from 1960 to 1995. ironically the united states had a better turnout then than we do for major elections held after 1995. be that as it may, the comparisons are still valid. of the 37 countries, there was only one country which had a lower rate than the u.s. (58%) and that was poland (54%). switzerland was tied with the u.s. and then the country closest to the u.s. rate was india (61%). there are a few countries which have compulsory voting - such as australia, belgium, luxembourg, and greece. as we would expect the rates in these country are very high. most countries do not have compulsory voting; with the exception of the countries mentioned above, all of these countries have rates significantly better than the u.s. for those curious a random sample: austria (92%), iceland (89%), italy (90%), costa rica (81%), israel (80%) and the uk, canada and france (76% each).

there has been a good deal of research that tries to understand why people vote. when I talked with people who are not interested in voting or registering they often say why bother nothing every changes and no one has their interests in mind. among these folks there is a great deal of disdain for both politicians and the current political process.

when I was registering people a few individuals really stand out in my mind. one is a man who recently became a u.s. citizen he came from a south american country where there is a great deal of repression. I was almost in tears when he told me his story. I also registered a woman in her late 50s who has never voted, she is illiterate and thought she couldn't vote. she was with her son. I told her that even though she cannot read and write she still has the right to vote. her son filled out the form on her behalf, she made her mark (yes it was an X) and I signed as her witness providing my name and address as required by the law.

it will be interesting to see what happens this year in terms of voter participation. the number and variety of crises that we are facing is overwhelming. and as I'm fond of saying if you don't vote you have no right to complain! yesterday was mohandas gandhi's birthday (and also bitchlet!) one of my favorite quotes by gandhi is "the difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world's problems."

v is also for vegetable. vegetables are good for you. but being a vegetable isn't - so don't be a turnip this year - if you are a u.s. citizen make sure you vote! if you don't vote, watch out lil s might bite you, he is quite fond of his veggies! oh, and if you are a u.s. citizen and live abroad you can still vote, there's info saretta's blog amid the olive tree about this.

photos: top yard signs, lakewood, ohio; middle veggies at richard lenoir market, paris; bottom a shirt to pay attention to, cleveland sent via cell by s's mama.


Merle Sneed said...

Great post! I cannot fathom how people cannot vote, especially for President.

Megan said...


tut-tut said...

I vote, and I'm very very nervous in bureaucratic settings, especially signing my name (talk about neurotic . .) so if I can overcome my various phobias, anyone can!

I LOVE that photo of French vegetable. My feet are itching to get over there again, when people will actually like our new president Obama!

alicesg said...

Hope you all vote for the best man to lead your country. Love the photo of the vegetables.

Barbara said...

Working on this election has renewed my feeling of patriotism, which had been dormant for a while. I'm starting to believe all the work we're doing is going to pay off. It's too bad the next President is going to inherit such a mess though...

Megan said...

P.S. - In California, you have until October 20th!

Ladrón de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

My famed "Cleveland cohorts" are doing the same. Hope you meet at the "Flow" movie premier at the Cleveland Cinematique on October 16.

lettuce said...

this had me googling, Kimy, I couldn't believe the 76% for the UK.

And it is out of date - the last general election here turnout was not much over 60% (about 62%) and the previous (2001) was only about 56%. (of registered voters)
local elections (ie for local government) are much lower, often around only 40 or 30%.

not that i'm wanting to be competitive about our voter apathy! but it is so frustrating.

It'll be so interesting to see what your turnout is in November - it seems like this election should get people out there, don't you think?

and also - autumn veg. are so attractive, aren't they?

bitchlet said...

Is there rigging?

PS- Thank you for the wishes!

R.L. Bourges said...

great post. Turnout here in France was 85% for the Presidential election because people actually believed there would be change. And there is - but not the way folks expected, that's for sure. So I don't know how it will play the next time around.

Caught something on Arte-TV last night (a Franco-German venture): interviews with teen agers living in Germany whose parents lived most of their lives in East Germany. Most of them knew nothing about who had erected the Wall in Berlin and waxed lyrical about the old days in East Germany when everybody had jobs. None of them could tell the difference between a democracy and a dictatorship. Most of them thought dictatorships weren't such a bad idea if it meant everybody had jobs.

And so on. So, you see, all of us for whom these things mean something have our work cut out for us, no matter where we live. One way or another - it can be how we choose to write, to work, or to live our lives. Doesn't matter, just shine your little bit of light any old way you can.

Sorry for the speech. Had to get it down somewhere.

Bonne continuation, petite souris!

à +

Coffee Messiah said...

Only here in the states do so many complain, and so few compared to other countries bother to vote. It's no wonder our elected officials not only stay in office so long, but do next to nothing but find so many unusual and stupid ways to waste our tax dollars.

Nice to hear the stories you shared too.


mouse (aka kimy) said...

merle - I've never missed a major election since I turned 18! I can't imagine not voting. after talking with folks who are really disaffected, depressed and discouraged, I guess I somewhat understand their apathy as they feel the system has given them the shaft so why should they 'bother'. however, that is not to say I'm not frustrated and saddened by this apathy....

tut- my feet itch too!

alicesg - thanks for the wishes

barbara - a mess seems like a mild word to describe the state of affairs of the country! glad you feel renewed patriotism....

megan - I feel that ohio closes voter registration way too soon. kudos to california!

junk - thanks for the reminder about flow - I will be there!

lettuce - sorry to here that the trend in the uk has been the same as here - with increased apathy and feelings of disaffectedness

b - definitely a lot of sheninigans in te last two presidential elections.

rlb - it was a good speech and interesting (albeit depressing) information! thanks..... just curious are you a dual citizen? if so does that mean one can vote in both countries? I've always wondered about that!

coffee - our voting may be much lower than elsewhere but from my travels I haven't observed that we complain any more than people elsewhere about the government

Ladrón de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

What a lovely bunch of vegetables. I always love the chalk scrawled signs so much better than the neatly pre-printed Safeway style.

Ernest de Cugnac said...

yes, as lettuce implied, there may be lots of folks on the register in the UK, but the voting turnout is absolutely pathetic, and gets worse as time goes on. So sadly the US is not alone on this one.

Nice pix, as always!

d. chedwick said...

In Ireland there has been a decline in registered voters voting. From the 1960's to the 1990's it was roughly a 73% turnout, but it's dropping. Hundreds of thousands of votes not cast. It's very sad.

R.L. Bourges said...

good question, petite souris. I don't have dual citizenship yet, but I'll check into it and let you know how it relates to my voting rights. Rather like the idea of being allowed to vote twice - legally ! :-)

Saretta said...

I *love* that photo of the vegetable, what intense colors! Thanks for the plug! Hope it gets some people registered! I've been voting in Italy since I became a citizen here, too!

WAT said...

The beautiful colors! OH MY! I want my veggies!