A week ago we were up helping McKane create a map of Asia with all the countries color coordinated to their type of government. It was fun to talk about the different countries we had been in and how different life was in each. We had seen first hand the many different levels of freedom and could easily describe the differences of life in a constitutional monarchy and a communist republic. You would be surprised because sometimes the difference didn’t fit our preconceived notions. For example, we left a clean and modern Singapore which does not score high on the freedom meter and went to the wild west of democracy, India, and were shocked by its many issues. For me, discussing these countries and their freedoms was a perfect end to a day where our own system of government was top of mind–Election Day.
I am not the world’s best voter, but I do enjoy going to the polls and exercising my civic duty. I have often joked that my civic duty appeared to be much more relevant in California where you are confronted with so many choices they send you a book in advance, full of information you need to make educated decisions at the polls. In Georgia there just doesn’t seem to be much to vote about. In our first and possibly only presidential election here, I was shocked with the dearth of choices. I had 3 choices for president, 2 for senator, and 1 for congressman, mayor, judge, councilmen etc. One is the exact number of people Saddam put on the ballot in Iraq. Even in Russia they put people on the ballot, just people you are not supposed to select. Last week’s election was a new low. It was a local election but even so we had 4 positions to vote for and 3 of the positions were running unopposed. For those who are counting, that left us with one local battle. But in good Southern style, the battle was fierce. One of the candidates has a lovely pop star name but had a little run in with the law this year. Nothing out the of the ordinary, just another politician with a high blood alcohol content and a steering wheel attached to a moving car. Some might be shocked by this behavior, others might think it qualifies her for a higher office. In Australia, for example, the current challenger earned votes by drunken behavior at a NY strip club. However, in conservative Georgia, I think many of her constituents would consider this a reason to vote for anyone but said candidate with a pop star name. In good politician manner she showed great signs of sorrow and regret and promised to do better in the future thus winning back many of her followers. If she could just run unopposed like everyone else, no problem, right? Wrong? It appears getting a DUI in your hometown is enough for someone to decide to run against you. Before you get too worried about our saucy councilwomen, remember she has a couple of things going for her. She still is the one with the pop star name, and when you are an incumbent, you get a really nice little (i) by your name to remind people to vote for you. With years of service and connections galore, our incumbent set out to battle her challenger.
Probably the best place to start is around the issues. We received a flyer in the mail with a list of local concerns. In the first column was the incumbent’s name and a list of motions she has voted for. In the second column was the challenger’s name, but her fields were filled with the words “no record.” Thanks for clearing that up for us incumbent. Perhaps the challenger would help us. What would her secret weapon be? How about a website with all the information about the incumbent’s DUI and subsequent troubles. While I have to agree that would be helpful, it probably would not be great from an ethical front. Unless of course you could get a disinterested third party to do the website. Exactly. I will not link to the website because I am not about mud-slinging, but I will tell you it is pretty darn full of mud. So with these two choices we went to the polling station. I stepped up, put my card in, clicked on all the unopposed people–that was the easy part. And then I made my one choice of the day. I won’t tell you which I voted for, but the election ended up very close 40 votes in favor of the non-incumbent with an ordinary name.
I wish this lack of choice was an isolated instance, but it appears to be the common practice down here, even up to the level of congressman. I don’t know why. Are civic positions so bad nobody wants them. Are people so afraid of rejection and losing that nobody will run? I did find one ray of hope. In the neighboring town there was one man who decided to do something about it: he ran. He lost, but he ran. When interviewed he said he hadn’t thought about running again in 4 years, but if his district is unopposed going into the election he will run again. Way to step up mister, “I don’t need to win, but I like a good fight.” Perhaps we need more people like him. If people ran to get discussion going and get issues like drunk driving on the table, we might have less incumbents for life. In our year away we saw people around the world exercising their civic rights. Voting in Argentina is mandatory by law and led to the election of the owner of their greatest soccer team or more recently the wife of the current president. Millions of people marched in Turkey before the elections. We saw rallies, signs, and speakers announcing politicians and issues from Phnom Pen to Mumbai. I found the passion for their candidates, causes, and elections to be infectious. I am not saying those places are perfect. Far from it, but isn’t a big part of voting having meaningful discussion and choices? How far can our apathy go? I am probably an oddity because I moved from a state with a high level of individual democracy, California, to one where the populace is not expected to make many decisions. For those who haven’t voted in California, I do have to say walking home from the polls in California where you spent half a day making choices on the 27 people on the presidential ballot, the 2 million propositions, and 50 people in the gubernatorial run off, you felt you had done your duty. Here…. not so much.
Perhaps we need to move back to the land of democracy. mmm there’s a thought.