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Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Claiming citizenship

I have a voter registration card, and I used it today, the first time I've been in Virginia on the first Tuesday of November in 14 years.  Last time I stood in line at this polling station we were on the way to the airport with baby Julia, 1 month old to the day, returning to Uganda, and I remember there being lines and worrying about getting to the airport in time. It was 1996, a presidential year. Today however, there was no line at all.  Two dedicated 60-ish looking people stood outside the elementary school where my mom and I went to vote, one handing out a "sample ballot" with the democratic name marked, and the other handing out a sample ballot with the republican name marked.  Inside we presented ID, and confirmed our name and address with two women sitting at laptop computers.  Then we stepped up one at a time to a touch-screen computerized polling station mounted on an easel-like frame.  There were only two candidates for congress, and four questions.  I figured that in spite of my ill-informed political awareness, I could legitimately vote for the congressman who graciously listened and responded and helped Basime get into our country.  And vote in favor of policies that helped senior citizens and disabled veterans.  I left one question blank, since I really didn't know about it at all.  It took all of about 30 seconds.  

Contrast that with recent elections in Bundibugyo.  Students were being pulled out of Christ school to vote in spite of the fact that we knew from their registrations that they were under-age.  The cronies of the powerful always win, because the entire system teeters on chaos.  Here are a few of the things that made voting in Virginia smooth, but would be lacking in Bundibugyo:  drivers' license ID, a computerized registration system, a functional mail system for sending out cards, a school with electricity and space and security, laptop computers, literate volunteers, literate voters who can read the ballot, no fear of reprisal, no one knowing how I voted (well, I just told you, but otherwise .. . ), cars to drive to the polling station and back so the whole thing takes only a few minutes.  Not to mention a firm date set years in advance, something you can plan around.  Our democracy rests on our abundance.  It should be possible anywhere, but practically, it just isn't.

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