I Don’t Date Non-Voters
I have never understood why so many Americans do not exercise their right to vote.
Years ago I dated C, 37, an ivy-league graduate and a successful entrepreneur — yet he had never voted. Our political views on most things were radically different. We accepted those differences at first, but I simply could not tolerate him not voting. Hence, his registering to vote became a precondition for the relationship.
My friends who heard about C. chided me outright. “You’d rather date a Republican than a non-voter?!!” they asked in disbelief and horror. And though it seemed crazy to them, I felt that yes, political views I did not endorse were somehow still more acceptable than apathy. Each time they ribbed me, I stood by my mantra, “I don’t date non-voters.”
Maybe it’s because I come from a country where voter turnout hovers around 80%. Maybe it’s because I come from a family in which politics was treated as a necessary food group. Or maybe it is because I owe one of my earliest epiphanies about international politics to graffiti on a wall in Istanbul after the 1987 general elections in Turkey. The red-lettered post-election message exclaimed: Long live democracy! We must all choose our rulers. We should all vote in the US presidential elections.”
Not surprisingly, the romance with C. did not survive our post-September 11th foreign policy debates. Nevertheless, I am paradoxically proud to say he has cancelled out my vote in every election since we met.
The day before the elections in 2004 a group of Turkish friends and I celebrated John Kerry’s victory. After all, I had mailed in my absentee ballot weeks earlier. I was the only one officially able to vote, but we celebrated as world citizens. There seemed no need to wait till Tuesday as the general consensus was that surely Americans would come out in unprecedented numbers to unseat Bush.
Some time and much disappointment later, back in the US, I found myself wildly in love with a man who actually shared not only my passion for politics but many of my convictions. We talked politics constantly. And occasionally we mused about where we’d like to call home. Both of our legal statuses emphasized how citizenship both determines and is determined by the movement of people across borders. I am the only American citizen in my family (born to two Turkish citizens while one was in film school in southern California) and my beloved was the only one not yet to take US citizenship in his family (Bosnians who were granted political asylum in the US in the mid-1990s).
He was a resident alien. His decision about becoming a “naturalized American” was personal and complex and mostly I tried to listen and understand his perspective. One early morning, I vividly remember pouring a cup of coffee while looking out the kitchen window at the soft light on the distant Berkeley hills and realizing: “Darn! After all that, I’m dating a non-voter!” In fact, I was hoping to spend the rest of my life with this non-voter.
Apparently shared political values don’t necessarily make for a happy love story either. Alas, I don’t know if my ex ever decided to apply for US citizenship. But I know that he was very much not a non-voter out of apathy. In fact the desire to vote in the US was a primary consideration in his debate about whether or not to take US citizenship. Perhaps like the author of the graffiti message in Istanbul in 1987, my Bosnian ex was all too aware of the role – real and perceived – of the US government in world events. Taking on US citizenship meant becoming a part of those in whose name the US government acts, not only at home but also abroad.
So as the 2008 presidential election draws near, newspapers worldwide churn out articles about how country x or y might fare depending on which candidate wins the US presidency and 200,000 people turned up in Berlin to listen to a certain senator from Illinois.
In an election that is clearly being perceived worldwide as of great import, surely it is fair to argue that those who legally can ought to vote. Higher voter turnout in the elections at home might actually improve America’s battered image abroad and signal that more Americans comprehend the consequences of their administration acting in the world in the name of its population. An increase in domestic voters just might persuade non-Americans worldwide that there was some sincerity in America’s rejoicing in the high voter turnout in recent elections both in Iraq and Afghanistan. After all, if voting in a democratic election is so wonderful for others, surely it might be good for us as well.
Recently I was back home in Istanbul and the general consensus once again was that surely Americans, given the current state of global affairs, will come out in unprecedented numbers to vote. Indeed on the Michigan campus where I find myself this fall, several clip-boarded students stop me every day to ask if I’ve registered to vote.
Maybe I can’t envision being with a non-voter because I’ve spent so much of my life abroad in conversation with people who weren’t US citizens and yet who believed that various US administrations impacted their own political realities significantly. As a dual citizen, perhaps I feel the responsibility to vote so strongly because I am both part of the population in whose name the US administration acts, and from a country hosting a military base from which the US military acts on occasion.
For my own part, I’ve grown more cautious over the years, both in matters of the heart and political affairs. So I’ll wait to celebrate till the morning after election Tuesday.