There has been a lot of discontent among the Democratic rank and file. Many of us, including myself, have been less than happy with the leadership of our leaders in the White House and in the Congress. This has led to infighting on this blog and elsewhere on the Internetz and a lack of enthusiasm about voting, especially when compared to 2008. Some people have even gone so far as to declare that they'll be sitting out this election.
The thing is, I was born in a dictatorship, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. There's voting, and one is generally free to vote as one wants, but the vote itself is worthless. There's a parliament, but it's overwhelmingly populated by loyalists to the throne and rarely deviates from the king's program. And if it were to defy him, the king has absolute authority to ignore its decrees and completely dissolve the body, which is exactly what happened late last year.
To me, the idea that any of us would pass on the opportunity in this country, in which our votes are not only fair but also count, is beyond incomprehensible.
I gained American citizenship in 2006 at the age of 20. My first vote ever was later that year in November. I was very, very excited about going to the polls and casting my ballot. The one thing that was running through my head the entire time was that I'm literally the first person in my family to have a say in my government. Let me repeat that:
I am the first person in my family to have a say in my government
I really can't put into words how huge that was for me.
As I said, it's not that there isn't any voting in Jordan. There is. It's just so rigged that there is no meaningful democratic governance. The electoral system we have in most of the US is called First Past the Post; in other words, the candidate with the most votes wins, even if they don't have a majority. In Jordan, they use a rare and very undemocratic system called Single Non-Transferable Vote. What this means is that in each voting district there is more than one seat for Parliament, but the voter is allowed to vote only once.
In Jordan, family and tribal ties play an important societal role, so there is a duty to support those candidates with family ties. And instead of voting for someone who will best represent her interests, the voter will instead be more inclined to look for her family's name and cast her only vote for that candidate. The Jordanian elite know of this dynamic and exploited it when they set up the current electoral system. On top of that, they also gerrymander the districts, so that the areas more loyal to the regime have disproportionately more seats.
The result is that the opposition ends up sending some 20 or so of their candidates to parliament, while the loyalists send 80 to 90. In election after election, the king of Jordan — who of course is himself never subject to any elections — is assured of a parliamentary victory.
On November 9, Jordan will hold a parliamentary election. This time around it's especially meaningless. The opposition has chosen to not participate in protest of the unfair election rules which deliberately put it at a disadvantage from the get go. So voters will have a choice of candidates ranging A ... to A.
This is why I cannot, for the life of me, understand why any of us would ever pass on the opportunity to vote in our own elections, why anyone would say, "I'm going to sit at home and punish the Democrats." There is no doubt that our leaders sometimes frustratingly ignore us, even when the majority of public opinion is on our side. There is no doubt that there are sinister attempts to depress voter turnout among minorities (see Nevada and Illinois, for some glaring examples). But as far as I'm concerned, that's all the more reason to get out there and vote, goddamnit.
What I'm trying to get at in my own — perhaps inarticulate — way is that we have this amazing privilege of being able to choose our leaders. Our votes count, and through them, we can send a message to those in power. So on Tuesday, when we're faced with the stark choice between sane Democrats and teabagging Republicans, why on earth would anyone voluntarily choose to stay at home?