Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day

This post was written the day of the election before I knew any of the results. The other post regarding the election describes going to hear election results live at 6 AM Spanish time and the reaction of the outcome.

Being away for the election has been an interesting experience with some positives and some negatives. While I am sad that I have missed some of the Saturday Night Live Tina Fey skits, I do not miss being bombarded with negative political advertising. However, as a result of not watching American television, I am not very in touch with California politics. I would have liked to have read and heard more about the propositions related to the ban on gay marriage, the humane treatment of farm animals, the renovation of children’s hospitals, renewable energy, and high speed commuter railway.

Since my first day of work back in September all of my students have been interested in my political views. During the first week of school, after giving a presentation about myself, my students asked me who I was voting for. I felt comfortable telling them that I was an Obama supporter but their teachers tried to step in and explain that people are not as open in the United States as in Spain. In Spain, it is normal to know everyone’s political views, how much money they make, and the grades they get in school and it is not considered rude to ask about these topics with strangers.

Almost everyone here is an Obama fan, based on my informal conversations I would guess close 90% of people support him or rather oppose Bush, McCain, and Republicans in general. I am sure how much they know about Obama; however they are clear in their hatred for Bush and about one month ago McCain made a comment that he would not sit down with the President of Spain (lumping Zapatero in with leaders of terrorists and non-democratic countries) which clearly annoyed many Spaniards. Perhaps Spain's obsession with Obama is best represented by this 2.5 acre depiction of Obama on the beach front of Barcelona. Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada, a Cuban American, created this portrait over the weekend with the land donated by the city of Barcelona. The portrait is 445 feet by 264 feet and is made up of gravel, stone, sand and soil.

At the school, Jim and I have been discussing the election with our fourth year students. We have tried to present some of the key issues and discuss how Obama and McCain have varying viewpoints in order to provide some substance to the conversation. This week I will end the discussion on the election by discussing the outcome and explaining how Americans vote.

One thing that many people have commented to me about is that despite being a very advanced country our system of voting is very ineffective. In Spain, elections are held during the weekend which means everyone has the chance to vote regardless of whether they have time to take off work. (The teachers at my school were shocked that election day is not considered a national holiday). When I studied abroad in Costa Rica, I learned elections are held on a Sunday and starting on the Friday before election Sunday no grocery stores, bars, or restaurants can sell alcohol in order to increase voter turnout and prevent people from being too drunk or hung over to vote.

Not only have people commented to me about the specific day in which we vote, but many are surprised to find out that there is no national identification card for the United States and that the elections laws are governed by each individual state which results in people using different mechanisms to vote. Most importantly, Spaniards cannot believe that there is no paper trail for many of the voting machines and that you do not receive a receipt or copy of your ballot. After talking with the teachers at my school, I began to wonder why our voting system was so complicated and why we do not mandate a paper trail of some sort.

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