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Wednesday, November 03, 2004

What happened to the cell phone vote?

From my vantage point over here in Israel, I followed various polls leading up to the presidential election. One of the factors that kept appearing as a footnote in articles that sought to dissect the poll results was the fact that the overwhelming majority of the polling was done via land-line phones.

According to the talking heads and print journalists who had the misfortune to be assigned to the 'poll beat', the statistical dead heat that existed during much of the last week or two before election day, required an asterisk. That asterisk, they explained, referenced the unpolled hordes of young people who communicate with the outside world exclusively by cell phone.

If you think about it, these national polls probably failed to reach most college students, and even quite a good number of recent graduates because the few that have land line phones in their dorm rooms and apartments are not likely to be listed in the established phone number registries used by pollsters... ... and these young people were largely in Kerry's camp.

So what happened to these voters? I know I shouldn't use the past tense with Ohio still technically in play. But given the huge number of probable Kerry supporters on college campuses and in relatively transient housing, it's odd that the popular vote didn't turn out to be all that close.

The only answer I can come up with is that the 18 - 24 demographic once again acted like kids instead of like young adults. Instead of stepping up and voting in an election that is going to impact them beyond their wildest dreams, they opted out.

As I noted in yesterday's post, I have the luxury of seeing the glass as half full no matter who ultimately is declared the winner. If Kerry somehow pulls out a Red Sox style miracle in Ohio, he will take important steps to repair the domestic damage that has been done to the U.S. economy and environment. And if Bush wins, he will likely continue a policy of letting Israel do what is best for Israel. This may sound like a small thing, but previous administrations have had disastrous policies of pressuring Israel to make unilateral concessions to people who declare their intent to kill us. And hthey have also stubbornly adopted an unfathomable policy of assuming moral equivalency between Israeli civilian and Palestinian combatant deaths.

On an unrelated note, I truly appreciate all the insightful comments I got on yesterday's post. I was having a great deal of difficulty grappling with the ethical aspects of voting as an expat. Not about voting, per se. But rather about voting to benefit the interests of a foreign power and not the U.S. Your comments helped crystallize the various issues for me, and I have a better sense now of where my responsibilities lie.

I'm just sad that America's young people didn't take the time to examine their own ethical dilemma as closely... the ethical dilemma of not voting at all.


Posted by David Bogner on November 3, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Expat Election Ethics 101

Today is Election Day back in the ‘alta heim’ (old country).

Zahava and I mailed off our official absentee ballots weeks ago... and, no, we didn’t discuss our voting preference before we filled out the ballots. It was actually quite funny seeing us sitting across from each other at the kitchen table, nonchalantly shielding our ballots from one another like school kids during an exam.

To date we still have not discussed our choices, but I have a sneaking suspicion that we may have cancelled each other out. This may be just as well because I have been feeling the sting of a real ethical dilemma for quite some time now.

Being an American citizen abroad, it is a wonderful thing to be afforded the ability to cast a vote. However, because we now permanently make our home abroad, there are some very real ethical issues that can’t be ignored. The most prominent one being whether to vote based on what is best for Israel or what is best for the U.S.

Allison discussed this over in her Unsealed Room awhile back, but at the time I wasn’t fully engaged in the issue.

When I was living in the U.S. I used to scoff at the frequent accusations of dual loyalty on the part of the Jewish community. But the more I think about it, the defining issue for many Jewish voters has become less, ‘Is it good for the Jews?’ (which is a reasonable criterion), and more ‘Is it good for Israel?’ (which begins to smell like conflict of interest). In my mind, this becomes ethically problematic; especially when one candidate, who is a complete enigma in terms of his foreign policy, is clearly better qualified to deal with domestic issues (the economy, unemployment, social justice, poverty, education, etc.). And the other, while his foreign policies have been, um, somewhat short sighted and ill advised, seems to be a better potential friend to Israel.

Keep in mind, that nowhere on the ballot for U.S. elections does it ask your motivation for voting one way or another. Unlike the Republican Party, there are no loyalty oaths or any such nonsense on U.S. Ballots. In fact, if one’s sole aim was to bring down the U.S. Government, and he/she thought a vote for a particular candidate might bring about that result… there is no law against doing so. However, I doubt this is what the framers of the constitution had in mind.

For may sake, I was, and to a certain extent still am, torn between ignoring the potential benefit or harm the results of the election will have on either the U.S. or Israel.

Israel has eliminated this dilemma by not allowing absentee ballots in its elections. I don’t know if it was intentional, but this policy echoes a much earlier decision: When the Jews were allowed to return to Israel after the Babylonian exile (6th century before the common era), only a small proportion of them actually did so (sound familiar???). Life in Babylonia (which is the area of modern day Iraq) was quite comfortable for the Jews. There was a vibrant educational and business infrastructure, and the various Jewish communities were extremely well off.

Ezra, the leader of the Jews who returned to Israel, made a decision not to allow the Jews of Babylonia to contribute to the rebuilding of the Temple or in any way be involved in decisions that would impact those who had returned. This decision to exclude the input and significant wealth of Jews living abroad resulted in extreme poverty and hardship (including a ramshackle wooden Temple in Jerusalem), but ensured that people from outside of Israel would not be able to unduly influence decisions regarding how life would be lived here.

Looking at U.S. elections from an Israeli vantage point, I’m pretty sure Ezra was onto something. Why should I be able to influence matters of state in the U.S. when at best I will not be impacted by the results, and at worst my vote will have been cast in order to benefit a foreign country… and at the possible expense of the U.S.?

I won’t tell you how I voted (why should I tell you when I haven’t told my wife?), but I will have some serious thinking to do before I participate in future U.S. elections.


Posted by David Bogner on November 2, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack