Sunday, December 02, 2007

No Hanging Chads: Experiencing the Russian Vote

Today was December second. Do you know what december second is? If you said the second day of my fourth month here, then good job, but that's not the answer I was looking for. The correct answer is today was voting day. How do I know this? Mostly because for the last few weeks the TV has been advertising two things. 1. The new season of TV shows starting, and 2. that December second is voting day 2007.

I had said something to Raisa about a week ago about going with her to vote. I didn't get to go with her, but her sister, Lena, was working the polls today and so basically, Raisa made a phone call and I went and sat and watched people for a couple of hours. I know, you're probably thinking a couple of hours, are you nuts? But as an exchanger, and a not very social one sometimes, a couple of hours was no biggie. Besides, it's not like I had anywhere else to be and a couple of hours gave me the chance to really see how things worked. So that I can know make a detailed report to all of you.

Voting over here is one thing I was particularly interested in. Probably because I have this thing about voting. It's like a really big deal to me. Probably because I've been going to the polls with my parents and watched them vote since I was like five and every time, they'd tell me (Especially dad) how voting is an important right granted to us under the U.S. constituion and it's important that we exercise that right. I will never forget when I got to vote in my first election. That was exciting stuff!

Anyway, enough reminicing, let me tell you how it works here. (Mom, I even made notes while I was watching so I wouldn't forget anything)

I went and sat at school number 33 which is the school located in my neighborhood, 202 mikrorayon. (That's dvesti ftoroi, not two hundred and two :) ) The first thing I notcied is that you vote based on your korpus. For those of you who don't know, the korpus is the apartment building you live in. So rather than having a big spread out area that's like "district one" they have signs up that say "Korpus 17" and such.

When you first arrive, you find where your korpus is located and you stand in line. When it's your turn you show your passport (A passport here not only allows Russians to move from country to country, but also serves as their main form of ID within the city/country) The workers look at your passport and then write your name down on a list. They do not have a book with the names already written down in Alphabetical order like we do in the states, they just write your name down as you come in. After they write your name down, you sign by it, just like in America. They then give you your ballot and you're ready to go.

They do not vote electronically here. I think in some places they are just starting too as there was something about electronic voting machines on the news tonight, but here they use a paper ballot. And when I say paper ballot, I mean paper. This is not like our old ballot system with the punch cards. Basically you go into a curtained little voting both, take a little pen and check off the issuses. There is one box for each issue. I imagine that if you check the box you vote yes, and to leave it blank means no.

When you have finished your vote, you leave the booth, fold your paper up and drop it into a slot in a big huge box. After that I have no idea what happens to the ballots. In Russia, as in America, the voting age is 18. If you are a first time voter, when you've completed your vote, you go to a special table and say "I'm a first time voter." You then get a special little pin that says "First time voter" in Russian, and a little present in the form of a little address book, or calender. They tell you "Congratulations, the next vote is March 2nd"

One interesting thing is for each little voting section, there is a group of people sitting kind of off to the side. I asked Lena why, and she said that they are there to make sure that the vote is done right. Hmm...interesting.

I also found out that in Russia, the law says you have to vote. I'm not sure if I agree with making this a law. I vote in America because I have the right to choose to vote or not, and since I have the option of having a voice in my country, I chose to use my voice and I vote and I feel special because I feel like I've made a difference in my country. I don't know, making people vote just seems. Not backwards really, but it seems like making people vote defeats the purpose of being able to vote in the first place.

But then you don't have a small percent of the people making the majority of the decisions either. I guess I can see both sides to it, but prefer the fact that in America there is no law forcing me to vote.

Oh, incidentally, today's vote was for the State Duma, which is kind of like a parliament/congress thing. You can read more about it on Wiki. Also, the people elected a new Mayor of Yakutsk today.

Oh and for those of you who don't know a lot about Russia and still think they're all communists, yes, there is a communist party, but there are other parties too.

Actually, one interesting thing about communism that I've noticed. In America when we learn about the cold war era, and we talk about Communism, there are always these jokes and stuff about it. The Russian kids make the same kind of jokes that american kids do when they learn about the Cold war/Communist era. Just thought you'd all find that interesting.

So I think that about covers it. If there are any questions, let me know.

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