If you ever doubt the importance of voting, I suggest you spend an election year abroad. Every morning I wake up, eat my toasted bread and listen to Spanish radio chatting on two topics: la crisis, which I am conveniently shielded from by the bubble of study abroad, and the American presidential elections.
The Spanish voice-over translators for Barack Obama and John McCain became so familiar to me that I can now imitate their odd, second-language versions of the candidates.
There is only one potential topic of conversation with Spaniards, after the required praising of the country that all Americans provide when asked how we like Spain, and it is our election. Bars, restaurants, streets, classrooms and buses are all places where politics is frequently brought up once Spaniards realize that they have the opportunity to speak with an American.
They ask first about policy, the Iraq war and then smile and wait for you to offer up which candidate you voted for. It is assumed you will want to talk about it, assumed that you are informed and, most importantly, assumed that you are concerned with how our election will affect Europe and the rest of the world.
The concept of voters’ apathy is non-existent here. At general elections, if less than 60 percent of the registered population votes, it is a shock. My European Union teacher has gone so far as calling low voter turnout el anticristo of the democratic process.
As such, Spaniards give no leeway on the idea of Americans, in the thralls of such a historic vote, not exercising our right as citizens. The program I am enrolled in encourages us to vote to the point of paying the postage for our absentee ballots, an impressive feat when you consider that there are fifty of us, and postage for a single envelope is over a dollar.
Bizarrely, all of this pressure to vote and discuss politics is not at all stressful. I have discussed politics with ardent Obama supporters, twenty-year-old Republicans and even a few die-hard third party candidate supporters (although I have yet to find anyone voting for my own congressional representative, Cynthia McKinney of the Green Party).
All of this focus on the importance of the vote has made politics secondary. Above all else we are viewed here as Americans, and what is ultimately important is that we are trying to shape the country into what we think it should be through voting.
And vote we have. At dinner a few nights back, my Señora turned on the radio. After a few minutes the news looped to a story that piqued her interest, a story that reported that millions of Americans were already standing in line at their polling places to help decide who would be the next leader of the country that I have heard referred to as “the nation that moves the world.”
According to CNN.com, absentee and early voters reached record highs, with the state of Georgia reporting over one million early votes counted, nearly a fifth of the registered voters in the state. I am proud to be a part of this movement, and I am proud to have made friends with other young Americans here in Spain who are just as involved.
Personally, I camped out in an internet café as late as I could on Nov. 4 and as early as I could on Nov. 5 to find out who would lead the United States of America. When all the counts are finalized, I would love more than anything to see the same kind of voter turnout in the regular elections as there was in early and absentee ballots.
That way, the next time I am asked by a well-meaning Spaniard a question about our politics I can smile, offer them facts and remind them that no matter who won the presidency, the entirety of the American people voted for him.