What's 'Vote for Me' in Bantu?

Democratic nation-building is too darn messy. Let's make it easy -- just export the U.S. franchise.

By Eric Weiner
Eric Weiner is a commentator for National Public Radio's "Day to Day" program.

Los Angeles Times

October 11, 2004

Among the avalanche of polls descending on us like so much Sierra snow, one in particular grabbed my attention. The poll, conducted by the University of Maryland, found that the vast majority of foreigners surveyed would rather see John F. Kerry than George W. Bush elected in November.

The poll, of course, comes as no surprise and is ultimately meaningless — even more meaningless, that is, than most polls. Who cares whether the rest of the world wants to see Kerry elected? The rest of the world doesn't vote in U.S. elections.

But then I got to thinking. What if the rest of the world could vote?

I say this not as a Kerry supporter but as a bored observer, fed up with watching the same old stump speeches delivered in the same old swing states.

Giving foreigners the vote is bound to spice up a lackluster campaign and, as a bonus, improve the nation's standing in the world.

Here are seven reasons why we should expand the franchise:

•  Giving fore igners the vote is the quickest and least expensive way to bring democracy to the rest of the world. Nation-building is so darn messy and costly. Who needs it? After all, we've already built a nation, and a good one at that. Let's export our electoral system wholesale and pass the savings on to the rest of the world.

•  Giving foreigners the vote enables us to pass the ultimate "global test." The next time we bomb country X, the residents won't be able to complain because, after all, they had a say in electing our president. This would undercut the most common gripe heard around the world: that the U.S. doesn't take into account the views of the "international community" before bombing the stuffing out of a member of said community. The next time some wide-eyed militant, armed to the teeth, spouts the same, tired line: "It is not the American people, we hate, it is the American government," we can look him in the eye and proudly say, "Hah, it's your government too, buddy."

•&nb sp; Our streamlined political system is a perfect fit for emerging democracies. In the Afghan elections, there were 18 names on the presidential ballot. Eighteen! That's way too burdensome for a nation ravaged by decades of war, which hasn't held a free election since the Ice Age. Afghans crave democracy, yes, but also simplicity. Bush or Kerry. Check the box. It's the least we could do for the long-suffering people of Afghanistan and other nascent democracies.

•  Think of the photo opportunities. Picture Bush at a campaign rally in Peshawar, Pakistan. On the president's head is one of those floppy brown mujahedin hats. In his hands is a homemade AK-47 knockoff. Bush is firing into the air with glee — and a respectable degree of competence — while throngs of Pashtun voters holler their approval. This is NRA country, only without the N or the A. Bush's gunslinging Texas ways are bound to win him votes here. Or picture Kerry pressing the flesh with a Yemeni tribesman — maybe even slaughtering a lamb to prove that, you know, he's a regular guy. "Who among us doesn't enjoy a good animal sacrifice?"

•  Nothing could be taken for granted. Kerry might think he has France and its electoral votes all sewn up, but he's never had to campaign there. Once the French actually hear Kerry speak French, they'll surely be unimpressed. His shoddy grammar and nasal pronunciation will no doubt grate on those sensitive French ears. True, winning France will be an uphill battle for Bush too, but Karl Rove will see it as his biggest challenge yet. Bigger than California.

•  Admittedly, voter turnout is an obstacle. How do you persuade a destitute Bangladeshi farmer to walk for miles in the tropical sun just to cast a ballot for some guy who is not even Bangladeshi? Don't worry. I have the solution: a green-card lottery. One out of every 10,000 ballots cast will contain this message. "Congratulations: You are a lucky green-card winner. Please proceed to the nearest U.S. Embassy to collect your prize." The 9,999 other ballots will contain this message: "Sorry, no winner this time. Please vote again."

•  Those bus tours are bound to be more interesting.